“Vilis Rīdzenieks, the best-known Latvian photographer from the first half of the 20th century, has earned a legendary status primarily because he created one of the country’s most important relics: the sole photograph of the proclamation of the Latvian state. However, it is because of Rīdzenieks’ lifetime work that we may regard him today as one of the leading figures in the history of Latvian photography,” Katrīna-Teivāne Korpa writes in the introduction to the album. It has largely determined the selection and content of the album’s visual material, which was subordinated to the goal of introducing Rīdzenieks’ heritage in all its diversity, showing him as a documentalist, a photo artist and a popular salon photographer.
The seventy-eight years of Vilis Rīdzenieks’ life (1884-1962) coincide with an extremely dynamic and saturated era in the history of Latvia, and the almost 500 photographs included in the book undeniably mark its ambitious and diverse panorama – from everyday rural landscapes and cityscapes to the experience of the First World War, the proclamation of the Latvian state, the War of Liberation, and the Second World War.
During the Soviet era, when any visual evidence of the independent Latvia had to be erased from the public space, the photographs of Vilis Rīdzenieks also disappeared from it. The first small exhibition of his works was organized only three years after his death – in 1965. Fortunately, he has left a rich, still unexplored and surprisingly complete heritage, most of which is held by the Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation. Nowadays of especial interest are Rīdzenieks’ unpublished documentary works, a considerable number of which are included in this album.
The selected photographs are arranged in several thematic chapters accompanied by a series of analytical texts. Art historian and photography researcher Alise Tīfentāle highlights the main genres and themes of Rīdzenieks’ heritage and his place in the context of the history of world photography, with a special focus on his relation to Pictorialism – a photography style popular in the early 20th century; Mārtiņš Mintaurs marks the background for the events of the era, Katrīna Teivāne-Korpa gives an insight into the life, professional activity and specifics of the photographer’s work in the beginning of the 20th century. Lauma Lanceniece, art historian and Photo Collection Manager at the Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation, explores Rīdzenieks’ work in photo studios, while photographer Gunārs Janaitis examines the arsenal of the photographic equipment used by Vilis Rīdzenieks, and explains how and with what the master’s outstanding photos were taken.