A guide to the New East

Quick honey, take a picture!

Candid photos I took of my mum’s wild nights out in 90s Latvia

Elīna Semane's personal photo series shows a woman doing what all 20-something women do: preparing for nights out, hanging out with friends, smoking, laughing, falling over, not knowing what life will bring but wanting to experience it as much as possible. Only, the protagonist of these photos isn’t Semane or her friends. These are images the photographer, at eight years old, took of her mother. I had no babysitter is a rare glimpse of Latvia in the decade after its independence, and an unflinching exploration of womanhood, motherhood and female freedom.

I took these photos at the end of the 1990s. It was the last summer break before starting school. I was seven or eight and my mother would have been almost the age I am now.

I come from the small town of Alūksne in northeastern Latvia. At the time these photos were taken we were still living there. My parents divorced when I was five-years-old, so we were living seperately. My mum was working as music teacher in a local kindergarden and then become a bartender. As there weren’t many opportunities, either in work or education, my dad moved to Riga, the capital, and after a couple of years my mum did the same.

The camera belonged to my mother. Like lots of other kids, I was always looking for ways to entertain myself. I thought about the camera as a toy. It kept me occupied at times when I was bored. I remember it was the kind of primitive, plastic camera, where all you had to do was push a button and that was it. Back then, I never thought that I would became a photographer or ever do something with photography. I had no idea what a composition was, which is probably why so many people in these photos are missing their heads.

I was just hanging out with my mum and her friends and having fun. There was always something going on in my hometown, much more than there is now. Plenty of parties at the bandstand, lots of bars to choose from and everything then was still underground.

When I look at these photos I feel the nostalgia of 90s. As a child I was privileged to see the many things that other children didn’t. I saw all the “behind the scences” of my mother's life. It was amazing, funny and sometimes even scary. I still remember all the situations very vividly, very much like I was a part of them.

My mother’s always had a strong character; she’s always been brave, adventurous and exuded confidence. She’s a product of the Soviet era. Most women my age had that “marry the first man”, “start a family” and “have a kid” mentality. But somehow my mother always found the time to be bohemian and lose control. We both loved adolescence and have a strong sense of freedom. However, we have completely different ways of thinking and seeing things. I’m more sensitive and always looking for meaning in things. She can get angry very quickly, while I prefer to stay relaxed.

I think that nothing can change the free spirit in her. She’s always been wild and crazy, as her friends. To this day she’ll still dance on tables, party till the early morning, drink wine and smoke weed. It’s nothing surprising because I’ve seen that a lot before. Sometimes I get the feeling that I’m more grown up than her. Actually I always feel like she’s a friend as well as a mother.

I remember all those crazy dressing-up parties, all the bars and places that my mum took me to. Many of them don’t exist anymore. She’s always had this passion for music. She has a very powerful voice and I’ll always remember her singing. I feel like both an observer and participant in these photos. They have become the memories of my life that I will always hold dear to my heart.

Text and image: Elīna Semane

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