A guide to the New East
Post-Soviet youth
In between days
Coming of age in rural Latvia

Photographer Anastasia Shpilko captures teenagers in rural Latvia in settings powerfully reminiscent of adolescence — in the still, lazy days of late summer in a provincial town.

Shpilko shot Before the Fall, her photo series, in Pelči, a village in western Latvia, and Kuldīga, its neighbouring town. “I remember Pelči as overgrown gardens behind neat fences, empty streets, dogs barking and the only grocery store being regularly besieged by people craving beer,” she says. “However Kuldīga, which dates back to the Middle Ages, isn’t gloomy at all. With its unique preserved architecture it looks like a movie set.”

The young people Shpilko photographed are between 13 and 18 years old, most of them still at school. Some of them she found on the street, others through Facebook, and by photographing them, she quickly became immersed in the life of their community, and their excitement about discovering the world and each other. “I think they are still at that age when they don't have anything specific to be interested in. Some of them seem to be into music or into photography but I’d say the world outside their homes fascinates them in all its diversity,” Shpilko says. “Spending time with each other, meeting new people, telling jokes — this hasn't bored them yet, it hasn't become a responsibility as it is for many grown-ups. Partying till dawn or going for a two-day hiking trip is a big occasion. They’ve got a lot to learn about each other and about themselves.” 

The still, sunlit portraits Shpilko produced are snapshots of this fleeting feeling of living in the present. “I think the most special thing about adolescence is its perception of time. The present tense is the only tense you actually live in. You let small everyday things impress you and you let yourself get caught up in the moment. You haven’t had to learn this from a psychology handbook, and you don’t force yourself to do it either — it's just the way you are at that time.”

“The most special thing about adolescence is its perception of time. The present tense is the only tense you actually live in”

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