Leica Oskar Barnack Award 2010: Jens Olof Lasthein „Waiting for the future - pictures from Abkhazia“

Jens Olof Lasthein – Waiting for the Future – Pictures from Abkhazia, 2010

After a period of unrest and civil war, the Republic of Abkhazia in South Caucasus proclaimed its independence; but under international law it belongs to Georgia. This is a politically difficult situation that is also reflected in everyday living conditions. The Swedish photographer took this uncertainty as the starting point for his series, which was honoured with the 2010 Leica Oskar Barnack Award.

In former times, the sub-tropical region on the north coast of the Black Sea was popular with tourists from all over the Soviet Union, invaded each summer by thousands of beach lovers. That was all before repeated riots and armed conflict arose with Georgia – events that have left their mark.

When the photographer portrayed Abkhazia, the country was in limbo: “I was curious about a country that, until recently, did not officially exist... how do you make plans when the future is so uncertain?” The photographer observed and captured everyday life in Abkhazia, characterized by hopelessness and despair, but also experiencing untroubled moments reminiscent of a bygone era: bathing girls on a pristine summer’s day; a couple on the beach; a young woman dressed for a wedding. Lasthein captured some of those carefree moments. He produced the series with Widelux and Horizon cameras – analogue, panorama cameras with panning lenses.

“The series from Abkhazia was the starting point for six years of work in the Caucasus, resulting in the book ‘Meanwhile Across the Mountain’. Like with my previous books a dominant theme is life in borderlands, and if there was ever a region of intricate borderland issues, the Caucasus is one of them.”

In Abkhazia people long to be normal – like everywhere else in the world. The photographer believes the theme of his series is universal. “Many of us have experienced being thrown off track. Maybe the people in Abkhazia have learned to simply live in the here and now, without thinking about tomorrow or beyond,” the photographer ponders. “For me, it is much more important that my pictures capture visual insights into life in all its facets, than to simply record the bare facts. To capture life as far as possible in all its complexity and diversity – so that my pictures tell their own, sweeping and varied stories.” With this in mind, a closer look at the pictures will reveal surprising details and beauty amid the ugliness.

(text updated 2020)

“The honour of the LOBA was an important acknowledgement. It has meant a lot to maintain confidence in what I do.”

Jens Olof Lasthein

Jens Olof Lasthein was born in Sweden in 1964, and raised in Denmark. He studied at the Nordic School of Photography in Stockholm. Since 1992 he has been working as a freelance photographer. He has held solo exhibitions around the world and published four books to date: “Moments in Between”, dealing with the Balkan wars in the nineties; “White Sea Black Sea”, covering the borderland between eastern and western Europe; “Home Among Black Hills”, with pictures from Charleroi in Belgium. His fourth book, “Meanwhile Across the Mountain”, with pictures from the Caucasus, which earned him the 2010 LOBA, was published in 2017.

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