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Film director Mārtiņš Grauds. Photo from the personal archive

Let’s turn to photography. What are your latest photo activities?

My latest photo activity is going over materials for a specific project: the book Kapusvētki (Cemetery Festivals), which will be published with the support of the publishing house Neputns. The editor is Inese Zandere, and the book will feature texts by Janīna Kursīte, Andris Akmentiņš, and Tālis Tīsenkopfs. The book will also possibly include texts by the actors from Alvis Hermanis’s theater production Kapusvētki, Inese Zandere’s interview with Alvis Hermanis, and one of my own texts. 

The book will feature 120–130 black-and-white photographs, as well as conceptual color works. I accumulated this collection of photographs over the course of three years, driving around to cemetery festivals in Latvia. The book will also include a unique photo series of cemetery benches, which was created alongside my project of photographing people.

Cemetery benches are an interesting national characteristic; each one is different, though they can also be grouped into certain categories. If you pay special attention to these attributes, then unique faces are revealed that tell us much about people’s personalities.

How did this photographic analysis of the cemetery festival theme begin?

It came from an interest in my contemporaries, those living right here beside me, and fortunately these cemetery festivals are also a part of our cultural heritage. For me, this project is much more than just the recording and preservation of a tradition. 

Around the time I was searching for a plot for a documentary film, I visited a friend of mine who is a minister in Alūksne. I asked him what was going on nearby. The main event he mentioned was cemetery festivals, and the cemetery festivals around Alūksne draw the most visitors anywhere in Latvia.

That year I went to photograph the cemetery festivals. I was very satisfied with the material, and understood that with photographs you can depict the character of these events much more powerfully than you can by making a documentary film. 

While photographing, I searched for what I like: the relationships between people and the particular in various situations. Cemetery festivals are a milieu where lots of different people meet, therefore they are particularly favorable toward searches for and documentation of moments. People appear at cemetery festivals who might not be noticed in other circumstances. They often don’t leave the boundaries of their homes—you don’t see them in the market, in town, or at other festivities.

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