To discover that there is an official geographical centre of Europe and that it is currently recognised as being within the ex-Soviet Baltic state of Lithuania, may seem a whimsical reward for what has been a turbulent history for this small country. As one of the most recent member states to join the European Union and at a time when the very concept of Europe is under scrutiny, economically uncertain and central to heightened political debate, Lithuania reveals itself as a country whose people are in search of an enduring identity and a place at the European table.
Laurie Griffiths and Jonty Tacon, as part of the MAP6 Photographic Collective’s recent trip to Lithuania, chose to visit a remote and largely unknown Lithuanian town called Visaginas. Set near the border of Latvia and Belarus, Visaginas is an ex-Soviet town that is defined by its sole purpose – to house the workers and builders of what was once the world’s most powerful nuclear power station. At its peak, the Ignalina twin-reactor plant had ambitions to be joined by a third, fourth, fifth and sixth reactor – ambitions that would have secured a lucrative future for the people of Visaginas. However, the idea of an ex-Soviet nuclear power plant in the heart of Europe that shared the same RBMK reactor technology as the ill-fated Chernobyl, proved a step too far for Brussels, and its closure became a central condition of Lithuania’s acceptance into the Union.
The impact on the less than 40 year old town of Visaginas, that has gone from being an example of a Soviet utopian dream to a town with an uncertain future, became the subject of Laurie and Jonty’s photographic study in the Autumn of 2015. As they immersed themselves into the closed community of largely Russian nationals that still live in the town and with unprecedented access to the deeply-guarded inner sanctum of the power station itself, a picture of pride, survival, community and a fractured identity emerged.
Babochka (Butterfly) is the soon to be published collection of images and academic essays that embodies their experience. A mixture of the everyday and the monumental, their joint project seamlessly takes the reader on a journey that begins at the very core of the power station itself, through the town, its people and a suggestion of what is to come. This is a story of purpose and place and challenges the very notion of what it means to be European.
Click here for a short overview of the project and images
The project involves a collaboration with Dr. Leila Dawney, from the University of Brighton. Leila’s research, which spans political theory, sociology and cultural geography, is concerned with the emotional and intimate effects of economic change. Working alongside Laurie and Jonty, Leila combines ethnographic research methods with visual analysis in the production of accompanying essays and academic papers.
All images featured in this website are owned by Laurie Griffiths and Jonty Tacon and are protected by international copyright.