The Embassy of Latvia will host a photography exhibit: “Latvian Landscapes: The Road Less Traveled” by Matthew Blong as part of "Europe Week", a week-long celebration of European culture in Washington.
PLACE: 2304 Massachusetts Ave, NW Washington, DC 20008
Saturday, May 8, 2010 from 10:00 am - 4:00 pm;
May 10 - 28, 2010, open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 12:00 noon to 6:00 pm.
Preface (by Matthew Blong)
I knew before arriving in Latvia that the country would impress me. I had already read of its rich, layered history and its reputation for unspoiled nature. I had already heard about the energy of its capital, about the charm of its towns, about the loveliness of its coasts. I was prepared for those things.
What I wasn’t prepared for, what nothing could have prepared me for, was the power of its beauty. I could not have known that I would find myself in landscapes and cities so breathtaking that they had the ability not just to inspire but also to heal a wounded soul.
I was living in Riga – Latvia’s majestic capital, bustling with commerce and tourism. Like the majority of visitors, I enjoyed the charms of Old Town, shopping at the Central Market, the beaches of Jurmala, and, from time to time, the vibrant nightlife. Yet I yearned for more serene surroundings. I was suffering through the pain of a divorce and, feeling estranged; I sought to escape the more frequented streets as often as I could. For a year, I traveled nearly every weekend, crossing the length and breadth of Latvia’s countryside. I covered thousands of miles in my trusty (and appropriately named) Ford Escape, visiting all 23 of Latvia’s counties, stopping to photograph places that reflected a sense of peace – something I badly needed during a turbulent period in my life.
Usually, on these trips, I pushed myself as far away as possible from the capital and the busy highways, pursuing solitude, indulging my curiosity about the real places more obscured than illustrated by the tiny dots that represented them on my map. Sometimes I didn’t follow the map at all. I stumbled upon old churches and ruins of castles, upon towns and villages that looked as though they were exempt from the passage of time. I explored the limits of Latvia itself, treading close to its borders and occasionally crossing them.
In this exhibition, I wish to share some of the photographs I took along the way. For those unfamiliar with this breathtaking country, I hope that my pictures offer a compelling introduction; for those who already know Latvia, I hope that they remind you of this Baltic nation’s beauty while perhaps casting light on a few places that you have not yet visited.
The task I took on as a traveler was sometimes difficult. It took me a good deal of effort, time and patience to cover the necessary ground to garner these intimate portraits. But as a photographer, my job was easy. Latvia really is this beautiful.
About the Photographer
Matthew Blong is a photographer, traveler, and amateur linguist. Born and raised in the Washington, D.C. area, he has lived, worked and studied in half a dozen countries, and visited more than 70. His passions frequently lead him down less-traveled roads: in March of this year, he visited and photographed the newborn country of Kosovo, and in April he became one of the first American citizens to travel as a tourist to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. He has also journeyed extensively in the lands of the former Soviet Union; in 2003, he crossed the entire length of Russia on the Trans-Siberian railway.
Matthew has been taken with photography ever since he was in high school. In college, he served as Senior Staff Photographer and Photography Editor for the Yale Daily News. In 2001, he worked as an apprentice to a portrait and fashion photographer in Paris, where he first exhibited his work. In 2009 he traveled to Valjevo, Serbia where he was one of several international photographers to document and exhibit images of the town in a project called "Valjevo through the Foreigner’s Lens."
From 2004 to 2010, Matthew worked as a Foreign Service Officer in the U.S. Department of State. In addition to his tour in Latvia (2007-2008), he served a two-year tour in the central African country of Burundi (2004-2006). He also served a tour in Washington (2008-2010) working on Middle Eastern Affairs.
This fall, Matthew will enter the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale, Arizona to study international business administration. He is currently residing in Syria, where he is studying Arabic at the University of Damascus and assembling a portfolio of photographs for a future exhibition.
Matthew speaks French, Russian, German and Latvian. He hopes to return to Latvia soon.