Soon to be Gone, by Lithuanian photographer Tadas Kazakevičius, is a deeply-poetic and engaging portrayal of rural life in his homeland that strikes at the heart of the human condition.
Completely self-taught, Tadas first began taking photos whilst living in London during his early twenties. He spent five years in the city, though during this period, made several extended sojourns to his homeland, where he spent much of his time in the countryside.
In the three decades since Lithuania became the first Soviet republic to declare independence, its population has decreased by almost a quarter, whilst in rural areas, this figure is closer to half.
For many young people, the opportunities and excitement that urban life affords are too great a draw, compelling them to flock to the capital, Vilnius, and increasingly, since 2004 (when the country became a full member of the EU) to emigrate to other major European cities.
Though Tadas had been aware of his country’s demographic shift for some time, it was during his return visits (whilst he was living in London) that the reality of it made an acute impression on him.
He returned to his homeland for good in 2012 and, feeling compelled to reconnect with these dwindling countryside communities, began photographing them, though at the time, without any clear vision or plan of how the images would connect with one another.
It was the work of Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, and other notable photographers who worked for the Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression, that provided the inspiration for what would ultimately become this project. Their now-iconic portrayals of rural life in mid and southwest USA, and of those who were forced to leave their homes in search of work, altered the course of documentary photography dramatically, and today, serve as important touchstones of the time.
Sensing parallels between their subjects and his own, in 2014, Tadas, now with a clearer picture in mind, set out to capture what remained of rural life in his homeland, before it was too late.
Over the course of five years, he made countless journeys across the country, traveling over 7000 km, predominately on a 50cc motorbike, which he purchased with a grant given to him by the Lithuanian Council for Culture.
The deeply compelling images he captured depict the people, places, animals, and subtle minutiae that comprise these rapidly disappearing communities, all washed in muted natural tones that bestow them with a painting-like quality.
The pace is slow and considered, owing to his assiduous approach, most notably his use of the medium-format Hasselblad camera and reflecting life in areas where traditional farming methods are still prevalent, and where residents are predominantly elderly.
Arresting portraits of farmers and agricultural workers are occasionally accompanied by soliloquies that reflect on their existence, whilst decaying and often abandoned buildings serve as emblems of a bygone time.
Religious iconography appears frequently, a reflection of the ‘traditional’ values that still underpin everyday life here, and perhaps, a metaphor for the enduring faith in the land its people retain.
On occasion, we see young children playing amongst the brindled landscapes; we wonder whether they will, one day, become the guardians of their communities, or perhaps, like so many before them, leave their homes behind in search of a more modern existence.
Although motivated by, and permeated with, the subtle sense of loss that the title suggests, in Soon to be Gone, what Tadas has captured, is the stoic beauty and resilience of what remains. Images are not overtly somber, rather, they comprise a forthright yet simultaneously romanticized portrait of an increasingly evaporating and unfamiliar way of life, one defined by simplicity, modesty, and a profound sense of peace, for which we all yearn.
– Soon to be Gone is available now (including a limited edition run of 25 copies with genuine linen embroidered covers). To purchase a copy, contact Tadas directly via his website.
All images © Tadas Kazakevičius