Discussing War

I have been discussing war. I have decided to have my mind set for the worst, which is by no means hypothetical at the moment. It is amazing what one discovers in oneself in a situation like this. Suddenly things are not as clear cut as they seem to someone out of the corner.

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Living with a big brother who has a temper is not always easy. One must refrain from thoughtless commentary or hint of disrespect. Neither of which has been done in the recent years. It is of course a matter of moral decision. Do I interfere and let the bully see how wrong he is or shall I just be quiet and pray not to be seen? This has always been the case for us. My grandfather who will be 99 next month fought in the front line. And here we are again. Not to mention the smaller states in between who have had it even worse. There are new garrisons being built next to our border. Nobody talks about it but it is all we read about. There is nothing for us to do except wait and see, everyone figuring out the best solution for themselves. I find myself wondering whether I should worry about leaving or staying.

Just two weeks ago I saw a documentary on TV about a Finnish painter Aino von Boem. I was fascinated by her work and the amazing quality of the documentary, and finally greatly touched by her fate when she coincidentally died in an elevator after visiting a relative on the first day of Winter War. The war started with an unexpected bombing of Helsinki, a fleet of planes rolling maliciously over our beautiful capital city, bombs tearing down the walls off the old apartment buildings, pealing the skin off of the peaceful homes leaving them open, bare and viciously violated, and in all its horror murdering innocent civilians, like this incredibly talented artist Aino von Boem who was full of creative energy, looking forward to her future. Aino’s son, another famous Finnish painter Tuomas von Boem, who was 23 at the time when the war broke out, kept looking for his mother for years after the bombing and lovingly preserved her work for the future generations. One of the most beautiful works by Aino von Boehm is a mural in SYK (Helsingin suomalainen yhteiskoulu) which is one of the most prestigious schools in Finland.

When I wake up in the morning the first thing I do is check the news. When ever I hear an airplane it makes me think of a bomber fleet emerging from behind the tree tops. We’re just 200 km from the border.

My Best Shots 2013

2013 turned out to be a very busy year for me, with lots of new challenges outside photography. I am most grateful for having been able to find time to continue taking photos despite the tight schedules. What I do regret is that I haven’t been able to follow other people’s work as much as I would like to. I am hoping that 2014 will change this.

Sunset in Saulkrasti II

Sunset in Saulkrasti II

During 2013 I visited Sweden, France, Latvia, Malta, Czech and Hungary. I have posted photos on Flickr from all of those trips. I have also written about most of those trips in this blog. The trip to Latvia remains unreported, however one of the photos I took there was my most popular shot in 2013. As always, I rely on Flickr statistics on determining my best shots of the year. Sunset in Saulkrasti II has been viewed 1450 times and 92 people count it as their favorite. Saulkrasti is a very small town by the Baltic Sea. I have been told that it is a popular tourist spot in the summer, but during winter when we visited it was very quiet. In Saulkrasti you are always near the sea and whenever it is not cloudy, you can witness a fantastic sunset night after night.    

Gentle Night

Gentle Night

One of my passions in photography is low-key monochrome. I find myself mostly inspired by such shots, and catching them myself never seizes to interest me. Observing the angle of the light and examining the shadows, how they change form and create moods. The opportunity for such shots usually comes quite unexpectedly, and so does the popularity of the final shot when posted online. That is exactly what happened with Gentle Night. It was my second most popular shot in 2013, viewed almost 5000 times and faved by 39 people. Such a simple motif. No planning, no set-up, no going anywhere. Just a peaceful afternoon in the last warm rays of sun, and so it translates also in the pixels when shot in low-key mono.

