Gunārs Binde was born in the district of Aluksne, Latvia in 1933. Although he graduated from Priekuļi Technical School of Agricultural Mechanisation, he pursued his interests through a correspondence course with the Press Photography School of the Moscow Central House of Journalists from 1961 to 1963. After that, he taught photography at the Riga Secondary School of Applied Arts until 1976. By 1959, he was holding regular solo exhibitions. Despite his training in photo-journalism, he began to expand his skills and knowledge in the theater, starting as a lighting designer and finally creating his own documentary films. In the first half of 1960s, he quickly gained recognition in the Soviet Union and internationally for his photographic exhibitions which included a few nudes. In collaboration with scenographer Arnolds Plaudis, he developed an original method of staged photography. This technique uses a synthesis of theatrical and acting elements with the aesthetic principles and realism of photography. This emerging style was a consequence of Binde’s dissatisfaction with the simple recording of facts of journalism and allowing a director to impose his interpretation on the scene.
Purely documentary photography is, to me, too primitive, and the subjective portrayal of one’s world is incomprehensible; the real values in photo-art are somewhere between the two.
I don’t pursue sensationalism, striking events or characters, nature photography, documentarism or portraiture. I am looking for a resonance between the visible world and my soul. If I perceive such a harmony, I take a picture.
This image reminds me of lucid dreaming. Are the images from these fairy tales playing in her dreams?
Like many artists, Binde appreciates the beauty and artistic value of the nude and included examples in his exhibitions. As a result, he received some flak and found himself dedicating much of his career convincing the Soviet authorities of the legitimacy of the artistic nude. This required great discipline because too many so-called artists get tempted into serving the basest desires of the masses, creating work that is little more than pornography.
One of the challenges of Binde’s style is that modeling is not a simple mechanical process. A model’s cooperation and ability to understand the artist’s direction takes a special sensitivity and having a model with the right “look” is no assurance of success. Over 25 years ago, Binde was fortunate to find a model capable of expressing his vision and create an effective collaboration. Her name is Tatyana (Tanya), a yoga instructor and actress. When Binde began to work with her, he was amazed how fluently she understood his style. It felt as if the only challenges to overcome were the technical obstacles—formidable in their own right.
She has always inspired me in my work. She has always inspired me to think, giving wings to my creative spirit and setting fire to my fantasy. She encourages me.
This level of trust is no small achievement and their intimacy and personal feelings are expressed in their work. Together they created a number of photo series: ‘The Flight’, ‘Nine months’, ‘Like mother, like daughter’, ‘The Cage’ and numerous erotic stories and portraits. She became his principle muse and they got married.
Shortly thereafter, their daughter Anna was born. Binde continued to shoot Tanya, even during her pregnancy and the addition of a new family member meant that she would inevitably participate in the work.
The series ‘Like mother, like daughter’ is particularly charming with the intriguing use of mirroring poses by the pair. Some of the titles are also indicative of the feelings of love within this family.
There were no indications that Anna continued to pose for her father beyond this series, but she is clearly proud of him and currently assists him in his studio and consults with him about his artistic legacy.
One of the most compelling things about serious artistic nudes is their ability to communicate “line” and “form” and this effect is especially accentuated in the black and white format. Even though Binde has a special love of the female figure, he acknowledges that there is a place for both male and female, young and old.
Binde’s concerns about contemporary photography is that it does not offer a compelling balance. It tends to be purely conceptual, bereft of personal feeling and spirit, and artists, in their desire for success, are loath to communicate their ideas about the political implications of their world.
Binde is today considered one of the top Latvian photographers of all time and has been called “The legend of Latvian photography”. He resides in Riga and is still happily married to his wife and muse.
More images from the ‘Like mother, like daughter series’ can be found here.