Olga Dietze (later Hecht, second half of the 19th century – first half of the 20th century) was, as far as we know, an amateur photographer, meaning she never worked in a salon, instead capturing scenes of the middle-class life and leisure she was living herself.
Her photos of family and friends are dynamic and have a modern look, which makes for an intriguing contrast with the pre-World War I quasi-aristocratic fashion of her subjects. But her well-composed landscape photos, many of which are stereo images, and the fact that she is known for historically significant photos of Tartu cityscapes and for having been the first to photograph Estonian peasants outside of a studio setting, allow us to speculate that she took her hobby very seriously and may have been stopped from a professional career in photography solely by her social status.
Helene Fendt (1896–?) moved to Estonia from Moscow in 1931 with her husband Paul Fendt, who had gotten a position at a textile factory on the island of Hiiumaa.
Helene Fendt never ran a salon of her own, but sold postcards to local stores. The current book contains her pictures of lighthouses; she obviously had an obsession with towers that made good pictures: chimneys and church towers have a special position in her oeuvre. She also liked roads, tracks and fences. So one could assemble a number of conceptual series, which even though they would probably not describe her intentions when taking photos, would make it possible to characterise her approach to photography as one that centres on variation and repetition.
Fendt emigrated in 1940 from Estonia and there is almost no information about her life afterwards.
Antonija Heniņa (née Ratnieka, 1897–1979) was one of several photographers who worked in the countryside, documenting common people and their lives. She was born in eastern Latvia (Latgale), but later moved west to Courland, where she settled in the Skrunda municipality. There the parish of Rudbārži granted her land, giving her the opportunity to build a family home and to open a photo salon, which at that time was quite unusual for such a small village.
As was noted on her business card, she took pictures not only at her house but was also willing to take all the necessary heavy equipment with her and travel by bicycle to photograph people. On these trips, even though there was no money in it, she documented the lives of people working in the fields and building new houses and railways, as well as life in the market. Besides her portraits, these photos are cherished as documentations of her time.
An interesting side note is that she also made portraits for the first passports issued to the inhabitants of the Skundra municipality by the government of the Republic of Latvia.
Minna Kaktiņa (1876–1949) is one of the most unusual photographers in the book; we don't know much about her but her work is important due to her images of youth and her charming colourisations.
She was from the municipality of Koknese, located in the Vidzeme region, which was an area where many photographers worked, including Marta Pļaviņa, Emīlija Raguel-Lācīte (1884–1983), Ērika Zariņa (1897–1968) and other women. She had a photo salon located in a two-storey house near the Koknese railway. Besides making portraits in the salon, she photographed her surroundings, documenting, for example, archaeological excavations. From the legacy preserved in the form of paper copies, there are landscapes, documentation of field work and social and cultural gatherings.
Kaktiņa’s works that seem to stand out the most are her colourisations, which make her genre photos and portraits very poetic and painterly. Although the usage of colour is not perfect, it seems to match perfectly with the many portraits of youth and gives these images the extra playfulness that usually is found in illustrated books for children.
Lūcija Alutis-Kreicberga (1889–1985) was an important figure in Latvian photography. She was one of the first woman photographers to open her own photo salon, named Noar, in Riga in 1918. She employed a small team of young photographers and a cashier. The salon and her photos were especially popular among artists, singers and actors. For a short period of time, the window decorations of the salon were made by the talented and scandalous Latvian artist Kārlis Padegs (1911–1940).
Kreicberga was born in the Zemgale region, but while still a young girl she moved with her family to Riga. During World War I, Kreicberga took refuge in Russia. There she met the Latvian photographer Mārtiņš Lapiņš (1873–1954), who invited her to work in one of his three photo salons in Riga. Later, one of them became Kreicberga’s own salon. She was a member of the Latvian Photographic Society, and she received a master’s diploma in photography from the Latvian Chamber of Crafts. In 1944, together with her family, she emigrated to the USA.
