Making Believe

The online edition of our nation’s biggest newspaper Helsingin Sanomat introduced a new feature some months ago by which readers can save any  published articles and keep them in their own scrapbooks. I liked the idea and started to use it right away. Now I’ve noticed that I like going back there to reread the old columns I’ve saved and I’ve also noticed that there are recurring themes and perspectives in the articles that I save.

One of my favorite columnists is Virpi Salmi. She writes about the everyday life in this country and she is very good at pointing out the funny things we do and describing them with biting sarcasm. I’m sure her analysis would fit many other cultures as well, after all the way we want to be seen in the eyes of others is quite the same almost anywhere you go. Initially she caught my attention with her column: “Have you REALLY skied if you haven’t written an update about it on Facebook?” and then she wrote about “The labor camp called matrimony”. I think her point of view comes from the idea that since we’re so well off in this country that not having to spend our time thinking how to get our next meal or how to make ends meet, we are left with all the time in the world to figure out how to look good in the eyes of others, whom we in turn keep measuring without mercy. And since we are such amazing individuals we are also given the power to label and judge as much as we like. In other words, in order to look good in this scale set by the norms of society you have to build your own house and go skiing regularly during winter – AND let everyone know how much work the first one is and how much fun the latter. I suppose there is no harm in going about your life along these paths, achieving one post at a time, steadily making it always a bit further and further. However, what Virpi Salmi points out is that quite often this setting ends in being judgmental and bad mouthing others. And for some, competing for the sake of mere competition and finally waking up to the thought of not being able to settle for anything.

Sometimes modern life seems to be all about appearances. What you wear and drive, where you live and eat, how you compose your everyday routine and relate to others. Baby girls are supposed to wear pink and glitter, boys act rowdy and adventurous. Good wives do not show too much skin and good men provide the setting where family life takes place. And the neighbors keep watch that everything goes by the book, maybe the grass has been too long for too many days or maybe your kids are too loud. And why is it that these things have to be so? What if you read books all summer and let the grass grow and let your children be noisy? Like my wise grandmother always says: “Let’s not spend our time  doing dishes while the sun is shining.” Make room for the quiet son to be the pensive spirit that he likes to be without asking him to go out on the water glide that he is afraid of. And when we do all this, we finally put aside what we think the neighbors think, because we are so well aware of the fact that it is just appearances and nothing more. Make belief, where the surface is shiny and the inside surprisingly often hollow. The proof of this is so unavoidably visible to us in the statistics of for example kids being bullied because of their looks, old-fashioned clothes and overweight that you feel like telling everyone to take a moment to look at the world like a small child does. Sleep with your shoes on your pillow like Pippi Longstocking, just to make a mockery out of the unnecessary stigma that makes the ones who do not want to comply feel miserable.

One of my favorite quotes has always been this: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” (George Bernard Shaw) It has been my license to diverge, and allow room for others to do so as well. I hope to find new perspectives for my photos as well, not to repeat things that have already been done. It never seizes to amaze me how much can be done with just the camera and the lens when you keep an eye on the varying light and find new ways to compose the image, disregarding all the golden rules of photography, going with pure instinct - Would I like to look at this on my wall? Does this have enough in it to keep fascinating me year after year? At best striving at setting up an illusion, making the viewer believe in something. Like this amazing painting I saw the day before yesterday in a gallery opening in Helsinki. The artist is Marja Tikka and the painting is called And There Awaited A Pale Morning. It was hard for me to leave it. I felt like I had already started my adventure in the world it opened up for me.

Marja Tikka: “And There Awaited A Pale Morning” 2010 oil on canvas
(published with the permission of the artist)

Competition News

Intersections

Early this year I sent some photos to the Finnish Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. Last year’s winner photo was shot by Pekka Tuuri and here is a list of all the previous winners and links to their sites. As you can see the prize has been awarded every year since 1980 and every single time it has been given to a male photographer. There are seven categories: Plants, Birds, Landscapes, Mammals, Other fauna, Composition and Form, Nature and People. Here you can see all the group winners from last year. In addition to these seven categories, they will also award the the very prestigious Fotofinlandia. You can see the winners of Fotofinlandia and links to their sites on this page. Fotofinlandia winners are among the most famous photographers in Finland, e.g. Elina Brotherus who has even made a successful international career. Another one of my favorites is Hannes Heikura who has a wonderful exhibition at the moment in Helsinki.

Just last week I noticed that two of my photos have made it to the semifinal in the category Nature and People. There will be another judging and the results will be announced in November. This is the only competition I have taken part in and getting this recognition to be in the semifinal is a huge honor and more than I ever expected. I will post my lucky semifinalists on this page for you to see. I’m truly grateful for all the support I’ve got from my friends both online and offline. Thank you!

Small People

Moment Before Sunset

There is an incomprehensible heat wave in Finland at the moment. It’s been only during the last few years that this has happened and people are still not prepared. There are hardly any houses with proper air-conditioning in this country, however, most people have started to purchase heat-pumps in their houses in the recent years.

