Nowadays, when capturing the world is at your fingertips is just one camera click away, we tend to forget or even can't imagine the relatively recent history of the development of photography and the significance of this technological invention.
A hundred years ago, photography was not nearly half as accessible and simple as it is today. Back then, no apps existed for turning even the most unsuccessful images into visually appealing works of art through applying filters, and photographers faced great challenges in learning the techniques and honing skills on their own. Therefore, photo workshops were of great importance as this is where enthusiasts could learn to master the art of the trade.
The Latvian Museum of Photography is home to a collection of one such photo workshop. It is the home of collection of the Strenči Photo Worksop which consists of 13 000 glass plates. These snapshots feature the life of Strenči and its surrounding area in the period from 1920s to 1950s. Such photographers as Dāvis Spunde, Jānis Ziemeļnieks, his sister Paulīne Kraukle and his brother Konrāds Krauklis worked in the photo workshop. They were outstanding photographers who left us a legacy of the world of their time through their artistic talents and creativity.
Photographers were some of the most important chroniclers of local life, and this collection shapes a unique story of Strenči and its inhabitants. Several thousand glass plates portray human life in all its diversity — from commonplace activities to special events, both happy and sad. Everything was captured — school and work, family celebrations and carnivals, sports and water recreation, annual flooding of the river Gauja as well as rare solar eclipses.
Along with the daily life of the province’s inhabitants, these photographs also depict the important period of Latvia becoming a state, and mirror how this affected Strenči as a town. The collection reflects how new buildings were built and streets were landscaped in the town. At the same time, the photographs portray the particular and unique character of Strenči and its surroundings, especially traditions of the Gauja raftsmen which form an unusual part of Latvian intangible cultural heritage. Strenči, which literally evolved out of the forest industry and rafting, is called the capital of the Gauja raftsmen for a reason.
This collection also gives insight into the technological aspects in the history of the development of photography. Glass plates were a major turning point in photography, sparking the development of the photography and cinema we know today.
No other Latvian city, perhaps even a European city, and its inhabitants, have been captured so extensively and systematically. These snapshots stimulate our imagination and reflection on how people’s daily lives and perceptions of the world have changed. Photographs enable us to observe how technological progress changed the daily lives of the province’s inhabitants through the eyes of contemporaries.
1) Strenči Photo Workshop. A group of raftsmen with hooks on the bank of the river Gauja. 1920s– 1940s (Latvian Museum of Photography)
2) Strenči Photo Workshop. At the taxidermy workshop. 1920s–1930s (Latvian Museum of Photography)
3) Strenči Photo Workshop. Two young women at the photo workshop. 1920s–1930s (Latvian Museum of Photography)