coming of age on the cold seas of the baltic
Ieva Raudsepa documents growing up between the cusp of East and West, youth and adulthood.
The time when the sea was just a pretty picture is long gone: in the midst of the migrant crisis and after Brexit the sea inevitably makes one think of borders, the borders of Europe and borders of the UK. Latvian photographer Ieva Raudsepa took her search for national identity to the sea as well: she documented her peers on the ferry from Riga to Stockholm. And although the trashy bars and tacky discos aboard seemingly have little to do with history and identity, this is exactly where those ideas come to live.
"I used to go on this ferry a lot with my friends when I was in high school," Raudsepa remembers. "This is something young people like to do because you can get away from your parents and the police who would write you tickets for smoking underage - on the ferry no one asks you anything. We were always attracted by the wild trashy atmosphere."
Raudsepa returned to the ferry with a bunch of friends recently: it was New Year's Day, the sea was frozen, the ferry half-empty and the whole journey very depressing. She took a few snaps without thinking, and upon returning to them a few month later, decide to shoot the ferry again. The weird connection she felt with the detached and hedonistic world which existed aboard made her return again and again spending a year and a half photographing people on the cruise.
"On the ferry there are always Latvians, a lot of Lithuanians, some Swedish seniors and truck drivers who could be pretty much from anywhere. A lot of people are on the ferry for entertainment but some, like the truck drivers, take it for transportation," Ieva adds. Despite the variety of types, she quickly realised that her main interest was not the life on the ferry but the new generation of Latvians and their love for the tacky aesthetics of the cruise. It was, after all, something she could relate to as well. "The ferry is like a place of escape, cheep chic, it has a trashy melancholic atmosphere that really speaks to me."
The interiors and the people aboard were documented in contrast with the surrounding wide open sea. "I try to put a lot of emphasis on the pictures of the sea, I like the juxtaposition of something really beautiful and something which looks like Eurovision on top of it", Raudsepa says. "Also the beauty of the sea in combination with the fact that you're going on a boat which is alone in the middle of this vast nothingness which could just swallow you up."
The historical context of coming of age for a lot of young Latvians is not unlike the vast nothingness of the sea: after the collapse of the Soviet Union Latvia went through a complex transition and European integration, becoming a member of the EU in 2004. The concept of a shared European identity is still new for the country, and cultural narratives of past and present are intertwined in the day to day life.
"With my friends from Western Europe there is this sense of difference from time to time, growing up in different context. There is the edginess, something in our environment which is not very polished. A friend of mine went to Munich for an exchange and when she came back after a year she said she really missed the Central market with its old ladies and drunkards," Raudsepa says. "But in general because of the idea of Europe, the internet, everyone seeing and sharing the same stuff we feel like a part of the global community. I realise that people don't know what Latvia is, but I never think of it as a country on the edge of Europe, how people from Germany or UK sometimes describe it."
The trashy aesthetics of the ferry which young people are drawn to is in a way another part of Latvia's post-Soviet heritage. And although very amusing, it's gradually becoming more and more foreign for the new generation. "Soviet mentality is foreign to a lot of young people. I'm from the first generation of people born in the independent Latvia and I think there is much more aware of their rights, more active socially, more up for initiatives," Raudsepa adds. "I think a lot of people understand the benefits of being in Europe, and a lot of EU grant money comes to Latvia and other Baltic countries. They are happy about being part of the EU, but there is also question of identity, whether we feel European - and I think young people certainly do feel like being a part of the Western world."
Text Anastasiia Fedorova
Photography Ieva Raudsepa