It was back in July during our story with The Sustainable Studios founders Julia and Sarah that we first found out about the work of one of their resident members, Lithuanian-born photographer Vaida Barzdaite. With a background in cultural and social anthropology, Vaida uses colour film and 35mm as well as medium format cameras as her tools to record her observations of mundane objects, people’s everyday lives and their relationship with nature. Also involved in food related projects and very passionate cook, Vaida keeps a food and travel blog, One Small Spoon, where she shares inspiring food and travel stories and wholesome and simple recipes.
Curious to find out more about Vaida’s journey into photography, we met on a squally Saturday morning at her Sustainable Studio space and had a chat about the inspiration behind her work, her food related projects and the creative community around her. Later on, we decided to venture out into the stormy weather and go for a walk in Bute Park, taking shelter from the gusty rain at the Secret Garden Cafe ‒ a walled garden cafe nestled in the heart of Bute Park and run by the eco-friendly and sustainable food business Penylan Pantry, where Vaida told us, over a warming cup of coffee and a delicious homemade cake, about the things that matter to her and why is it important for people to live wilder and more creative lives.
And when the rain stopped, we resumed our wander under the dark sky and rainswept trees, conversing about one of Vaida’s recent photography projects focused on women living in urban areas and the ways they can reconnect with nature and their wilder selves, and parted ways thinking that her work is above all a poetics of simplicity and a celebration of the beautiful transience of life.
Vaida, what were you like as a child? What did you want to be or become?
I remember being an active, chatty and happy kid. I believe I wanted to be a ballet dancer for a bit, then a journalist, then an ambassador.
What is your most vivid childhood memory?
There are so many! My summers were spent outdoors, being active and playing with other kids. I had really fun summers. So I remember having good memories of those times. But for some reason bad memories are more vivid than the happy ones.
How did you get into photography? What was your journey like?
I was looking for a creative expression. I’ve never been very crafty, my sister used to help me with my drawings for school. Photography seemed to be an entirely different way of expressing myself, quite an immediate one, which suited me perfectly.
Was there ever a moment when you doubted your desire to be a photographer?
I doubted that a lot in the past and still sometimes doubt it. I believe being completely dedicated to one area is not for me (it might be for others), so I’m also quite involved in food related projects and am a very passionate cook.
Why does photography matter? What needs does it address?
It matters if you choose for it to matter. For me it matters because it is a way of preserving very specific moments in your life. It matters because you can learn so much about the world and other people by looking at photographs. I think it is an accessible tool of self-expression, especially for those people who would have never dreamed of being an artist. So it addresses the need of self-expression.
What is of importance to you at the moment, and how do you emulate it through your current work?
It is important to me to shed light on good and imaginative things that are not talked about, and that are happening around us. Such as women that live their lives closer to nature while living in the city ‒ swimming in city rivers, gardening and farming, foraging, and doing other things to connect to nature and create a balanced life in an urban environment. Having spent a lot of my childhood outdoors I appreciate how transformative and healing time spent in nature is. I want my photographs to be aesthetic as well as inspirational for people to live more imaginative lives. I want people to acknowledge the role creativity plays in our day to day living. I hope my photos can inspire these thoughts in others.
What metaphor would best describe how you feel when you photograph?
Can’t think of a metaphor. For me photography is like capturing and preserving life. Or those moments, people, objects in your life you’d like to remember. It starts with a strong feeling that forces you take your camera and press a button.
What are some of your favourite shooting locations? What is it that draws you to them?
I love shooting outdoors, especially by the sea or in the forest. I’m very much drawn by the colours, the blues of the sea and the deep greens of the forest.
What’s a must have in your gear bag?
A reflector is one such thing. It can be so helpful, although I’m using it less and less these days, as I’m mostly doing film photography.
How did you find your current studio at The Sustainable Studio and what do you love about this creative space and community?
I found it through a friend. I love the down-to-earthness and incredible openness of the sisters Julia and Sarah. I think they are so good at creating a supportive atmosphere, and I value that a lot.