Farewell

Farewell

The difference in camera quality becomes best evident in shots with autumn colors. Especially when you are looking for bokeh effect with blurry background. Autumn is my favorite time of the year. Autumn images also sell best. Sometimes I feel that my archives are already full of autumn leaves, but then I meet a customer who is looking to buy one and I feel that I want to take more. Just because it is so much fun and the light and the colors are so beautiful. The challenge in a shot like Farewell, my third most popular shot last year, is to find the right angle to catch the leaves at their best, and fill the background with other colors in the best possible arrangement. All this in one click of the shutter. I have always liked to challenge myself to make the shot in location, and to this day I haven’t done any post-processing to my images, except spot removal, resizing, cropping and very rarely making them black and white. I don’t even have a Photoshop application. I haven’t found the need for it. I suppose editing photos does not interest me that much, and I do have a film camera background, so this is what I’m used to.

White

One of my own favorites among last year’s shots is White. I like shooting snow, and snowshoeing around the woods is one of my favorite things to do. So far we haven’t had any snow in Finland this winter. I am hoping that we will get some soon. For a shot like this you need a sunny day in March to get the overexposure and the shadows on the bed of hard snow. White (as well as Gentle night, and most of my other monochrome work) was shot in monochrome, so it hasn’t been post-processed at all. The same applies for #5 Still Life and #9 Sea of White in my list of best shots in 2013.

Still Life

Still Life

Sea of White

Sea of White

November Mist

November Mist

We haven’t seen the sun for months now in Finland. Every day it is grey and most days rainy. It does not inspire one to photograph. Sometimes I just get so angry at the weather that I decide to try anyway. That happened with the series November Mist, November and Along the Lines. This is what it has looked like in Finland since the late October. No wonder we’re not the most cheerful nation. To my surprise the photos have been popular. Again I decided to use low-key monochrome to bring out the shadows and the tones and it added a sense of mystery to the depressing November greyness. I like to use low-key technique also on colored images, by adjusting the manual settings of the camera when shooting. I feel that it makes the tones softer and adds mood to the image. There is of course always a risk of overdoing it, but here I think it was worked.

November

November

Along the Lines

Along the Lines

As much as I like shooting monochrome, there are moments when color is in order. I have noticed that the most intensive tones can be caught in cold temperatures and in the autumn. Warrior was shot in the heart of the winter at sunset, just like #1 in this list.

Warrior

Warrior

I am most grateful for all the people who visit my blog, come to see my photos on Flickr, follow my tweets and pins and posts on Facebook or Google+. I do keep an eye on the streams on various social media sites but I rarely have time to connect. Nevertheless, you can be sure that part of the inspiration for my photos always comes from you. In 2014 I will continue with my straight-out-of-camera nature photography as I have always done. It seems that no amount of other work will keep out of the woods.

I wish you all lots of creative energy for the new year!

Greetings from the Dolomites!

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For the past few days I’ve been exploring a remote mountain village called Sappada in Northern Italy. The valley is secluded amongst gorgeous, steep, snow-topped mountains Monte Sierra, The trio of Monte Terza and Monte Ferro. At the bottom of the valley there is the beautiful Fiume Piave, a mountain river that runs all the way down to Mediterranean. We have been following it on our trips back and forth to Venice. At some parts there are fantastic rapids and waterfalls, and sometimes there is just a peaceful little stream in the middle of a huge valley with limestone pebbles.

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To get to Sappada you have to cross dozens of bridges and dive into numerous tunnels. My sons have already decided to count them on our way back. The longest tunnel is four kilometers long. My younger son keeps calling one of the tunnels the time warp tunnel because everything is so different in each end of it. I guess that is where we pierce into the defining wall of rock in between the sunny southern side and the secluded snowy side in the north. I keep wondering how they used to make the trip before the time of the tunnels. And I hope that the roads will be clear that morning when we have to drive to Venice to catch our flight. There are lots of broken down trees and snow on the steep slopes by the road. I keep telling myself that somehow the Italians always seem to make it work, even with those funny three-wheeled moped cars and the hair-raising traffic behavior of their fellow countrymen.

