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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

  1. This could have been Norway, Annika, and I believe many other countries: conformity, competition and appearances. So let us as persons and photographers go our own ways…And again: very good photos, and painting.

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  2. What a wonderful piece, Annika. There is much in your writing about the latitude of mind that we need to allow ourselves and others to be fully human. And how engagement in art and parenting and teaching stretches our inner world, grows our understanding of nature and ourselves. It’s great fun to read your posts. Thanks…

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  3. I like the George Bernard Shaw’s quote. Then I like the painting. And I specially like the mood in your photos. Now, going to what Virpi Salmi writes I understand what you say and think this applies to the country where I live as well. Probably to many other countries. And it is useful to remember that it’s our life, with our ideas, our way of life, style in the way or what we wear and last, but not least in our passions, like photography. Let’s follow our dreams!
    robert
    PS: Just observed that Helsingin Sanomat has in the web site a few pages in english…interesting!

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  4. Beautiful photos, as always, and thank you for Marja’s stunning painting! Very accurate observation of people’s need to “fit in” within social conditioning; ultimately forgetting that the obsession with the form side of life doesn’t really aid spiritual evolution.

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