Aleksandras Macijauskas

Aleksandras Macijauskas


  • Born 1938 in Kaunas.

  • He graduated from the secondary school in 1962 and studied Western philosophy independently in 1973-1977.

  • Photo-correspondent of the newspaper “Vakarinės Naujienos” (1967-1979), executive secretary of the Lithuanian Union of Art Photographers in Vilnius (1973-1974), executive secretary of the Lithuanian Union of Art Photographers in Kaunas from 1974, Chairman of Kaunas Branch from 1978, Chairman of Artistic Council of the Lithuanian Union of Art Photographers (1979-1989), presently – Chairman of the Lithuanian Union of Art Photographers, Director of photo gallery Fujifilm.

  • Winner of the Lithuanian National Prize in 1995.

  • Member of Lithuanian photographers' union.

About the work

Aleksandras Macijauskas belongs to the generation of artists who established the Lithuanian School of Photography. He was born in 1938 in Kaunas, where he spent most of his life and produced works that played a crucial role in the development of Lithuanian photography. The photographer recalls:

Kaunas was my beginning and I hope will be my end. It is the place where everything that I would call life happened and continues to happen. The war passed like an incomprehensible dream. Then came and a hungry, scruffy post-war city boy’s childhood, the fragile fate of an orphan. The dirty streets of the Žaliakalnis neighbourhood, where, with my childish fists, I earned my existential rights.

On the other hand, Macijauskas spent his summers herding his grandfather’s animals in a farmstead near Kaunas. This is where the future photographer gained the experiences of rural life that would later allow him to create his most important works.

Like other members of the Lithuanian School of Photography, Macijauskas worked as a photojournalist: in 1967–1973 he was a photographer for the Kaunas office of the daily newspaper Vakarinės naujienos (Evening News). But even earlier, Macijauskas was influenced by another type of photography, one based on technological experiments, montage, and the search for expressive form. This kind of photography, still called “fotografika,” had emerged in Kaunas during the interwar period and Macijauskas encountered it during the 1960s, when he became a member of the Kaunas Photography Club. Here the young artist’s creative thinking was shaped by Povilas Karpavičius and Rimgaudas Maleckas, whom he refers to as his first teachers. This is why Macijauskas’s early work includes both journalistic works and “fotografik” experiments.

Macijauskas not only quickly became the leader of institutional photography in Kaunas but developed a distinct, individual style from the beginning of his creative journey. For example, in one of his earliest and best-know works, Ratas (Wheel, 1965), the main characteristics of the photographer’s work are already evident. This photograph clearly contains the metaphorical quality that was typical of both Macijauskas’s work and the Lithuanian School in general. The figures of a child and an elderly man can be seen as representing different generations, and are connected and expressed by a wagon wheel symbolizing the “wheel of life.”

But Macijauskas gives the Lithuanian School’s characteristic metaphoric content a new, modern form, and this is what would become his work’s distinctive feature. His non-traditional framing, unexpected angles, dynamic diagonal compositions, and wide-angle distortions (that are further emphasized when he zooms in on foreground objects) make it possible to argue that, of all the representatives of the Lithuanian school, Macijauskas came closest to developing a modern photographic aesthetic.

These aesthetic solutions gained Macijauskas recognition within the broader context of contemporary international photography. In 1979 his photographs are included in the international photography exhibition Images de l’homme (Images of Man) organized in Brussels and shown later that year in Venice, together with works by Werner Bischof, Bill Brandt, Henri Cartier-Bresson, André Kertesz and other famous photographers. In 1986, together with the famous photographers Edward Weston and Paul Strand, Macijauskas is shown in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition Photography: A Facet of Modernism. And in 2001 Macijauskas is once again included alongside the greats of modern photography in curator Steve Yates’ show at the New Mexico Museum of Art. In Yates’s view, Macijauskas follows the visual composition principles of modern photography pioneers such as Aleksandr Rodchenko, Boris Ignatovich and Georgi Zelma.

On the other hand, despite Macijauskas’s modern form, the themes and content of his works are traditional. This combination of modernity and tradition is especially evident in the series of photographs Kaimo turguose (In Rural Markets, 1969–1987). For his most famous series of photographs, Macijauskas, who was not indifferent to issues of national culture, focused on rural life, archaic human relations and traditional lifestyle — themes that were common to the Lithuanian School. As Macijauskas has stated,

We were concerned with recording examples of national culture because, at the time, we thought that all of that would soon be lost.

The duality within Macijauskas’s photographs gives them dramatic force. In his best works the formal characteristics mentioned above transform reality into a strange vision and allow the photographer to create an artistic image whose meaning is only revealed beyond the reality contained in the visual document and its overt content. Macijauskas not only conveys the tension within the moment he has captured but shows how life in general is grotesque, how the turning of its wheel is an endless, repetitive drama. This worldview is founded on the artist’s belief that,

A work of art, like a person, must contain everything — from swearwords to the subtlest notes.

In this respect Macijauskas’s work is a significant contribution to the Lithuanian School of Photography, adding roughness, tension, conflict and overt irony to the school’s humanistic worldview. It is because of these qualities that Macijauskas’s works are often described as opposite to the lyrical work of Romualdas Rakauskas, another famous member of the Lithuanian School. These two artists can be said to represent the two poles of one school, between which the whole spectrum of Lithuanian humanistic photography is revealed.

Within the context of international photography, Macijauskas’s work demonstrates the principle that, when new creative directions that emerge within major art centres develop and spread under different political and cultural conditions, they can acquire distinct, and no less interesting, forms. In comparing Macijauskas’s modernity to Western examples from the first half of the twentieth century, French critic Jean Claude Lemagny has said:

True avant-gardism is not born in the West — it comes from the East. Compared to the power, unconventionality and courage of Macijauskas walking into the market square in his manure-covered boots and coming out with a basket of photographs, the West’s version is but a faint “mewing.”

Tomas Pabedinskas (more texts by this author can be found under Cultural Histories)

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