In memoriam to Romas Juškelis who lived and created freely 1

Tomas Pabedinskas, 2016-07-14
Photographer R. Juškelis in the summer of 2015. Photo by Tomas Pabedinskas

In brief: “He does not strive for glory and lives in his own rhythm: he loves wandering in the city on weekends where everything seems to have been photographed already. Still, he finds something new every time”, the colleague Alvydas Vaitkevičius told about Kaunas photographer Romas Juškelis (1946–2016) about ten years ago. As the author visited R. Juškelis’ studio last summer, it seemed that the flow of work and life was similarly independent and would never change. They looked through the newest photographs and discussed how they could form new series of works back then. Now, a year after this meeting, we speak about the photographer in the past tense already.

After the news about his death reached the community of photographers, the author shared a thought in social networks: “He lived and created freely. He was not constrained by the craving for recognition and competition with other photographers. This is Romas Juškelis I remember, until the last days.”

A wide circle of people know R. Juškelis from his photographs. What are they? Did the independent personality and lifestyle reflect in the photographer’s works? Most probably, yes. Although he made his debut in art photography at the end of the 8th decade of the 20th century, R. Juškelis created several original series of different style and theme. Looking retrospectively, it seems that the photographs of R. Juškelis made an important and at the same time slightly peripheral part of the panorama of Lithuanian photography. The author differed from the humanistic trend of the Lithuanian school of photography as no humanistic attention to the man could be noticed in his works. He paid more attention to the visual form of photographs free from socialist-realism content.

Therefore, we may state today that the search for the “pure” form is one of the most important features of creative works of R. Juškelis. It is evident in his photographs called laconically “Form”. In the same style one of the most famous series of R. Juškelis “Forlorn Kaunas Fortress” (1993–1997) was created. The expressive forms and “photographic seeing” of his photographs remind of the international trend of photography of the first half of the 20th century.

The photographer admitted that he was influenced by the Czech photographer Josef Sudek. Photographs of R. Juškelis remind of the Czech artist’s works by the perfect choice of light which highlights forms of photographed objects, the complex composition, the attention to the native city.

Poetry and hints to surrealism typical of Czech photography of the 1st half of the 20th century may be noticed in R. Juškelis’ oeuvre too. For example, in the series “People and Mannequins” (1987–1992), several layers of reality intertwine. In a similar way his first series of photographs “Reflections” (1980–1985) was created. In these photographs the artist captured Kaunas views in mirror-like surfaces of puddles and later displayed photographs upside down. As a result, city reflections looked like fantastic images.

Even in the most banal environment – soviet army, R. Juškelis immortalised the routine as a series of strange moments. These photographs speak about the devaluation of a person and personal degradation.

The daily reality is shown in an unusual way in the series “Burning World” (1990–1995) too. R. Juškelis processed photographs created earlier using a special technology and coloured them in shades of red and blue that reminded of fire. The original effect of “unreal colour” turned every print into a unique artwork.

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