I've noticed a tendency to be more interested in the work of photographers with somewhat similar background as myself. For example I connect more with the work of photographers from the Soviet block than to, say, the work about social issues in US Midwest. Not that the latter was bad or anything (I have to write a review of Bryan Schutmaat's fabulous "Grays The Mountain Sends" to balance this statement), but as I said - I tend to connect more to the topics that are close to me - geographically, historically, spiritually.
So after visiting a group exhibition "Cool Water" showing Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian photography from the nineties I bought the books of Andrejs Grants and Inta Ruka. Neither are available new, but good options exist on Ebay.
Grants's works remind me a little bit of Koudelka (sometimes even to the point where I'd suspect he had seen and copied Koudelka - for example the landscape with hand and wristwatch), but in general are not as dark as his.
The book is divided into three parts - Impressions, Around Latvia and Colleagues, Friends and Acquaintances. I salute to the separation - having seen rather mediocre book with portraits mixed with nudes and industrial views from an Estonian author of the same time.
I liked the works of Grants on the exhibition - I wouldn't have bought the book otherwise - but the first part honestly fails to impress. The pictures are indeed impressions, with fairly little to connect to. You can rarely guess the time or place and although one can argue they're not important, it is why I become interested in his works in the first place. The photographs of Berlin seem to be out of place for me - one showing a graffiti in German and the other one with huge Marlboro banner among pictures of eighties Latvia. Not to mention one square format picture among the 2:3-s.
The second part pushes hard on the nostalgia buttons and seems also the strongest photography in this book - for me. The details are distinctly Soviet - the cars and buses, moped, clothing, etc, although europlastic makes it's way into the newer pictures too. The pictures show more signs of life than the first part, there're people on almost every picture. The situations vary from sad to humorously absurd, as on the front cover photo. It comes through as everyday life, found rather than staged. It's not depressing, but it's mostly not upbeat either.
The third part, Colleagues, Friends and Acquaintances, seems to be the weakest. The selection seems just random for me, studio work mixed with environmental portraits and hardly portraits at all. There're some interesting photos, I mostly like the ones that stretch the portrait category, again likely found and not staged.
My overall impression is positive, I'm happy to have this book on my shelf. More importantly, I'm glad this type of work - about life in Soviet Union - exists and has found it's way into the form of book making it more accessible. I'd have never been able to make myself familiar with Grants's works if this book didn't exist.
(Added 13.11.15): Now that I've had a bit more time to think about this book - I like that it's not melancholic, it's not outsiders view in, it's insiders view. It doesn't make things overly dramatic, these seem to be the pictures of a person who knew what life is like in Soviet Union.
PS: I like printing the negative borders, they frame the pictures nicely and underline the fact that the photos are uncropped. But leaving them out on 3-4 pictures in the book makes it a bit weird.