What other collaborations or projects are you involved with?
I’m a food coordinator at Global Gardens, a community growing and food project. We grow veg, we share food, have workshops. I’m also part of a Hatch collective, which me and some of my colleagues from Sustainable Studio formed recently. We are a group of people with different creative skills and our goal is to teach those skills to different underprivileged groups in Cardiff.
What objects, creatures or landscapes appear most often in your dreams?
I sometimes have dreams about the big lake that’s next to my parent’s summer house and by which I used to spent my summers exploring, swimming, canoeing. Just in my dreams it feels so much bigger.
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
Try to be open to the world, people, new ideas and be forgiving to yourself and others as much as you can. Grateful too. That will make your life way more easier and more enjoyable. And also find out what gets you into a flow and try to stay there as long as you can.
What are three questions you don’t have an answer for?
Why is earth? When did it all start? What was there before there was anything?
What do you do or where do you go to unwind and get inspired?
It varies. Music is one big source of inspiration. Being outdoors, going for a walk, a bike ride, camping, swimming in the sea. That definitely helps to be more in the moment and let the ideas flow into my head. Other people’s work is a huge source of inspiration too.
What do you hope to achieve from photography in the future? And what trips or photography projects would you love to do?
I hope to develop a distinctive photographic style and the projects I’d like to do would be something I come up with from my personal experience, like the ‘Urban feminine utopia’ project. The art I enjoy the most is where an artist drew something from their personal experience. I think art is strongest then. We are more qualified to talk about our own lives than anyone else’s.
And now a question from Éric Poindron’s Weird Questionnaire: What does fog make you think of?
It either makes me think of detective dramas or driving through a field in Lithuania. We have quite thick beautiful morning fogs there.
And finally, can you recommend us:
A book: Mary Oliver ‘Upstream’.
A song: Sorry, can’t pick one: ‘Embers’ by Rasabasa, ‘Foreign fields’ by Kacy Hill, ‘One of these days’ by Bedouine, ‘Came so easy’ by the Weather Station, ‘Crane wife 1, 2, and 3’ by The Decemberists.
A film: Again difficult to choose one. I like most of Wes Anderson movies, ‘Rushmore’ is one that stands out, or ‘Isle of dogs’. ‘Big fish’ by Tim Burton was brilliant too.
A recipe: There are too many. I love making sauerkraut, so here is a recipe of a basic sauerkraut. You can find it on my food blog, too.
Ingredients: 1 head of cabbage (white or red) 2-3 tbsp of Salt. 1-2 tbsp of caraway seeds (optional).
1. Shred the cabbage finely – I use a mandolin because it’s quick and easy, but you can use a good knife, just make sure you slice it finely so you can squeeze as much juice out as possible.
2. Place the cabbage shreds in a bowl and mix with salt and caraway seeds. Use your hands to massage salt into your cabbage and apply a bit of pressure to make sure the juice is coming out. It may help to leave it for a bit, 30 min-1 hour. The cabbage should soften and get juicier. Before you start filling your jar, there has to be some juice already at the bottom of your bowl. If not, massage it for longer.
3. Start stuffing a jar with cabbage, one big handful at a time. Make sure you force it with your hand each time to the bottom of the jar so that there are no air gaps.
4. When you’ve finished stuffing the jar, find something to weigh down the cabbage to keep it submerged. I use a glass that fits in the jar, filled with water and pushed down on top of cabbage to squeeze out even more juice. You can also get glass weights, which are a bit more practical. Make sure your sauerkraut is submerged at all times. This is the key to a successful fermentation.
5. Cover the jar with a muslin cloth or a towel to prevent flies or anything else falling into it.
6. Wait. The smell and the look of it so enticing, I can barely wait 3-4 days before I start tasting but you should experiment with times as it will take longer to ferment in colder climates and colder seasons.
Sauerkraut is delicious on its own but can be eaten as a condiment with a main meal, mixed in a salad or even a soup. The leftover juice from sauerkraut is delicious too.