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It is very quiet here in Sappada and hardly anyone speaks any other language except Italian. That suits me fine. Apparently it is quite easy for the Italians to understand Finnish and vice versa, even though the languages are not even remotely related to each other. The key to everything around here is to smile and greet everyone. Bongiorno. Buena sera. Without it you are considered extremely rude, but if you remember it, you might even get a dinner invitation to a local house. I met a local man called Luigi by the church one day. He was delighted to meet foreign people in this old village and wondered how we had managed to find our way there. He said that most of the people he knew in Sappada when he was a small boy have already passed away and he comes to visit them at the cemetery. It is the Italian way to have the cemetery in the middle of the village so that the loved ones who have passed away can be visited every day. People stop by on their way to work and bring fresh flowers and light candles. He said that he moved away when he was little, but comes back every year to spend his vacation in his old hometown. He is 73, has 10 grandkids and a couple of them live in Finland. This discussion was the only one I have had here in English. I wouldn’t have understood this much in Italian. However, the discussions that I have had in Italian, even though I have never studied the language, include for example the following: the beauty of the mountains (in sunshine in comparison to when it’s cloudy or foggy), the agony of carrying once skis to the elevators, and the names of the local mountains in Italian. And I’ve witnessed the Italians understanding perfectly what we say in Finnish. I’ve come to realize that it isn’t about the words. It is about being present in the situations, wanting to understand and wanting to make a connection with another person. The rest is gestures, facial expressions, tones of voice and smiles.

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For photography this place needs to be experienced and studied for a few days. It is not easy to know when there is sunlight and when the darkness falls. The mountains form an uneven wall around the village that defines the amount of light so that all afternoon you can follow the sun slowly moving west just above the snowy peaks, then it disappears for a while behind a slightly higher peak of the Monte Sierra, only to come back and show it’s glorious orange form for the final view at a grotto between Monte Sierra and Monte Terza. Just how low in the valley you happen to be, defines your chances to see it. And then there is the mist of course. The open Fiume Piave in the valley bringing it up in the mornings and in the evenings. My sons like to think of us being in the cloud. Well, the internet cloud it isn’t for sure, since those kinds of connections here are very rare and weak.

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It is amazingly quiet here. There is only the sound of the open rapids in the mountain river, tree branches breaking under the weight of the snow, and the occasional skier passing on the crispy bed of snow on the other side of the river.

End of Term

IMG_3401_wwwIt has been a long autumn. There is still hardly any snow and it’s already dark at three in the afternoon. I’ve just finished marking all the exams, ready to start grading at daybreak tomorrow. Gradually all things seem to come together once again. All the individual threads that I have been following for months are finally winding into a ball of yarn. I have learned to manage my own business. I have given courses for teachers without making them frustrated. I have learned sport photography. I have discovered how to incorporate modern technology into teaching. I have learned to know a large group of teenagers who were strangers to me just a few months ago, and we have managed to come together as a group and formed our own way of working and learning. And I have learned to bake a sugar coated cake.

IMG_3473_wwwDays go by so fast doing all those things. Focusing on finishing something that is on the way. Waiting for a break before the next challenge. Gasping for air in between dives. Enjoying underwater scenery. Taking hold of other divers and bringing them up for air as well. What adventure it has been once again! Looking for an island to stay for a while and rest. Maybe a good book. Maybe a day for painting, knitting or baking. Perhaps a long walk in the forest. Mercifully forgetting all the things that did not work out. All the lost moments and the failed efforts. Humbly erasing the unfulfilled wishes and expectations. As all this happens, you can almost hear your heartbeat slowing down to rest pace. End of term.

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On Fears and Overcoming

IMG_2145_wwwIt’s another cold autumn day. The gorgeous colors are still here but the temperatures are going down so quickly that I had to go through the closets to find my gloves. After school my sons and I find refuge by the fire place, adoring the flames on the sun dried birch logs. Sometimes this time of the year makes me feel like a mom cat with kittens. And I can’t stop wondering how those two who are always on the go, curl up next to me and are all prepared to do nothing for the whole evening. Just two weeks ago I wasn’t able to convince them to wear shoes or to stay put even for half an hour. And now we are gradually entering the hibernation mode.

