An interview with De Montfort University:
Photographer abroad in sharp focus
A young photographer from Lithuania is catching the eye thanks to lessons he has learnt while studying at De Montfort University (DMU).
Lukas Salna is following in the footsteps of the legendary street scene photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau, Robert Frank and Bill Brandt, by stepping into the streets and capturing mini-vignettes of everyday life as it unfolds in front of him.
Lukas grew up in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, but it was only when he went to live in Enkhuizen, Holland, on an exchange trip for a year that he realised photography was more than just a hobby for him.
On his return to Lithuania and after finishing school, he couldn’t find any suitable courses through which to hone his photography skills. That was, until he stumbled on the website http://www.kalba.lt which acts as an information point directing young people to courses abroad and which led him to DMU in Leicester, England.
“From my early days my father used to take photographs and slowly it became a passion
for me as well,” explained Lukas.
“Before I came to DMU I mainly photographed music festivals and in nightclubs, I didn’t do street photography. I only discovered that when
I began studying here.
“I spend quite a lot of time out on the streets looking for interesting people to photograph. I’m just trying to capture the reality of what it’s like in the streets.
“Over the years, these images become interesting because buildings get knocked down, shops close and it all changes. When I look at other photographers’ work you see, for example, how the USA has changed with time.”
Lukas isn’t sure what the future holds for him. He’s simply putting together a portfolio, including on his website, as much for himself as to showcase the range and quality of work he does. “But I’m still young, I’m only 21,” he said.
He has no doubt about one thing – how much he has learnt at DMU. As well as adding street photography to his nightclub and festival coverage, he is learning the skills for other types of photography.
“I’ve learnt a lot about the history of cinema and photography,” he said. “We have a different school system in Lithuania. We don’t have A levels so I couldn’t specialise in photography and I knew very little about it. I’ve discovered a lot about different types of photography and seeing the work of the best photographers has inspired me.
“Here in England I’ve been able to visit exhibitions and I’ve had the chance to see famous photographers – which I couldn’t have done in Vilnius.”
One fantastic opportunity which came his way thanks to studying at DMU happened when he and five other students on the course were selected for a Shoot Like A Pro competition run by camera manufacturers Canon.
They were all given prized spots in the photographers’ pit at the end of the runway during two catwalk shows at the prestigious London Fashion Weekend in September.
At the end of each show the competitors only had 45 minutes to find a wifi connection, transfer their images, select the best ones, caption them and submit five to Canon for judging.
“It was a very good experience for me,” said Lukas. “Shooting catwalk shots with lots of other photographers around you, it was competitive. You’re trying to get the best shots but so are they, using the same subject. I learnt some really great lessons. It was really great because that sort of opportunity does not happen often. Everyone from DMU did a great job.
“You learn where to stand, how to use your equipment quickly and how to take good photos when you cannot use your imagination and be creative. I’m now trying to teach myself how to stage portraiture.”
Back in Lithuania last summer, he and a medical student friend, Dziugas Jagminas, set up their own studio and media production company, the 400 Blows Studio (400BS on facebook or http://www.efoto.lt/user/400_blows_studio).
Lukas has also made a big decision, switching his focus to using film rather than digital. He has gone so far as to buy a Bronica SQ-A camera – a legendary 20thcentury brand of camera favoured by professionals because the type of roll film it uses offers superior image size than smaller film or digital formats. It means Lukas can produce huge wall prints of his work without losing quality.
“In some ways digital is better and in some ways film is better, but there’s something different about using film,” he said. “It fascinates me. When you make each step of producing a print yourself, rather than plugging in digitally, it’s great.”
Lukas is also discovering the darkroom skills and creativity that come with developing your own film.
And there’s an added bonus that comes with using his large, bulky, old-fashioned Bronica camera – the kind that used to be used by wedding and studio photographers.
“When I’m out capturing photos of strangers in the streets, when they see my camera they’re happy to let me carry on and it’s easier to get chatting to them to get their stories.”
He doesn’t regret at all his move to study in England and offered advice to others contemplating studying abroad: “I didn’t have to make much of a choice about coming to England to study because Lithuania doesn’t have the kind of course that DMU has.
“But if you want to see the world and understand different cultures, studying abroad is a really good option. The quality of studying is going to be different, there are different teaching methods and, for me for example, I got the chance to see famous photographers, which I wouldn’t have got in Lithuania.
“But you have to remember, you have to be able to afford to live on your own. As foreign students we can only get loans covering our tuition fees but you still have to pay for your rent, food and clothes. It’s not been easy for me to afford it.”
Even before his first year course at DMU had started, Lukas had managed to find a job as floor staff at a big Leicester nightclub, Club Republic, working nights to pay his rent. By his second year, club bosses had recognised his photographic talents and they now employ him as a snapper to take photos of the clubbers partying to put on Republic’s facebook page.
That helps pay the rent for himself and his girlfriend, fellow Lithuanian Agnete Linikaite, a product and furniture design student at DMU who he met while in Leicester.
To see more of Lukas’ photos, visit his websites: