Algimantas Kuncius was born in Pakruojis, Lithuania in 1939. He was at the core of the Lithuanian photography school in the 1960s and became one of the nine photographers to form a Lithuanian photography Union in 1969. It was the first independent photography organization in the Soviet Union that gave photography an artistic status and allowed the photographers to take independent comissions. During the thaw, the work of agimantas Kuncius had a critical influence on Soviet photography as a whole. His series At the Seaside (1965-2014) and Sundays (1968-1985) are the essential photographic documentaries of the time. The Reminiscences (1975 – 1987) and The Book of Clouds (1985 – 2001) are more philosophical timeless observations. In 2010 The National Gallery of Art, a leading contemporary museum in Lithuania exhibited the Film notes, a unique film archive which he collected from 1979 to 1984. He recently held a retrospective exhibition in Kaunas Art Gallery. Algimantas Kuncius lives and works in Vilnius.
Kuncius grew up in Kaunas, living there from the age of seven, and spent most of his life in Vilnius. “We ran away to Kaunas to avoid being deported to Siberia. My father was an organist, and there were a lot of young men in his choir. Later they all went off to the forests to fight. When the Russians came they started to interrogate my father. He avoided the investigation by running away to the forest. He was later arrested and interrogated again. He escaped with the help of local church congregation who dressed him up as a cleric and put him in a cart. Russians stopped looking for him as he wasn’t important. My father started working in Kaunas and came back to takes us with him in 1946. We walked through the fields of snow and were offered a lift by Russian soldiers passing buy in a truck. As they were driving over the fiileds the partisans started shooting. We jumped into a snow and the bullets flew over our heads. It made an incredible impression on me as a child standing in the cold field of snow in the dark! The partisans desided not to waist bullets on the empty Russian military trucks and some sivillians and stopped shooting. We got back in and one of them gave as some lard to eat. We were all running away: all pushed out of our places: this is why the spirit is so restless!”
In his photographic series Kuncius attempts to return to his native place of memories. His attentiveness and sensitivity to his surroundings sprawned a distinct trait in his work, a profound connection with places. His early period is marked by two major series: Photographed in Vilnius (1963-1975) and Sundays (1968-1978), which reflect his main inspirations, nature and culture, and explains how such opposite mental poles coexist in his world view: ‘For me, nature and culture are absolutely intermingled. I am amazed myself at how strongly the modernist interwar architecture of Kaunas has influenced me. I have compared it with grandma’s gardens”. The images in Photographed in Vilnius series tell the story of both the old vanishing city and the modernised one. The photographer became an attentive explorer and archaeologist who detected traces of history in the city’s stone face. Polish worshippers on Palm Sunday, an old woman in Uzupis, Jewish youths basking in the spring sun, these are last survivors of old Vilnius. The series Sundays comprises images taken during trips around several regions and demonstrate his anthropological approach. It features mostly rural community and its way of life: going to church on Sunday, having a chat with someone you know and the celebrations. They emphesize ties of communion, kinship and neighbourhood.
Reminiscences series comprises photographs that speak of memory and its ephemeral nature through natural domestic objects, garden, interior and architecture. These series grown into filmmaking. In 1977 he collaborated with Jonas Mekas, together they visited his native area of Semeliskes, and took part in screenings and meetings. “I realised that it was possible to shoot a film in the same way that you write a diary”.
In the mid-1970s he was looking for an alternative and different form of visual thinking and Reminiscences series became a turning point. He began photographing industrial sites, high ways, drainpipes, concrete and piles of gravel. He showed them almost to no one. From 1977 to 1986 he worked on this subject consistently. He photographed masses of cheap construction of residential districts for industrial workers and their families. In his photographs these constructions sites are full of contradictions and conflicts: the warmth of the home and cold of poverty, the lucid post Chernobyl sky polluted with radiation. In the 1990s he returnes to photographyng the people on the streets. The city exites him as a point of constant change. He focuses on locations and views that are most important to him: the Tymas district of Vilnius, the right bank of the river Neris and the Seskine heights. These are observation points, from which he followes year after year the changing horizon, construction and reconstruction, big and small events in the life of residents and most importantly sky full of clouds.
“…they do not belong to anyone, appear and disappear, uncover the sky, evoke uneasiness, bring longing away, fill emptiness, refresh mind and calm spirit..” Most photographs in The Book of Clouds series were taken in Vilnius, on Ozo hills in Seskine, and in some other places in Lithuania with classic Rolleiflex 6×6. Algimantas Patasius wrote in his essay for Kuncius’s catalogue “In the book of clouds the photographer’s eye wonder away from earthbound nature, associated with daily life, towards relentlessly changing and at the same time most constant and permanent pole of Lithuanian landscape, the canopy of heaven, the spiritual space fascinating human beings for evermore.”