The Other Vilnius: The ‘Proletarian’ Territory of the Photographer Algirdas Šeškus

  • Margarita Matulytė
Keywords: Vilnius, Algirdas Šeškus, photography, ‘proletarian’ expression, cultural memory


The article analyses the works of the photographer Algirdas Šeškus in the 1970s–1980s highlighting the iconographic aspect of Vilnius. Created in a style alternative to the humanistic documentalism developed by the Lithuanian school of photography, the photographs expand the visual characteristics of the city and disrupt the stereotypes that symbolise the status of the capital. Emphasising ‘the proletarian’ character of artistic expression, the article discusses the distinctive vision of the photographer who devalues the representativeness of the city’s memory sites, ignores the grand narratives, and reveals the ideological contradictions between the schools of photographic expression and the conceptions of the city’s identity.

Resorting to a metaphorical association with the concept developed by China Miéville’s in his novel The City & The City, where the mode of coexistence of two cities on the same territory is ‘invisibility’, the article unveils the ideological contradictions between photographic expressions and notions of the city’s identity.

Michel Foucault’s theory of heterotopias is advantageous for marking the border zones of intersecting socio-cultural interests. By entering representative spaces, the photographer expropriates and demolishes them: he ignores the sacral aspects of Vilnius’s ‘places of memory’, de-romanticises the capital’s emblematic sites, and decrowns the city’s monuments and heroes.

The artist suppresses the aggressiveness of the art of photography and the art in photography, imparts a ‘proletarian’ spirit to the image, and transforms any part of the city into a ‘proletarian’ territory.