Pickled cucumbers and wisdom

Agnese Aljena and Madara Lazdina are gathering portraits of the ‘wiser’ generation. Francesca Baker finds out why.

Latvian photographers Agnese Aljena and Madara Lazdina set up Wiser, an art and research project, to encourage different generations to have deep, sincere conversations. It connects older generations, who have lived, experienced and understood, with younger generations, who have a lot to gain from their wisdom. Agnese and Madara interview older people and put their answers together with photographs, a handwriting sample and a voice recording to create a portrait of a life well lived. They then post these pieces on the project’s Facebook page.

Their predefined questions cover such topics as the interviewee’s most valuable experience, what they would like to ask their grandparents, what they want to tell their children, what they are looking forward to. ‘There are always things to look forward to,’ says Agnese. ‘You have to celebrate birthdays, and celebrate life. You have to dance and travel and do everything. That is what I am taking from these interviews. It’s never too late. Even in your eighties.’

The Wiser Project is about creating connections

The Wiser Project is about creating connections

Agnese and Madara worry about the impact of social media and the way that digital networks are taking over. ‘We don’t talk, we ask Google,’ says Agnese. ‘But we could get that same information and human experience from older people.’ Young people often create the content of social media. This creates something of an echo chamber. ‘We live in our own young, immature understanding of the world,’ Agnese continues. ‘We want to bring human wisdom to the digital world.’

As a professional photographer Agnese has captured kids, teenagers, families and models – but felt she was missing elderly people. ‘I really like their true faces, honest eyes and open hearts.’ This was where the idea for the project began. Through gathering records in different mediums, she wanted to build portraits of lives of wisdom and experience that offered hope for the future.

During her grandfather’s last summer, some 15 years ago, she started to record their conversations. ‘We started talking about his life, his experience, and what I could take from it. The best wisdom I took from that summer was one sentence that my Grandpa said: “The best you can leave in this world is love.”’ Her grandfather was a building engineer, but what he wanted to leave as a legacy was the intangible quality of love rather than physical structures.

‘When Agnese told me about the idea of collecting stories I was overexcited and jumped on the train to visit my grandparents and test the method,’ says Madara. ‘I felt they had waited for this conversation all their life because we usually talk about the weather and food, but never about their life. So it was their chance to share the wisdom they have.’

The conversation was a turning point in her attitude to her grandparents and her father. ‘Knowing their childhood experiences let me understand the way they treated me when I was a small girl. Now, after knowing them better, I respect them and I can really say that I love them. Because of this experience, I decided that Wiser is something that we must have as a movement to create a peaceful and loving world.’

But the real starting point for Madera, even before the conversation with Agnese, was pickled cucumbers. Struggling to make them, she realised that the only person who could help her was her grandmother, but she had simply never asked. ‘So often we struggle with life and forget that elders are a source of wisdom. They have experienced so much and are usually happy to share.’

Above: images from the Wiser Project

Above: images from the Wiser Project

Photos: Agnese Aljena and Madara Lazdina

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