Thursday, October 10, 2013

Vitas Luckus (1943-1987) was a russian photographer

The Tbilisi police feasted him with wine. The thieves from Odessa used to come just to see him. They were sending him honey from the depths of Bashkortostan. Armenian Catholic prepared luxurious dinner to express his salute him. He kept a live lion at home. He worked a lot and drank a lot too. Roundabout people trusted him, admired him, they were imitating his manners and retelling his fascinating stories. His splendid and extravagant home used to be the most vibrant centre of the cultural bohemia of that time. He and his beautiful wife readily hosted the famous artists from the whole Soviet Union. Talks about art and life used to last far longer than a day or two. But it was photography that swallowed him up.
The photographer Vitas Luckus (1943 05 29 – 1987 03 16) lived in the society that officialy did not accept him. His raging, boundless personality and his extraordinary documentary photographs show an artist who refused to adapt to conventions, to so-called “normal” life. He refused to seek success within the rules of the system.
More than 20 years have passed. But Luckus is still a “prohibited” artist, even in his own, now independent country. His discoveries and innovations are still known to a close circle of intellectuals exactly as it was in Soviet times when he was alive.
Tanya Aldag slips into a closet-size room in her home in suburban Maryland. The door clicks shut. Here, surrounded by thousands of black and white prints, she goes tumbling back to Soviet-era Lithuania.
It’s like you’re going deep into the water,” she said. “It can be hard to go there.”
Ms. Aldag, 64, is the widow of Vitas Luckus, once a prince — perhaps even a king — of the Soviet photography scene. From the 1960s to the mid-1980s, he traveled throughout the Soviet bloc, capturing peasants, performers, partiers and policemen, as well as a generation of grippingly attractive young artists. He scurried across sloping rooftops (Slide 15), camera swinging from his neck. He worked obsessively, with little care for what others thought. The secret police were a constant presence in his life, burgling his home and beating him in bathrooms and cafes.
Ms. Aldag was both his muse and his creative partner, alternately his subject and his co-producer. When Mr. Luckus died in 1987 at age 43, after committing murder and then killing himself, his work faded to near-obscurity. Ms. Aldag, tortured by his abrupt death, eventually escaped to the United States with her young daughter and remarried.
But recent events — including a spring exhibit at the Lithuanian embassy in Washington, the fall release of a documentary about Mr. Luckus’s life, and the coming publication of two books — will allow the public, finally, to see his work.
It’s time to talk,” said Ms. Aldag, who now runs a home for the elderly at her ranch-style house. “When we were young, I did not realize that we were living something, and now I realize it was history.”
Mr. Luckus was born in 1943 in Nazi-occupied Lithuania. In 1944, the Soviets took control and outlawed religious, cultural and political opposition organizations.
Ms. Aldag met him at a hospital where she was training to be a nurse. She was 18, he was 24. Their first home together consisted of a single-person cot in the photography lab where Mr. Luckus found a job. “We were skinny, thank God,” Ms. Aldag said. “We would put these cartons a little bit under the mattress, and bedspreads. And when we want to turn, we say, ‘O.K., turn.’ ”
DESCRIPTIONVitas Luckus“Self portrait with Tanya.”

The two made money by creating advertisements that shopkeepers hung above half-empty store shelves. Ms. Aldag still has the prints: colorful photographs of smiling men and women holding bundles of bread and fish.
We just lived,” Ms. Aldag said. “We did. We lived. We were happy.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Luckus grew into a lightning-rod figure in the region’s art scene, a man whose brutal honesty, seemingly boundless creativity and aggressive empathy had the power to both divide and inspire the bohemian community in which he lived. Socially, he was “brilliant at certain moments, impossible at others,” the journalist Herman Hoeneveld wrote in “The Hard Way,” a 1994 book of Mr. Luckus’s work. “He had a unique inspiring and stimulating effect on others, and would work for days on end with a minimum of sleep and alcohol.”
Mr. Luckus called himself “dvarniazka,” Russian for mutt. He filled his frames with information and emotion. He often captured his subjects at jarringly close range, snapping the shutter at the moment they burst into laughter or raised their arms in ecstasy. “He photographed both for God and for the devil, and worked as if possessed,” Mr. Hoeneveld wrote.
Mr. Luckus was never involved in politics, Ms. Aldag said, but his work was sometimes censored — overtly by Communist officials or, more covertly, by well-connected colleagues who ignored it. Government informants and police officers often followed him, and on March 16, 1987, a man Ms. Aldag believes was a K.G.B. officer visited the couple’s apartment on Jaksto Street in Vilnius. Mr. Luckus became angered by the man’s questions, according to an account in “The Hard Way.”
He stabbed and killed the man, then flung himself off the balcony. Ms. Aldag found him in the snow.
Ms. Aldag continued to take pictures for several years, but she never felt safe in Lithuania. In 1991, she moved to the United States, carrying her adopted daughter Katrina, a suitcase of Mr. Luckus’s photographs and diaries, and $50.

One stone is missing in this Lithuanian culture,” said Ms. Aldag, referring to the voluminous photographic archive in her home. “There is still a lot to share.” » ( )


  1. Hello, Vitas Luckus was Lithuanian photographer. His nationality was Lithuanian. He was born in Lithuania, at these days Lithuania SSR, today Republic of Lithuania, EU member. You have made mistake, stated that he was russian!
    Cit.: "Vitas Luckus (1943-1987) was a russian photographer "

  2. statement : "More than 20 years have passed. But Luckus is still a “prohibited” artist, even in his own, now independent country. His discoveries and innovations are still known to a close circle of intellectuals exactly as it was in Soviet times when he was alive." is unfair to Lithuania, as Luckus is well known and admired artist and numerous exhibitions were presented, as well as documentary movie about his life.


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