She made classic portraits using cinematographic effects, combining angles and poses with light effects. Kreicberga was also greatly influenced by pictorialism.
Anna Kukk (née Uudelt, 1885–1979) began her career at the beginning of the 20th century in the salon of her sister Marie Riet’s (1880–1959) husband, the Viljandi photographer Jaan Riet (1873–1952). In 1910, Anna Kukk moved from Estonia to Zeya, a little town in the far eastern Amur region of the Russian Empire, where she opened her own salon, married an Estonian city official and, as far as we can tell, had a good life. However, her husband died in 1920 and post-revolution Russia was no longer what it used to be, so she opted back to Estonia and continued working in Riet’s studio.
Not much is known of her studio’s production in Zeya, and in Viljandi all of the photos in the studio were stamped with Jaan Riet's name, so we don’t have many photos which can be attributed with certainty to Kukk. But one thing she brought with her from Zeya is an album documenting gold-washing near the city. Most probably inspired by the travel letters of explorers, it’s not clear whether she produced the album purely as a pastime, or whether she planned to publish it, especially as it features detailed descriptions of the process, documented on the photos.
Emīlija Mergupe (1885–1972) is considered one of the earliest women members of the Latvian Photographic Society, an important institution for the local photo community founded in 1906. In 1914, as a part of the Society they also formed the Women Members’ Committee, in which Mergupe was an active participant.
She was introduced to the profession by her teacher and employer, Mārtiņš Buclers (1866–1944), a Latvian photo entrepreneur who helped Mergupe to become an internationally successful photographer. He discovered her after she had run to Riga to hide. Mergupe had made passionate speeches in churches in her home-town of Mālpils during the Revolution of 1905. Up until World War II, she worked in Buclers’s photo factory, which after the Soviet occupation became the photo workshop of the chemical factory Spodrība.
She was a modern and outspoken woman whose character and fashion choices are visible in several photo portraits of her. Her biggest success was landscape photography, however none of these pictures seem to have survived. What we have are a few paper copies that can be described as ethnographic photography, documenting the lives of simple men.
Marta Pļaviņa (1896–1956) was a photographer from the municipality of Koknese whose photographic work has almost magically survived in more than a thousand glass negatives. Among these are portraits made to be cut out for documents, salon images with neat compositions, painted backgrounds and props, more experimental images with mirror reflections and different retouching methods, as well as staged photos and pictures documenting the life of the community.
Pļaviņa was born in Ļaudona, in the Madona municipality, in a big peasant family. It’s not completely clear what triggered her interest in photography, but it’s known that she went to Mārtiņš Buclers’s free photo courses to learn the craft. When Plaviņa finished the courses, Buclers gave her as a present a used camera. Later Pļaviņa took another course organised by the Latvian Photographic Society.
She settled in Skrīveri, where she married, built a house and started to earn her living as a local photographer. Working as a country photographer, she travelled long distances to photograph weddings, funerals, song festivals and threshing work, as well as making hundreds of portraits in her salon.
Hilja Riet (1905–2006) was born and raised in her parents’ photo salon in Viljandi. A notable part of her heritage is formed by holiday and greeting cards, which she started to photograph in the 1930s. The still lifes that she, in her own words, initially photographed as a hobby became very popular and turned out to be the first images to be produced in Jaan Riet’s studio that had the stamp of the actual author, Hilja Riet, on the back. The salon kept a rigorous record of all of the photos produced in the salon, including Hilja Riet’s postcards. As a result, we know that the leading motif of her postcards was flowers, with 67 different compositions. But in terms of print run, the flowers were surpassed by Christmas cards, with 97,623 Christmas cards being printed vs. 74,008 flower postcards.
Having studied in the Pallas Art School, many historical images of people connected to the school were taken by Hilja Riet. After World War II, she created an important body of work photographing contemporary artists. Many of those photos of artists working in their studios have become canonical portraits.
