Andrei Liankevich: My Photos Are Much More Powerful in Black-and-White

Andrei Liankevich, photographer 

Andrei Liankevich, winner of the "Europe is near us" photography contest  of the 2nd European Intercultural Festival,  received a trip to Belguim as his grand prix. Earlier this week the Belarusian photographer spoke to us to share his impressions from Brussels and talk about his new photo project on the World War II legacy in modern Belarusian culture.

The trip was organized by the "Office for a Democratic Belarus" (Brussels, Belgium) with support from USAID and Pact.

On Belgium

I visited Bruges previously with an exhibition about ten years ago. Bruges is very special: unlike Brussels, it's much smaller, much more touristy – the whole format of the city is very different.

Having lived in Munich for two years, I now think that Belgian beer is much better. The range is much broader, there's much more experimentation. On the other hand, the prices are quite striking: for some reason, it's twice as expensive as in Germany.

There's an interesting bar in the Belgian part of Brussels owned by an ex-junkie, he's clean now. It's one of those "for the locals" places. When you come to the city, you always find such spots. It was great fun to look at the way Belgians live. We were lucky enough to find a similar bar and a small sandwich shop, and we could then go to the next-door bar to have a proper meal. All this was close to the square with a flea market and second-hand clothes vendors.

On Sunday we visited a nice organic food market frequented by Belgians who go there especially to get organic products. They even had organic croissants. Lacking in flavour, I'd say, but organic nonetheless. And they had free coffee there. It's also a kind of a special world: if you don't know it’s there, you'll never go inside, which is why it is very important to have a local guide with you.

They have really small streets in the city where people can walk or ride bicycles and scooters. Trams in Brussels run underground. I've never seen anything like that before, it's like a little miracle: you are just riding along and suddenly dive underground.

On the Art Community  

In order to understand how people live you have to walk around a lot and watch. We had a "guide" with us, our friend Alexandra from Sweden who now lives in Brussels. We visited the Center for Contemporary Art, several small art galleries and an exhibition in an apartment.

It was such a revelation for me that they still have that in Belgium – I used to think that this is purely a Soviet thing: "apartment" exhibitions is most often an attempt to organize an exhibition when you have no means to hold it in an institution. Here people own a gallery, live there and sometimes organize state-supported exhibitions in one of the rooms; in this case it was quite a conceptual show, with a two-hour text reading. It's quite interesting, a very different culture.

We visited a former squat later transformed into a gallery and a space for artists to work. They were hosting a brunch, so we just dropped in to see how such spaces are organized. We also went to see a small student gallery located near a house belonging to young artists where they live and work. I would not call their exhibition a very powerful one, but it was quite entertaining: it's a very different thing, a creative world where the art is created not for sale but for the sake of art.

On Photography  

I do not see the colours as a photographer who sees colour. Any picture I make becomes much more powerful when it is converted to black and white.

For three years now I've been trying to make a project on the Second World War: it's a topic that is very close to my heart. I have an easy way into this story: both of my grandfathers were the "enemies of the state". This topic is very important to me: today's attitudes to the war, its interpretation. Street names in Minsk: a single historical event influenced 50 percent of all names, and this is nothing short of surprising.

On the other hand, we are now at a crucial point when a total shift of formations. Raising difficult issues which we could not raise before for ideological reasons and for fear of offending large numbers of people and cause a lot of anger and negativity – however, it might be a good time now to ask such questions.

The story which won the competition was one I once did for the Russian Ogoniok magazine and later offered to German Spiegel magazine. It was initially postponed because of the Georgian war, but in the end we made three trips and did this photo story. It involved a lot of preparation, research, etc. A typical journalistic investigation.

Grand Prix of the Europe is Near Us photo contest of the 2nd European Intercultural Festival. Photographer: Andrey Lenkevich. Pictured: Stanislava Aniskevich "coming back to Belarus from her grandson Ivan who now lives in Lithuania with his father".  The village where Stanislava Aniskevich lives is divided into two parts: the church and the cemetery are located in Lithuanian village of Norvilishki, while the majority of residents are in Belarusian Pitskuny.


See photos.

Background information:

Andrei Liankevich, born in 1981 in Grodno – a Belarusian photographer.
In 2004 got the BA of Economics in the
In 2004-2005 participated in the
World Press Photo training programme with the Caucasus Media Institute in Yerevan (Armenia), graduating with honors.
His pictures have appeared in
Nasha Niva, Le Figaro, Newsweek, Die Zeit, Spiegel, GEO, New York Times.
Winner of the 2010
OSCE photo contest "Tolerance, Transparency, Tradition, Trust". In 2011 his work received 6 prizes in the Belarus Press Photo 2011 Contest.
In 2012 took part in the Radius of Zero project as one of the 15 most notable Belarusian artists of 2000-2010.