I have always had a deep respect for people who live in connection with nature. In their lives, nature holds a special place, in some ways deeper than their relationships with the people around them. For these individuals, the sea and forest become greater than any one person and for them nature is more than just a means of subsistence, more than survival—it is their life-long companion that dictates their lives.
I returned to the village where I spent my childhood summers to try and remember how it used to be. I wanted to find the images of the men who loved nature more than people. The men that are surrounded with endlessly frozen forests and seemingly quiet seas—environments that conceal dangers within. These old men are like the nature around them: quiet, sometimes harsh, introverted. But once you get to know them, they open up.
During winter, my small village is deserted. There are few people who live there year-round. It gets dark early, around 4 pm. The streets are empty, the houses are dark and snowed in, just a few dozen windows stand with their lights on. There aren’t many job opportunities, so young people and children move to bigger cities or countries, leaving the old ones to look after themselves. Only the ones who don’t know any other way remain. They wouldn't know what to do in the city, how to act, which rules to follow.
This old lifestyle is dying out because there is no one who is willing to continue living this simply. Everywhere, I notice, we are losing our connection with nature. For example, young children don’t have an understanding of where milk, eggs or meat come from. They one things as packaged products.
I was looking, then, for a time lost. A time, it seems, that the locals have never forgotten, but that we might soon forget. A place that is magical, mystical; between nowadays and the past. They still live in that time—slowly, quietly, peacefully.
Karlis Bergs' work was shown at the Delhi Photo Festival in India. Bhumika Popli, a writer for the online magazine Aksgar, was fascinated by his work. She reached out to Bergs to find out more about his background and his inspirations.
Bhumika Popli: Your childhood in Latvia—any nostalgia?
I was born when the Soviet Union collapsed. That was the time when things were changing. For the first 10 years, things were quite bad—widespread corruption, powerful mafia, general uncertainty. People didn’t know how to act in this new country nor under the new regime called "democracy."
Being just a child at the time, I didn’t really know about these things. I guess I was lucky. Most of my memories are simply very happy. I think most of all the summers I spent in a small village by the sea with my two sisters. I had no worries, even amidst the chaos and upheaval.
Today, Latvia has become more European. Our cities seem modern, the living standard has risen. Even so, we are still a very “young” country. Corruption is still present and we still have a long way to go.
The picture in the series of a young tree blossoming stands as a symbol for my country. This picture comes directly after the fallen tree house picture—the old is dying out and the new tree is growing back.
BP: What drew you to use black and white film when making this series?
Black and white images create a symbolic atmosphere. The lack of color removes the concept of time. This timeless feeling, an almost “magical realism” feeling, allowed me to create pictures in which you don’t know what is real and what is not. Mystical forests, raging seas, the feeling is more important than the places depicted. Indeed, the photos are not so much about a specific space; they convey the mystique of a place in my head.
BP: What was it like to produce this series? Can you tell us about your experience in the cold, in the heart of nature?
Sometimes it was very cold—in the picture where a man is walking on a frozen lake, it was minus 30 degrees celsius and the wind was blowing heavily. In that atmosphere, changing rolls of films can be a challenging task. Still, I found the weather conditions quite enjoyable. They brought me that perfect feeling I needed to make the project.
BP: You demonstrate a deep respect for people who live in connection with nature. How is your relationship with nature?
I try to be a responsible city person—I recycle, I go everywhere by bicycle. Even if those are small things, if everyone would do the same, it would make a difference. But besides my city life, I feel I have a fundamental need for nature. There are times when I need to be able to hear nothing except the wind.
BP: Is this series still ongoing?
This series is finished. It took me two winters, countless rolls of film and many walks around my village. But after two winters I started to edit the work and this September I self-published my first photo book, in an edition of 70. They sold out very fast, so I am thinking about making a bigger edition...
BP: While you were shooting this project, what were some of the distinctions you discovered between urban and rural lifestyles?
As I said in my text, we are losing our connection with nature. Young kids don’t even know where food comes from. They can’t make the connection between a chicken fillet and a real chicken.
When you live in a city, you have an imaginary control over your life. But if you live in the countryside, you live with a respect and an understanding that you can’t influence nature. Nature is stronger and bigger than us. But it seems to me that most people living in cities have forgotten that.
BP: Do you want any of this to change? Do you prefer the old way of living? Do you believe that we can bring back a lost time?
I am very skeptical about change, I don't think humans will adapt their behavior fast enough—but in reality, it doesn’t matter. Nature will survive; humans probably will not. What we need to realize is that we are not special; nature will go on with or without us.
So what's the point of making pictures? I am not interested in direct photojournalism. It is too straight, it is what it is. But I hope by producing something poetic about serious issues, there is a chance (however slight), that my images could quietly plant a small seed in the viewer's mind. This seed will cause him or her to think. And that is the most important thing: thinking.
—Karlis Bergs as told to Bhumika Popli