Lydia Tarem (née Paas, 1904–1979) was born in Haapsalu, where the celebrated photographer Johannes Grünthal (later Kalda, 1883–?) had a salon and organised classes to teach photography, which Lydia Tarem signed up for in 1919 at the age of fifteen. After ten years of studying and working, Tarem opened her own salon in the same building where Grünthal earlier had had his salon.
Besides impressive studio work, her heritage contains several albums of personal photos, including photos of her husband, and photos her husband took of her: it seems to have been a sort of game. The content of the albums leaves the impression that she had a very close and warm relationship with her husband, who as a police officer was one of the first to be arrested and deported in June 1941, which also meant the deportation of Lydia Tarem to Siberia.
According to legend, she carried a photo of a Christmas tree, her husband and her through Siberia and back home again.
Tarem’s husband died in 1941 in prison; she herself was allowed to return to Estonia in 1954, but she was for decades denied the right to live in her home town of Haapsalu. The book features five self-portraits in front of a mirror, one of which is around forty years later than the others. Taken in front of the same mirror, with the same camera, as the photos from the 1930s, it depicts Tarem as an old woman who after years of hardship has been allowed to return home.
Nanna Debois Buhl (b 1975) is an artist based in Copenhagen. She works with photography, installation, film and artist’s books, which grow out of research and visual experimentation. By intermingling historical and new photographic techniques, she connects what is depicted in images to how the images are made. Buhl is currently a PhD fellow in artistic practice at The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts and Copenhagen University. In her PhD project Sky Studies: Cosmic Code, Images, and Imaginaries, she is studying the explorations of space from astronomical, computational, aesthetic and futurological perspectives.
Her installation Stellar Spectra takes its point of departure from the British astronomer Margaret Huggins’s (1848–1915) work with astro-photography and spectroscopy. Spectroscopy is a photographic method which has been used since the end of the 1800s to explore the chemical compositions of, the motions of, and the distances between celestial bodies. Huggins was a pioneer in the field, designing cameras and conducting spectroscopic experiments. In Stellar Spectra, astrophysical photography is used as a prism to reflect on the mechanisms that render things visible or invisible, remembered or forgotten.
Elisabeth Tonnard (b 1973) is a Dutch artist and poet. Much of her work involves responding to existing books, texts and images, and reworking them into new (visual) literature. The works range in scale and method from a book that is completely invisible to a book that is a swimming pool. She has published over forty books, which have been exhibited widely and are housed in numerous private and public collections.
The series of eight archival pigment ink images titled Library are selections of fragments of pictures in a catalogue documenting the losses of the Gemäldegalerie at the Kaiser Friedrich Museum, the present-day Bode Museum, in Berlin during and after World War II. Photographic documentation and plaster casts remain as ghostly echoes of what was once there. The majority of losses occurred in the days just before and after the end of the war, in May 1945, when two devastating fires in the Friedrichshain flak tower destroyed most of the major works of art that had been stored there for safekeeping. Trapped in the tower were the paintings these images capture. The cause of the fires was never determined and has become the subject of legends.
Sami van Ingen (b 1964) is one of the pioneers of experimental film-making in Finland. He has made over 30 films, mostly dealing subtly with the act of seeing and using various strategies to manipulate found or forgotten footage.
His film Flame (Polte) is a unique artwork that not only presents a mesmerising visual experience, but also serves as a safe shelter for another film that was made almost a hundred years prior. Flame is a fractured melodrama based on damaged frames of the only remaining nitrate reel of the lost feature film Silja —Fallen Asleep When Young (1937). The original film was directed by the Finnish film-maker and actor Theodor Antonius Tugai, better known as Teuvo Tulio, whose films are noted for their extremely melodramatic style. All screening prints and the negative of the film were destroyed in a 1959 studio fire. A sequence from the middle of the film was found at La Cinémathèque Française in Paris in 2015. Sami van Ingen edited those found pieces into a short film.
And yes, Sami van Ingen happens to be the only male artist in this project.