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A Latvian Photographer Never Lets Down His Guard

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Latvia is in the midst of a financial transition. The country has had "the fastest growing economy in the EU for the last two years," Pauls Raudseps, an economics commentator for the Latvian news magazine IR, said recently on Morning Edition.

With this flurry of economic activity, photographer Reinis Hofmanis started documenting guard booths on the construction sites in Latvia's capital city, Riga, as part of his series Territory. Based in Riga, he was drawn to the booths' architecture and claustrophobic feeling while he was working on another project about borders in urban areas.

"My idea was to explore the thin border between private and public space in urban landscape," Hofmanis said via email. Most of the sites Hofmanis photographed will be office buildings or parking lots for private investors spurred by Latvia's growing economy.

The guards are visible from the public road, where Hofmanis photographed, but their private shacks isolate them within the landscape. Seeing glimpses of the guards through foggy windows creates a sense of tension in Hofmanis' images. Each of the photos captures the moment when the guard has spotted or is approaching the photographer.

Occasionally a guard would leave his space to ask Hofmanis what he was up to. Sometimes the interactions were warm, and he would listen to the guard tell stories after photographing.

Other guards weren't as pleasant. "[One] guard came out and threatened to break my camera," said Hofmanis, who tried to explain he was photographing on public land, but the guard wouldn't change his mind. Hofmanis came back later in the week and photographed a different guard in the same spot.

Hofmanis said he will challenge these private and public lines as Latvia's economy continues to expand and construction carries on, just as guards will continue to protect their private spaces.

Hofmanis' work will be part of an exhibition titled "A Sense of Place. Contemporary Latvian Photography," from Oct. 17 to Nov. 10 at the AusstellungsHalle 1a in Frankfurt, Germany. The exhibition is part of the European Cultural Days of the European Central Bank — Latvia 2013 program.

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