AIR_BALTIC 4, 2017

Photo: Fredrik Kalström with his daughter on Fårö. © Kaspars Goba

AIR_BALTIC 4: Kaspars Goba, The Memory of Landscape

Kaspars Goba is a Latvian photographer, director and journalist who stayed at BAC during summer 2017 as part of the AIR_BALTIC residency programme. During his time on Gotland he interviewed and photographed Gotlanders on the north-eastern part of the island whose families had taken in refugees during World War Two.

“I was born in Northern Latvia, in the elevated plane of Vidzeme. From the hill on which my farm is located, I can clearly see the highway that links the capital of Latvia Riga with Pskov in Russia. Stories about the war transport and refugees moving along this road, is a part of the collective memory shared by my family and our neighbours. So are the stories about leaving Latvia and becoming refugees. One quarter of my family tree was uprooted and moved to the United States, England and Germany and the reason for that was the Second World War. I had heard stories of refugees leaving Latvia to Germany and Sweden. How farmers and craftsmen born in the hills of Vidzeme moved through the flat central Latvia to see the Baltic
Sea perhaps for the first time. They stood on the sandy dunes looking at the water that seemed endless. Then they entered that water, spending many nervous hours in rough seas and fearing bombardment from the air and submarines from below to end up on a rocky shore among strangers.

I am interested in finding out how the farmers and fishermen of the east coast of Gotland and Fårö remember the stream of people through their yards and houses during World War Two. Before talking to these people, I assumed that it had to be a strange experience: you live a peaceful life on your farm on the Baltic shore and then one day you are confronted with a crowded boat full of strange people. It is followed by another boat and then yet another… People walk through your yard. There are Swedish army personnel and the Red Cross busy on the island, taking care of the newcomers. Within a few months, boats with over ten thousand Balts moored in the few places where it was possible on the rocky shore. The shore and small harbours were full of their battered boats. Tents and barracks were built to house the newcomers.

When I talked to people in Gotland, I was moved by the fact that they considered help to their overseas neighbours as something self-evident and natural. Many of them compare the events at the end of the Second World War to what is happening in the Mediterranean nowadays and they show the same empathy, from which the Balts benefited many decades ago, to Kurds, Syrians, Iraqis and other refugees from countries ravaged by vicious wars. Within the framework of this project, I documented recollections of islanders, which, along with their portraits, form an impressive textual and visual narrative.”