My youngest goddaughter had her first birthday on Saturday. She had just learned how to walk and how to use the spoon. Suddenly a baby had turned into a toddler. There is something most captivating in the wobbly first steps and the persistence in practice. The urge to discover and conquer, to learn and to challenge yourself. IMG_2183_wwwJust a few weeks ago my son announced that he had learned to read. I have never before seen him so happy in relief. It was his greatest fear that he would never learn how to read, and there was no way of convincing him otherwise. He has been practicing all autumn ever since he started the first grade and books have always been his greatest passion. Now that the clog has been removed there is no end to spelling. Road signs, cereal boxes, t-shirts and caps. Joy of learning like fireworks in the sky.

IMG_2197_wwwOn the way to my goddaughter’s party I heard a fascinating interview on the radio. It was one of the most famous authors in Finland, called Tuomas Kyrö, who was interviewed about writing and being a writer. The interviewer asked him what inspires him the most to writing. He burst out in heartfelt laughter and said that inspiration is a myth. That nothing comes to anyone without hard work. In order to write a novel, one has to write and write and write. And then gradually the story starts to take form. For him, just to sit and wait for an inspiration would be ludicrous and a waste of time. I have to agree. And isn’t that the most comforting thought as well?

Today

IMG_2252_wwwToday must be the most beautiful day of the year. I am already sad about September ending soon. I have been awfully busy with teaching, meeting parents, setting up courses for teachers and driving my sons around God’s creation. And when I was just about to end the most stressful week of them all, I caught a cold and had to stay at home and rest. It is amazing how our bodies look after themselves. Mine has discovered that the only way to keep me off work is to take away my voice. A friend of mine destroyed her vocal cords for good when she ignored her flu and kept on talking to the class with a hoarse voice. Now she teaches with a microphone even in a small classroom. I have decided to take good care of mine. This flu forced me to rest, and I think I really needed it. I realized it after sleeping two days in a row. I had understood that I was too tired but when there are things you have to do, there just isn’t a way around them. Being stressed out isn’t a glorious state. It is like being chased in loud noise. Just this one thing, then I’m set. But there is always another thing after it.

IMG_2256_wwwToday I went to see the mushrooms, and there they were by the miniature creek just half a mile from our house. They were so cute I almost regretted picking them. But if I hadn’t, someone else would have. They always appear in the same place, I’m sure there’ll be more tomorrow. I only pick chanterelles and winter mushrooms because they are the only kind that I can identify with hundred percent certainty. It would be a drag to poison the whole family with some cute fungi. I do have a mushroom app in my iphone that I’ve tried to use in the forest but it just adds to my fears when almost every description ends with a warning like “easily confused with…”. Chanterelles and winter mushrooms are a delicacy, and there are so many of them in our forests that there will always be plenty left even though many Finns do their best collecting them.

IMG_2210_wwwToday I feel like I’ve recharged me. I still have the flu but I have also found my thoughts in the peaceful Sunday forest. There are things to be done and I will start doing them tomorrow. Even if I realize that there is going to be another stressful period ahead, there is nothing I can do about it. I can’t detach myself from the people and things happening around me. And I wouldn’t even want to. I’m just holding onto these timeless days to balance it all out.

September Twining

IMG_1995_wwwFor me this is the best part of the year. Cool and misty mornings, gentle warmth and gorgeous sunsets in the evenings. It has all been done. Flowers grown, seeds sown, young raised and crop harvested. Each warm day feels like a bonus, a surprise present when you are not expecting to get one any longer. After the nameless and hour-less days of summer there is suddenly order for things. The order that reminds you of where you belong and how far you’re able to reach. The order that is so dear and welcome but does not let you let you off easy. The order that is inevitable, but also necessary for us to be able to enjoy the time without it. In September, when the light is soft and low, time stands still for a moment for us to remember how it all was, turning memories into expectations. Until we meet again.

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