Book Review: Gvido Kajons "Theme 011"

One-sentence review: The first half relies too heavily on soviet propaganda slogans, the other half has historical value for Latvian culture.

Gvido Kajons is one of the Latvian photographers whose work I saw at "Cool Water" exhibition (together with Andrejs Grants and Inta Ruka). I reviewed Grants' book here should you be interested.

Kajons's book was quite hard to find, his website is in Latvian, but using Google Translate I understood that the book is sold by some gallery in Riga. I contacted the gallery in Facebook (they have a page) and they indeed sold me the book. Not the usual way to get a book.

First of all, the book is solid hardcover, printed on nice paper and the reproduction quality seems to be very good for me. But I'm saying that without seeing any original prints, so I don't have a reference to compare to other than my own experience with similar photo books. Oh well, I did see the prints at the exhibition, but that was too long ago to compare the quality.

The book is divided into two parts - the first and unnamed part starts right after intro essay and then somewhere in the middle there's a separate page with subtitle "Portraits".

The first part relies heavily on various Soviet propaganda slogans, posters, signs, roadside banners written in either Russian (which I understand to some extent) or Latvian (which I don't understand at all). Frankly, most of these pictures just fail to impress despite the fact that the texts are translated in the captions. I think the picture has to say everything without relying much on texts in the picture (I can think of exceptions but that's another topic). I found myself desperately waiting for the next picture without any texts. When I try to remember the pictures from the exhibition, I think all of them stood on their own - so the author has more and better work, it's just a matter of edit. Then again, I totally fail to understand the choice of pictures in the book.

Some small things I noticed: I very much like the picture of a parade in the snow on page 12 and it was an interesting realization how the sky is left completely blank white without any details on some pictures - it would be totally unacceptable nowadays, during the digital age, when you must get absolutely everything out of the dynamic range of the sensor (and you must have a bad sensor if your skies are blank white). I'm intrigued to try white sky now.

There's picture from London titled (and showing) Tower Bridge (on page 106) in a book where the rest of the pictures are from Soviet Latvia, at least as far as I can identify. I hope it's a human error during editing and not a choice knowingly made, this picture really doesn't belong there.

The second part contains mostly portraits of Latvian writers, musicians, journalists, actors, etc. I can't help but think if I'd find the portraits more interesting if I knew the people. I found myself thinking how would I connect to the work of, say, Jim Marshall if I knew absolutely nothing of the people on his pictures? I'm not even comparing the pictures, because Kajons is not nearly Marshall, but just as an intellectual exercise. All in all, it is history of Latvian culture, just as Kalju Suur's work is valued because it's history of Estonian culture, but the pictures don't stand on their own, mostly. I have another book by Latvian portrait photographer Inta Ruka (whose portrait is also among Kajons's portraits) in my to-be-reviewed list and I find the pictures there lightyears ahead of Kajons's.

Kajons's book makes me think how should I photograph, say, the streets of Tartu in a way that this work would make any sense in 30 years, in a way that it would tell something about life around 2015.