These rarities were preserved thanks to Ritonė Šalkauskienė, Stasys Šalkauskis’s daughter-in-law, who was born in Dapkūniškiai, near Alanta. The other part of the archive was received from the relatives of Šalkauskis – the Witort family, whose descendants in Vilnius are still in possession of other very valuable nineteenth and twentieth century photography collections. The exhibition consists of enlarged prints, actual original albums, and photographs. A death mask of S. Šalkauskis, cast in plaster right after he passed away in Šiauliai, in 1941, is also exhibited for the first time.
The archive reveals not only the history of the Šalkauskis family and their friends, but also, regardless of all the constraints and suppressions of Tsarist Russia, a very rich photographic culture of the nineteenth and twentieth century. This exhibition is distinct because of the decision to exhibit not only the obverses, but the reverses as well. Vignettes and logos of photo ateliers are where the beauty of this150 year old photographic culture is to be found.
Another important aspect of the collection is its geography. Photographs were made across Tsarist Lithuania, including studios in Vilnius (The Czyž Brothers / Frères Czyž, S. Fleury, A. Strauss); Kaunas (Strauss & Sourevitsch, Šusteris, Jasvoinas, Bžozovski Brothers); Šiauliai (Arnsonas, Šmuilovas, V. Zatorskis); Panevėžys (Trakmanas, Navlickis, Puhačevskis); Telšiai (Romaškevičius, Lapinskis); Klaipėda (Carl Dreyer); Joniškis (Jankelis Fišeris); Šeduva (Cyganas), etc. During the times of Tsarist Lithuania, information and other studio markings on the reverse of photographs were printed in French.
There are a few photographs that are very important because of the personalities portrayed and their general quality, but not related to the Šalkauskis family. Among these photographs are the portraits of the poets Motiejus Valančius and Antanas Baranauskas, also Maironis’ muse Jadvyga Stanelytė (1910).
Alongside the “Lithuanian part” of the Šalkauskis-Witort archives, there are photographs from studios and photographers in the Russian Empire. Locations include Riga, Liepaja (Libau), Mintauja (Mitau), Tartu (Dorpat), places in Germany, Switzerland, and France, and the Ukrainian cities of Vinnytsia, Yalta and Odessa. Among the many important photographs there are a few surprises. In an unknown Siberian photo studio, a young rebel, holding a handwritten inscription in Polish, dated 1864, was photographed and the print later sent to a member of the Šalkauskis family; a portrait of Aleksandras Kazimieras Gintautas-Deltuviškis (Gintowt- Dziewałtowski, 1821-1889), a Mogilevian archbishop and a relative of Stasys Šalkauskis’s sister-in-law Vanda Sirtautaitė-Šalkauskienė.
Photographic archives reveal the talents of the photographers, who were, in most cases, Jewish. A scrupulous preparation of people for the photographs is also evident. There is a sense of glowing tranquility and peace of mind, along with stylish clothing, shoes and haircuts.
The history of a few generations is portrayed in the exhibition, starting from the beginning of the nineteenth century. The Šalkauskis families were widespread in Lithuania, large and diverse: farmers and doctors were closely related to the noble women of the Goštautas, Jomantas and Opulskis families. Doctor Julijonas Šalkauskis, the father of Stasys Šalkauskis, lived in Šiauliai. He was married to Barbora Goštautaitė and had nine children. His brother Petras Šalkauskis from Kapočiai raised ten children (three of them died in the Siberian Gulag, one was killed in Rainiai, 1941). The other brother Aleksandras Šalkauskis, who was a farmer in Šakyna, had twelve children.
Several sections of the exhibition are dedicated to Stasys Šalkauskis’s brother Kazys Šalkauskis, a famous lawyer of the time, and his wife V. Sirtautaitė-Šalkauskienė. The couple lived in Vilnius where it saved many Jewish people during the Second World War.
Stasys Šalkauskis was the most distinguished from his family – a Catholic philosopher, teacher, leader of the Lithuanian Catholic Federation “Ateitis”, and head of Vytautas Magnus University. The exhibition therefore revolves around him, his wife Juliją Paltarokaitė-Šalkauskienė, his parents, B. Goštautaitė-Šalkauskienė and J. Šalkauskis, and his friends, Kazys Pakštas, Vincas Mykolaitis-Putinas, and Juozas Eretas. The exhibition “Photo Archives of the Šalkauskis Family – Obverses and Reverses” was financed by Molėtai District Municipality, Ritonė Šalkauskienė and Romualdas Mikliušas.
President of Lithuanian Press Photographers Club
When we delve into these photographs, we are faced with the eternal question of the archive’s legacy. The care that the photographers of the time devoted to “painting with light” and their characters – to creating the mood, stands in sharp contrast to the tons of digital images, that can barely be called photographs, we haphazardly capture every day. What feeling of identity are we going to leave for the future generations? What will people find out about the twenty-first century two or three hundred years from now? Loads of digital imagery, where superiority and inferiority will not be distinguished even by a very clever artificial intelligence.
I would suggest looking into the intelligence in the eyes of these people in the photographs. Everything starts with material and spiritual values, which we learn at home and school, no matter the century we’re living in or the number of the industrial revolution we’re going through. The people’s devotion to the moment when these, at first sight, ordinary photographs were taken charged them with an incredible energy that will be felt for centuries to come.
Prof. Arūnas Sverdiolas
Philosopher, publisher of Stasys Šalkauskis’ writings
Both obviousness and mysteriousness lie in these photographs. What at first sight seems like an incoherent collection of random images, gradually emerges as an essential and fateful family archive. In this collection we find photographs of the husband and wife, their relatives and relatives’ relatives, friends and acquaintances. It is surprising to find a 1910 photograph of Maironis’s muse in the archive among others. There are portraits of famous people as well as a few photographs of grandparents with their grandchildren and some other people, whose identity will probably remain forever unknown to us. Thanks to these photographs, well-known locations and historical moments receive a different perspective, a different content and context. The archive includes images taken in famous big city photo ateliers as well as small town photographic studios. Middle class people, living their lives that were to be crushed by the totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century — you cannot see this in the photographs, but knowing what was in store for them adds a different dimension to the exhibition. These images with their manifold meanings will be a valuable source of information for historians, anthropologists, psychologists, writers, and so on. The enlarged photographs from the album have become full-fledged portraits, providing us with an opportunity to try to guess their secrets. Is it possible that the first Lithuanian philosopher, Stasys Šalkauskis, is faintly smiling at us?
Translated by Karolis Sabeckis / editor Judita Gliauberzonaitė