The people I photographed were often puzzled by my presence at their local discos. Why would someone travel all the way from the USA to photograph them? I’m an American-Lithuanian, but my broken, heavily accented Lithuanian certainly gave me away. In truth, it was probably my outsider status that made me less threatening and kept me safe.
The local disco is where you go to get drunk, make out, dance, and sometimes fight. I ignored the repeated warnings from friends not to travel to these places alone. My anxiety was often quite intense when I got in my car and left the familiar lights of Vilnius searching for discos on mostly empty back roads. I never knew what I was going to find, but the prospect of discovering a disco somewhere in the dark with coloured lights pouring out the windows and pulsating music pushed me forward.
The small communities where I photographed had been through a lot during the 20th century, including war, genocide, multiple occupations and the more recent pressures brought on by capitalism. They did, however, manage to maintain some of the great diversity that has been part of Lithuanian history for centuries. At the discos it was still possible to hear people speaking Lithuanian, Russian, Polish, Belorussian, Romani, and even a few surviving words from Yiddish. I didn’t always understand everything I heard. But I soon discovered that a disco was never just a disco.