In a way, the photograph Cold Waves Wash the Shores symbolizes the entirety of Alfonsas Budvytis’ creative work. We see a pair of feet photographed at the edge between earth and water, and also on the periphery, at the very outer borders of Lithuania. During the Soviet era, the Baltic Sea was a boundary that could never be crossed. Peripheries and boundaries, marginal states of being and people on the margins of society were motifs that Budvytis revisited throughout his creative career.
Budvytis never photographed significant events or personalities. Instead, he captured people he encountered by chance of fate, or in the cities and locations through which his travels took him. Budvytis told the story of his own experience and that of his generation by creating a body of photography infused with melancholy. To portray marginal states of being and the periphery of daily life, Budvytis shows only parts of his human subjects: a forehead or torso, shoulders, a neck or feet (as in this photograph taken in Nida), or he might direct our attention away from his human subjects to the objects with which they interact – a door, a table, a lamp, or a carbonated water machine. The objects themselves would reveal the social condition and psychological states of mind of those using them.
His entire series Men’s Section No. 7 blends into one emotionally subtle but powerful story about life lived on the margins of society – in the men’s section of a psychiatric hospital where patients are being treated for alcoholism. The broken men, struck down by depression, are shown from a subjective perspective and with considerable empathy, while at the same time the photographs dramatically reveal that society’s wounds. To choose this particular subject – a psychiatric hospital ward – was an act of breaking one social taboo and crossing a clearly defined boundary.
It is also symbolically significant that Budvytis lived through his final creative period after choosing, in 1995, to move to live on the periphery itself – to a remote farmstead village called Goniūnai near the town of Jurbarkas. There nature became the only subject and theme he explored in his photography. In his silent works, Budvytis observes plants and vegetables and their different textures and colors, or animals – the hatching of larva, the movement of earthworms and snails, the budding of potatoes and wheat, the ripening of fruit, and the growth and withering of grass. Indeed, Budvytis observes his subject matter with such proximity that it seems as if he finally succeeds in crossing another, final, boundary, beyond which the world of nature reveals itself as undisturbed, mysterious and mystical.