Kaspars Goba, “Islands of Riga”

I was born in the countryside, in central part of Latvia and came to study in Riga 20 years ago. When I arrived here the traditional lifestyle on islands of Daugava river, in the middle of Riga, was long gone. An ugly TV tower stood on one of the biggest islands where fishermen and timber rafts men had lived for generations.

I have foggy childhood memories of watching the evening news on the black-and-white TV about construction works of the new television centre in Zakusala (Island of Hares). A few years later the TV programmes on the colour TV showed opening of the new, modern television building. The only way to learn about Zakusala before the television buildings took over are archive documents, old black and white photos and people’s stories.

Living in Riga I always missed something and I could not figure out what it was. Now, living outside Riga again, I understand it better – I was always drawn to the islands of Riga. When I got my first car, an old and economical Opel, in the evenings I spent hours driving around the city and almost always ended up by the river, in one of the islands.

When I started taking photos of islands of Riga, I did not feel that I am documenting something that is disappearing. But then came the time of economic boom. The real estate dealers with their expensive suits, flawless hairdos and perfectly manicured nails were driving around in posh cars, every free space in the city was turned into construction ground, bulldozers were pushing away old buildings, TV reported on yet another village of row houses or oil or chemical terminal being opened – it all gave me some sort of end of the world feeling. I suddenly realised that I wanted to document the city and life on its islands before most of it is destroyed in the name of progress and development.

I came to Riga forty years too late to see the traditional life of Zakusala. In Krievu sala I was just a month late – when I arrived the remains of the last allotments were bulldozed into large piles and an excavator was digging holes to get rid of them. Next spring the apple trees were cut down in full
blossom and covered with sand. A couple of years earlier, at the other end of Krievu sala one of the biggest nesting places of the black-headed gull in Europe, a habitat of European importance, was destroyed – it was covered in sand so that the port could expand its activities. The only people really worrying about it were artists and environmental activists of the local community of Bolderaja. This is the perfect place for the coal terminal, the biggest in the Baltics, said the port management. The city government supported them saying that we had to let the port to develop.

The fact that somewhere, far away in New York the investment company of Lehman Brothers bankrupted dragging along the economy of the world gave me the time to document the islands of Riga before the next economic success story will change their face once again.