Andrew Miksys was 25 when he visited Lithuania the first time. He wasn’t expecting much, having stopped in Prague and Budapest—”the cool places of Europe”—on the way. But in Vilnius, he had a deeper experience. Specifically, he met the remaining part of his family, the part that had decided to stay in the Baltics when his grandparents left for the United States after World War II. Nearly two decades after Miksys’ first visit, the photographer has made Lithuania his home. The genius of his work there is to take viewers inside intimate spaces and culture in the country, most notably inside the village discos that serve as social hubs for the new generation of Lithuanian kids. Miksys joined us from Vilnius on a warm Friday night to talk dancing, hookups, and history.
Roads & Kingdoms: What were your first impressions of the country?
Andrew Miksys: My first impressions of Lithuania were kind of mixed. On one side it looked like a place frozen in time. In the villages, some people were living the way they had lived hundreds of years ago: very simple farming and horse buggies. In cities, people looked like they were just waking up from 50 years of Soviet occupation. Not a lot had changed, but you could also feel that big changes were coming and with that there was a lot of uncertainty but also a lot of potential. I stayed for 2 weeks and took a lot of photographs.
R&K: What made you want to go back?
AM: Well there were a lot of emotions with meeting my relatives for the first time. We just connected… A lot of laughing, crying and vodka. Lithuania just seemed like a fascinating place to study and meditate on. It has a very complicated and tragic history—war, occupation, genocide, independence. And I was fascinated with the multi-ethnicity of population. It was just the right combination of things to make me want to come back. In 1998 I received a Fulbright grant, which gave me the opportunity to live here.
Somehow the people just seemed heroic to me.
R&K:: Tell me about your first encounter with the discos.
AM: In 2000, a writer friend of mine was working on a project about the last Holocaust survivors in Lithuania and asked me to photography a woman who was the last Jewish person in this village. After the shoot, I went into the center of town to look around. That’s when I saw some teenagers entering a building with loud music playing inside. I followed and found my first disco. It was just a simple room with a disco ball and a Lenin head on the wall. Somehow the people just seemed heroic to me. The discos were places with promise and potential. Maybe you’ll get to dance with a cute girl or boy, meet your friends, get drunk if you want… It’s what I did at school dances when I was a kid. Of course not everything works out. There are fights. You don’t get to dance with the person you wanted to dance with… But there’s always next weekend and the next disco to look forward to.