July 26, 2018
Speak to any Latvian about the 1930s and their eyes will go misty eyed as they reminisce about a golden age of their history. Before the Germans occupied, before the Russians occupied, before the Swedish banks moved in, they had a thriving culture, one they could be proud of.
Representative, perhaps even the pinnacle, of this pre-war Latvia, is the entrepreneurship and innovation manifest in the Minox camera, a piece of equipment who’s inventiveness would stir the creative juices of the late Steve Jobs.
At the photographer’s museum I discover a whole display case and short documentary video dedicated to the range. I say range, because there were actually a few models. Many people will recognise the classic Minox camera from Bond movies – it’s the small rectangular camera that spies pull out, snap open, and take a picture of the documents stamped ‘top secret’ in red ink. In fact it’s not the only camera they made but it is the most distinctive and innovative and its diminutive size is perfect to assist on the covert operations of an entire movie genre until the iPhone was invented.
Speaking of covert operations, I can now report on my own mission impossible as I took to the streets at dusk and night to capture the comings and goings of a city as it winds down for the night.
Unlike lots of other major cities (London, Berlin, Barcelona for example), the post rush hour lull is palpable; a visible and audible slowing down occurs and continues as the evening progresses. I like it. The city has a chance to breathe and recover before gearing up again in the morning. I like seeing the once busy highways now devoid of trams and cars. People wander quite safely and freely, unencumbered by traffic, often in small quiet couples or on their own. There is also none of the rowdiness that plagues British cities at midnight. Riga has thousands of young people but they are not on a mission to get drunk and steal traffic cones or get into fights.
During the day, people are similarly relaxed. In the local park a woman sketches in her notebook. The captain of a tourist boat shuts his eyes for a second under the shade of a tree, and a small girl throws her hands up in the spray of a fountain. I love to notice these little moments of the day as this city basks in a long crazy summer heatwave.