John Lucas, Untitled #5 Riga, 2011 © John Lucas / Courtesy of Stephen Bulger Gallery
People in Milan and Riga are sitting at streetcar windows in John Lucas photographic series, Tram Portraits. They are all looking through the glass with meditative, far-away stares. None of them is happy. The images were made in 2011, when Europe had already gone into an economic recession. These people, travelling in the night, are not winners.
The old man in Riga has the most expressive face among them. He travels on a tram where time and distance seem to be suspended. Latvia is a cold country and it is winter there. The window is covered with steam/frost and he’s scraped a small area just big enough to see through. What is he looking at? Latvia, a former state of the Soviet Union, is now independent but this man has likely lived most of his life under repression. He must have been a soldier in WWII, suffered the Red Terror that followed, worked, loved, and raised a family under the communist regime. His clothes suggest that he belongs to the middle class, probably an intellectual. He was a witness to difficult times and history is written all over him.
Is he really staring at the frozen city outside? I don’t think so. He seems to be looking inward, captured by his memories. His sad face tells the story of a life well lived, a life that was worth living regardless the hardships.
*Exhibition dates: September 21 – October 19, 2013, Stephen Bulger Gallery, Gallery Two, 1026 Queen Street West. Gallery hours: Tue – Sat 11 – 6 p.m.