Dovilė Bružaitė and Matteo Baldini met in piazza Santa Maria Novella in 2009. She, a tourist from Vilnius, Lithuania, he, a native of Piacenza working in Florence, are two photographers who courted long-distance and finally chose Florence as their home, the “city where it all started,” as they put it on their website. A career as photo journalists for La Repubblica and then their own company photographing families and weddings, the couple has recently been in the news with their “Pandemic Diary”, which we reported on here) and now with their “Remote Portraits in a time of distance” that made headlines in Italy and Lithuania. Now they’ve donated their time and skills to create portraits, from a distance, of members of the Lithuanian community in Tuscany ahead of the group’s fourth anniversary.
Lithuanians Tuscany count 345 people according to official statistics (2019) and over 50 of them are members of the official Lithuanian community in Tuscany, which was officially founded on February 21, 2017 under the motto "Communion, traditions, national identity and friendship". With a home base at the Honorary Consulate in Florence, the group has an informal school for their children, called “Toskaniukai”. Consul Enrico Palasciano, who even managed to have a road in Florence named “via Lituania”, is an honorary member, declaring that he is “proud of the path taken together and of the many initiatives that Lithuanians in Tuscany has undertaken”.
The group commemorates national festivities, sometimes coordinated with others around the world, such as singing the national anthem on July 6 at the same time. Through their actions fostering friendship and integration, the universities of Vilnius and Florence signed a cooperation agreement in 2018. Members of the community have been recognized with some of the annual awards given by Shield Institute of Saint Martin, founded in 1983 in Florence. Siena-based basketball player Rimantas Kaukėnas, whose foundation helps critically ill children, and cyclist Edita Pučinskaitė, Tour de France and Giro d’Italia winner, who promotes blood donation in Tuscany are past recipients.
But this community is made up of all sorts of professionals, and that’s what the latest series of photos by Matteo and Dovilė shows.
“For years, I lived in Florence without engaging with people from the Lithuanian community,” says Dovilė. “But as the years stretch on, I’ve re-evaluated it and am happy to contribute. Now that I have a son, I like the idea of giving him the possibility of speaking with other people from my native country.”
As the community approached its fourth anniversary, unable to get together in person, the couple was happy to be involved in a celebrative solution. Using an app called The Shutter App, the couple collaborates with friends and clients around the world to find the light in their homes and create a representative scene. “It’s a form of resistance, a way to demonstrate strength in the light of the pandemic,” they explain. “We’re glad that our photo sessions can bring a moment of creativity and joy to people and leave them something of value. But we’ve also had a lot of fun, and in some ways this and other remote projects have brought us closer to Florentines and people around the world than ever before.”
The Lithuanian Community in Tuscany can be found on their Facebook page.