Free To Be. Uldis Briedis. Portraits (1966–2010), a photo exhibition at the Ola Foundation in Riga, showcases iconic portraits of Latvian cultural legends.
On May 4, tables in homes and gardens across the country are dressed in white tablecloths, honouring a tradition commemorating the restoration of Latvia’s independence in 1990. As stately as this custom is the collection of black-and-white portraits by photographer Uldis Briedis, on show now at the Ola Foundation in Riga.
The Latvian independence movement was spearheaded by native cultural figures brave enough to voice their beliefs and resist the Soviet regime. These same people have also been the protagonists of Briedis’ work. Taken between 1966 and 2010, the more than 60 iconic and timeless portraits in this exhibition capture the photographer’s peers and friends, including composers Raimonds Pauls and Mārtiņš Brauns, the poet Imants Ziedonis, actress Mirdza Martinsone, and others. ‘Back then, it was like the starting gun at the beginning of the race for human freedom,’ Briedis comments on the zeitgeist he documented.
These are not static portraits taken in a sterile studio environment; instead, they are intimate snapshots taken during friendly strolls, informal gatherings, and formal speeches. The photos permeate Briedis’ ceaseless quest for truth, in which he strived to capture his subjects in their real, uninterrupted existence. Many of the people he photographed are no longer alive, but their impact on the nation was immense. In these faces, one can see the unfolding fate of a whole country over the course of half a century.
Born in 1940, Briedis has left an enormous mark on the Latvian photoscape. Working as a photo correspondent for major Latvian newspapers, the many press photo prizes he has won have acknowledged his talent, and he has twice been named Latvia’s best portraitist. In 2011, Briedis was also awarded the Order of the Three Stars, the nation’s highest civilian order. His works are featured in the permanent collection of the Latvian National Museum of Art.
Free To Be. Uldis Briedis. Portraits (1966–2010) is showcased by the Ola Foundation, which is a novel addition to Riga’s cultural map on the tranquil island of Ķīpsala. This state-of-the-art space for artistic and spiritual exploration was founded by the entrepreneurial couple Ilze and Uldis Pīlēns. The exhibition will be on show until June 30.
Words by Ilze Vītola