Survive the school

“When I was little I didn’t think I had great prospects for the future,” says Latvian photographer Ivars Gravlejs. “In 1990, after the end of communism, my mother was forty and she couldn’t find a job because she was considered too old. Around me I saw a lot of competition and materialism ”. But one day, together with his cousin, Gravlejs found his grandfather’s camera. At the time he was five years old: “The materials for the development and the prints were cheap, we could experiment”.

Thus he approached photography and a few years later, when he was eleven, he began what became his first project entitled Early works. Gravlejs himself defines it as a rebellious job, done to escape boredom: “I often felt nauseous before going to school because of the humiliation I felt in front of my teachers. The only way to survive was to do something creative. So I decided to take pictures and make films ”.

The project aims to be a satirical work against the world of adults and its rules. It is divided into eight chapters, in which Gravlejs’ self-portraits, photos taken of his friends, teachers and school environments are mixed. In many of him you can see the craftsmanship and domestic work that followed Gravlejs (from the marks on the prints to the grain of the images), but you also immediately notice his precocious ability and desire to experiment.








From the Fight chapter, 1992 – 1993.
“Thanks to my camera I got the attention of my classmates. In front of the camera everyone behaved differently ”










From the Fight chapter, 1992 – 1993.
“Thanks to my camera I got the attention of my classmates. In front of the camera everyone behaved differently ”.



“There are more orthodox exercises (like multiple exposures) and wildly unconventional ones (footage of fires being set on teachers’ desks, chairs being thrown around),” says Gravlejs. In the section Scream flash the photos taken by surprise of the new arrivals are collected, while in Fight the boys pretend to hit each other in front of the camera: “Often the strongest began to annoy the weakest. But the opposite also happened, only for the few seconds I took the picture. It was like a fighting game. They were aware of the importance of photography and wanted their manifestations of physical strength to be documented ”. In another section there are images in which Gravlejs plays various roles, as a drunk man or as he pretends to carry out a terrorist act on railway tracks.

Early works became a book in 2015, published by the Mack publishing house. ◆








From the chapter Scream and flash, 1995.
“During the unofficial welcome ceremony for the new arrivals, I hid in the cellar, the last room on the route. It was all dark. As soon as they gave me the signal, with the light I illuminated the person in front of me and photographed them ”.










From the chapter Scream and flash, 1995.
“During the unofficial welcome ceremony for the new arrivals, I hid in the cellar, the last room on the route. It was all dark. As soon as they gave me the signal, with the light I illuminated the person in front of me and photographed them ”.










From the Fight chapter, 1992-1993










From the chapter My teachers: the geography teacher










From the chapter My teachers: the Russian language teacher










From the chapter My teachers: the technical education teacher



◆ The project Early works is exhibited in Savignano sul Rubicone, in Emilia-Romagna, al photography festival Si Fest, now in its thirty-first edition. Directed for the first time by photographer Alex Majoli, this year the festival is dedicated to the school, as a space and institution. The exhibitions have been set up in schools and are associated with various subjects. Other photographers and photographers exhibited include Chiara Fossati, Carla Cerati and Gianni Berengo Gardin, Duane Michals, Jim Goldberg, Lalla Essaydi and Kevin Claiborne. The exhibitions can be visited on 17 and 18 September and 1 and 2 October.

Ivars Gravlejs is a Latvian photographer born in 1979. He lives and works in Prague, Czech Republic. He currently teaches photography in Latvia and the Czech Republic.

Survive the school