Cold Water is curated by Tanja Muravskaja and focuses on Baltic photography from the 1990’s. The exhibition is at the Art Hall Gallery as part of the wider Tallinn Photomonth programme. Entrance is free of charge.

The Art Hall Gallery with its wide windows is a brilliant and bright space as you enter it. And it is a space that Tanja Muravskaja has carefully harnessed, so that this powerful photography exhibition is harmonised within it. Nine photographers are representational of the 1990s Baltic Photography (three from each of the Baltic States), in a show that intends to reveal the artists’ perception of ‘the transition period’ through the contemporary photography of that time.

Despite sharing a common medium, black and white photography, each artist’s work offers the viewer a unique and very personal insight into a different world. Significantly, this ‘world’ is not remote in the physical or temporal sense, but instead ontological. The images were taken in the same neighborhood of nations in which they are shown today, their subjects may have aged a mere 20 years, so the challenge for the viewer lies not in the physical constraints of this kind. The 1990’s can be seen as a gateway between an era so defined by the long Soviet occupation, and the independent Baltic States that we know today. These photographs open a window into that gateway and allow the viewer to either recall, or to imagine for the first time, the mindset of the everyday during this uncertain time of radical changes. This is a powerful and poignant achievement.

Partly the exhibition is so striking and so successful because it is not overcrowded. The curators’ aforementioned democratic selection of photographers, and the presentation of the exhibition as art, rather than a conclusive archive, allow the images to speak clearly. This is especially important given the emotive subject of the exhibition, which is reflected in the very nature of the photographs, many of which feel private and cautious. It’s as though, alert to the possibility of change, the photographer could not anticipate what affect the click of their shutter may trigger. Artists at the time could not speak out too loudly, so these images have a sense that they carry something below the surface, or between the lines, which would not reveal itself under the passing glance of an overwhelmed audience. Instead, the opportunity to look deeply with borrowed eyes presents itself anew with each photographer.

Imaginings of the old and the new shift together, between the photographs, sinking and emerging. The balance is tilted, and these images are now tinted with gleeful hindsight that sees these people frozen in the moments right before the arrival of their political freedom that we now know as a certainty.

Writing on the exhibition suggests that recent political events affecting the Baltics sparked the urge to bring this work back into the light. Perhaps these lens-framed viewpoints are applicable to current international narratives. After all, the ‘transition point’ for these regions, between ‘history’ and the societies that thrive today, still rings strongly in living memory.