In 2014, on 1 January, photographer Ieva Raudsepa boarded a ferry from Riga (her hometown) to Stockholm. “The ferry was half empty and the sea was frozen,” she recalls. “We had the cheapest cabins right bellow the parking lot. In our cabin we could hear the ice breaking, it was winter and dark, so there was a sombre feeling to the entire trip.” During the trip, she took some photos of her friends “without really thinking about it.” When looking back at these photos a few months later, however, she realised “the ferry is a really interesting environment, so I decided to go back and try to make something there.” The result is Cruise, Ieva’s recently released book, published by Milda Books.
Cruise is set during this specific ferry ride, one that’s particularly popular with young people as it connects eastern and western Europe. A reflection of the nature of the trip, the images in Cruise are akin to holiday snaps; friends pose together as they find ways to combat the boredom of travelling and take part in the on-board entertainment. In turn, it’s a coming-of-age story about what it means to be a young person from the Baltics, born after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
“The focus of the series is portraits of people my age – friends and others that I met and hung out with on the ferry,” Ieva explains. “I was a student when I was working on the project, and I think when you’re at that point in your life when you’ve just finished high school and are out in the world, everything feels kind of exciting but intimidating. Also, my generation of people in Latvia, we were born in a pretty significant moment. The Soviet Union had just collapsed and we were the first ones to be born in a newly independent state. We grew up in a moment of transition and shifting ideologies.”
Ieva, therefore, views the overnight ferry ride as representative of something much bigger. “I was interested in the ferry between Riga and Stockholm as both a real place that exists, but also as a metaphor for something in transition with a vast landscape surrounding it,” she remarks. “The sea as something infinite, beautiful, and really frightening.”
In one photo, in particular, a young man poses on the deck of the ferry, a suit jacket painted on his body. Ieva tells us about the trip that photo was taken on: “Every now and then they have thematic trips on the ferry, and this photo was taken during one of those. There was a special entertainment programme, and this guy was one of the hosts that night, so he had on this make-up and outfit. What I remember best from that trip, is that I went with three friends of mine, and one of the most famous Latvian pop singers was performing on the ferry that night. We were at the karaoke when we noticed that he was also sitting there. One of my friends put our names down to sing together with him. When the karaoke lady read who would be performing next, the pop star was surprised that he was being called out, but came up on stage with us. Together we all sang one of his songs about tumultuous love and heartbreak.”
Ultimately, Cruise is a series which demonstrates how, when individual photos are presented together, they can build an atmosphere, unlike any other medium. As standalone images, the photos in Cruise don’t tell us much about the people in them, but included alongside images of the disco ball, the dark waters and the boat’s dated carpets, a picture of what this journey would be like becomes clear. Full of nostalgia and tinged with the slight uncomfortableness of being subjected to on-board entertainment, what the series gets across most of all is the excitement of taking your first trip with friends, where the journey itself becomes as big a part of the holiday as the destination.
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