When I was a kid we used to be able to swim in the sea only once or twice a year. By midsummer the ice had probably melted but still you’d have to be a very tough person to plunge in. I remember doing that once on a school trip in May, and the water was so cold I couldn’t breathe and I was sure I was going to die. I was quite a tomboy and I did it because I didn’t wat to lose face in front of the boys – at the age of 11 – but to tell you the truth it was sheer madness – something to remember for the rest of my life. In the mid 80s the summers were mild in Northern Finland. Now about a quarter of a century later Southern Finland has five months of house-sized snow piles and five months of heat wave. This year, during the first 10 days of June the day temperature has been around 100 degrees Fahrenheit, which is very unusual.

As a teacher May is always a very stressful and busy time, and so it was this year also. I had to put all my energy in marking and grading and unfortunately I missed a lot of great art posts during that time. I’ve been trying to catch up now that my ten-week vacation has finally started. First I thought I could just take it easy and sleep endlessly, but it was only the first day of my vacation when I got email from a gallerist in Helsinki asking me to participate in group show in July. I haven’t done any marketing, so it came totally out of the blue, she had found me on this site which is my profile in the site of the Nature Photographers of Finland. The gallery is located in the center of the design district in Helsinki and I was told I could bring nine middle sized (50x80cm) images, so naturally I really have to take this opportunity even though I wasn’t prepared for it financially. Making prints that size on aluminum is quite costly. I’ve decided now that I will make only one such print per image, so that the ones that I make will be unique works of art.

The exhibition is called Moment Before Sunset and the gallery is called Galleria Ferin You can find it in downtown Helsinki (Yrjönkatu 11). There will also be works by Kaija Elo (watercolors), Ulla Repo (paintings), Riitta Keski-Panula Larsson (paintings), Anja Oasmaa (watercolors), Leena Tähtinen (watercolors), Krista Partti (watercolors) Heli Vilmi (photography) and Soile Iivonen (sculptures). All women as you probably noticed if you know Finnish first names. I tried to find some link for each artist, hopefully you’ll see at least some of their works in the links. I hope you will be able to visit the exhibition, the gallery is open Mon-Fri 11 am – 6 pm, Sat-Sun noon – 4 pm from July 12 to July 31. Helsinki is a beautiful city to visit in July. As you can see in the map, it’s surrounded by sea and there are ferries going to the near-by islands all day long.

Oh, and by the way, I have also opened a posterous site to post others’ works as well. Hope you enjoy the pictures I share there. Happy weekend! I think I need to plunge into the sea very soon…

Baltic Sea at this time of the year

The Baltic Sea is known for its hard and violent winters. The areas around it have snow coverage for about 3 to 4 months of the year and the temperatures remain around or below zero for the same time. This year it’s been even longer. Even though Baltic Sea cannot be compared to the big oceans in its vastness, it still has a such a huge body of water that only about 45% of it freezes during the winter. The thickness of the ice varies from 70 cm (30 inches) in the coastal regions to 40 cm (15 inches) out on the open sea.

Even though there is so much ice on the sea, the water temperature stays around freezing point throughout the winter, at the moment the sea water is only about -2 degrees Celsius outside Helsinki where these pictures were taken the day before yesterday. It is curious that you can see free flowing water when the air temperature was -22 C (-7F) but in these important routes there is boat traffic all the time that keeps the sea open. And when it does freeze over despite all the traffic, there are huge ice breakers that reopen the routes for commercial traffic. Boat traffic to Sweden and Estonia is very lively and there are many huge cruise boats going back and forth every day. Being on the boat can get a bit claustrophobic around this time of the year when going to the deck is out of the question – except for quick photo-ops like mine. I remember one boat trip from Germany to Finland in the 1990s in the middle of the winter, it took days and it was impossible to sleep because of the noise that the ice made when it hit the side of the boat.

Being on the boat always brings two things to my mind. One is the worry of our beautiful sea and its well-being. There is much talk of the bottom of the sea being completely oxygen deprived and dead. Finns blame the factories in St. Petersburg, but we’re most probably as guilty as everyone else around us. Recent study says that there are recent fossil studies that show Baltic Sea being oxygen deprived already thousands of years ago. All this talk reminds me of the Global Warming talk, media discussions going from ‘yes it’s getting worse and fast’ to ‘it’s just another phase and it’s going to get better again’. I can’t help worrying and it makes me very sad to hear how people neglect and abuse our beautiful sea. There is a wonderful Baltic Sea Portal on the internet where you can learn more about the sea. Another thing I always remember on a boat is M/S Estonia. It sank in an area between Finland and Sweden in September 1994 in a raging autumn storm. 850 people of the 1000 who were on the boat were killed, about 500 of them have never been found. The boat still lies at the bottom of the sea 59° 23′ N 21° 42′ E. You can read more about its sad history here.

In the northern Finland where I lived as a child the distance to Sweden over Gulf of Bothnia is about 200 km and it is frozen every winter. When I was a child my parents used to point to the sea and tell me that there’s Sweden across the sea. I remember how that appealed to my imagination and I even thought that I saw a glimpse of the neighboring country in the horizon. Later when we started skiing on the ice with the school  I realized that there is always another island behind the one you see.