ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 2010 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.

Volume 56, No.3 - Fall 2010
Editor of this issue: M. G. Slavėnas

Book Review

Jovaiša, Marius. Unseen Lithuania, Vilnius: Mia, 2008. ISBN 9955998512. 

In recent years, Lithuania’s creative forces, backed by government and European Union programs, attempted to produce national campaign slogans to present the country in an attractive light, promote tourism, and attract foreign investment. However, such slogans as “Lithuania is a friendly, fun, and brave country” have not produced the anticipated impact. The new logo recently commissioned by the Lithuanian Institute (the agency to present Lithuania to the world) remained a mere creative exercise without clear direction or strategy. However, an alternative solution – and very successful in a marketing sense – has emerged in the form of a substantial photo album, an exhibition, and a video film titled Unseen Lithuania, all conceived, produced, and published by a full-time entrepreneur and photography lover, Marius Jovaiša. It encompasses a collection of spectacular panoramic views of Lithuanian landscapes captured from aboard small airplanes. The publication of the book Unseen Lithuania, its national and international promotion, the traveling exhibition, and the media campaign are fully supported and funded by the author. Unseen Lithuania has been widely publicized and shown throughout Lithuania and internationally, and that is where Marius Jovaiša is at his best, creating an informative presentation of the country and an attractive national brand. But apart from being a book of truly beautiful images, this volume resists further placement in a wider art context. I prefer to discuss it in terms of advertising rather than the art of photography. According to many art critics, works by amateur artists often substitute conscious artistic choices in favor of personal preferences for one or another subject; they attempt to encompass the widest array of objects, diverting the focus from the center of composition and the main idea for this album. Indeed, the hobby photographers have produced an outstanding body of work. Captions are added to explain the photographs and provide historical references, geographical facts, or myths associated with the portrayed sites. Marius Jovaiša relies heavily on sophisticated equipment and costly aircraft, and the presence of technology often overshadows the underlying concept. 

Upon entering the world of Unseen Lithuania, we encounter the stunning natural beauty of the country, which reflects the author’s pride in his homeland. The images were predominantly taken in the summer, at sunrise, when light and color are most dramatic in their contrast. The usually somber Baltic landscape appears in bright tones that infuse the scenery with an almost festive quality. The birds-eye view shows forests hugging lakes and rivers wrestling with patches of land. The camera captures green peninsulas lost among the waters, the colorful ornamentation of the fields, and dramatic dunes exposed to the elements of the Baltic Sea. 

The images have a universal quality that conveys the essence of beauty of any country: water, forests, fields and towns. Therefore, it appeals to a wide audience. The book begins with a striking pairing of photographs of Lithuania with shots of the Great Barrier Reef of Australia, the dunes of Namibia, and the islands of the Pacific, suggesting both similarity and familiarity. The visual narrative that introduces the book tells the viewers that Lithuania is like other picturesque places they may already know. It touches the hearts of Lithuanians far from their homeland and invites them to experience the joy of recognizing their hometown or spotting a familiar street, perhaps even a childhood home. Obviously, the exhibition in Chicago and other Lithuanian immigrant communities received a great deal of interest and was welcomed and supported by consulates and embassies. 

The Gothic churches and castles in small Lithuanian towns peaking out of the mist evoke a Romantic worldview that idealizes past times, historical victories, and untouched nature. Forests occupy a special place in Lithuanian national consciousness and ethnic folklore. Ancient myths ascribe wisdom to sacred trees, hills, rocks, or waters. The wise course of life is one that follows the course of nature. The Romantic era inspired the rise of the national state and national independence and thus resonates in the hearts of most Lithuanians. Unseen Lithuania creates a modern remake of a traditional Romantic myth. The polished postcard-perfect images of the countryside offer a purely aesthetic view from above, removed from everyday life or social meaning. Mountains of white chemical waste are turned into mesmerizing Lithuanian Alps. 

Unseen Lithuania appeared on the eve of a momentous year for the country. In 2009, Lithuania celebrated the millennium of its first mention in historical chronicles and Vilnius was named a European Capital of Culture, which offered the chance to gain international visibility. Unseen Lithuania is a good example of a private artistic and entrepreneurial effort creating a carefully crafted national branding campaign to successfully promote Lithuania to the world as a true “Jewel of the Baltic.” 

Ieva Dilytė