Images of Multiple Truth Along the Way
Why do people want to photograph strangers in a public space?
I am a middle-aged father of three children and an art teacher living in Tampere, Finland. I did my master´s degree at the University of Arts and Design in Helsinki (now part of Aalto University) in 1998. Our oldest child moved away from home to study architecture in the autumn 2015. Later that fall, I decided to carry out an idea I had cherished a long time. I bought a micro4/3 camera system, and began systematically shoot on the street. I wanted to refresh the experience of making art, something I lost little by little after uni. Could it be spontaneous, intuitive and surprising still? Could it be part of life outside of my daily work at school? Yes and yes.
Stripes, 2015 Tampere
I have always snapped with my compact camera and earlier with analog SLR. It has been part of family life and travels as usual. One image changed my idea of taking pictures. In Florence at the end of February 2015, while waiting for the order outside of Pizzeria Toto, I turned my camera onto a purple-dressed ”nonna”.
La Viola, 2015 Florence
Purple (”La Viola”) is the city´s symbol color and the nick name of the soccer team. After I took that picture, I had a serious adrenaline peak. I was amazed and confused. Is it okay to do so? The question is valid. My graduation work in the 90´s was a documentary graphic novel based on video material, a story of a man who had lost his girlfriend because of random violence and living on the edge of the society during the economic depression. The project took years, and I got familiar with the questions one has to face in making documentary. But eventually I´ve solved the dilemma of photographing strangers.
I admit, at first the thrill was good enough for me. I fished a lot when I was younger, and I recognized the feeling. The process provided by fishing (as well as by hunting) is similar to the process of street photography. All starts from the equipment and a plan. Then you just have to go out. Senses will awake little by little. The Mind settles, and you´ll live in the moment. There will be a small catch, then maybe bigger. It all depends on the experience, the mind and mrs. Fortuna. And the biggest fish is always waiting somewhere else. You know it for sure. You are patient and walk… finally heading home. At home the catch has to be gutted. Eventually, the fish ends up beautifully prepared and served onto the plate.
So street photography requires some hunting instinct. People move actively and with interest examining their environment. The Camera comes along in the pocket. Documenting interesting things visually is a direct continuation of the tendency of telling stories, gossiping. Visual narrative applies same laws as stories. Photos must be able to accomodate in Aristotle´s Poetics of a good drama. And like good stories, good images will rise emotions. In a way, we all are telling the same story. The Status, angle and the mood of the story differs. The Grand story deals with us, humans, and our path in this world. The story has always been told, and so it will be in the future too.
We are living curious times. Democracy has been questioned, population growth and the climate change threaten our very existence. Such exceptional times had always had an impact on artists and their work. That is happening now in photography with fierce fury. Visual cultures around the world collide and fertilize each other. New factor groups with a new voices show up. They produce a fresh, new art on its own merits. Techniques, contents and themes will be revised.
However, the sense of standing on a cliff fighting against vertigo is overwhelming, caused by the fear of a global climate disaster . And behind our backs humankind grows. Manipulative authoritarian regimes here and there seize the day trying to repress people under their one truth. All of that effects serious art and photography. Me as well.
How would I describe last year 2016? Surrealistic? Nightmarish?
I´m offering a non-nationalistic and pluralistic, nordic point of view from Europe and EU too. I’ve always been into both politics and sosiological issues, as a teenager I did my political graffiti in Berlin Wall when it divided the city. A Lot is at stake right now. Here in Finland we have faced the unexpected behavior of our neighbor Russia, refugees from Middle East, the rise of the right wing extremists, Brexit and snowless winters. My visit to the USA in the middle of presidential campaigns was a thorough introduction into the irrational division of the country and segregation based on the system itself. Dark forces are on the move and they are living their life in our common consciousness.
But I dived into the world of Instagram too, and found out the barrier of distance, that earlier separated people, had collapsed. The Concept of ”international” diluted. There is no need for ”Paris” or ”New York” anymore. We all are there, constantly, enjoying the jungle of multiple truth and free voice.
And my ways to see and do things have changed. Having chance to see such a brilliant photography, occasionally strange and uncomfortable, sometimes just beyond my dreams, have forced me to do things better, more planned, more focused. And I´m assured my case is not an exception. I think all of this can be seen in my images.
Image and the process around it has always fascinated me. I imply here specifically
an image in general, not photos particularly. Photography for me is primarily a picture making, using camera as a tool.
How, then, visual arts background is reflected in my images? In street photography it´s common to try to find funny coincidences and interesting visual similarities or gimmicks. Humor is a trade mark of many quality images.
Sure I take a picture if I see a humorous coincidence or scene. But at the same time I feel very drawn to images providing the viewer several possibilities of interpretation.
The aim is to offer humanity as a whole at a time when the picture is taken. I feel that too specific event or a visual coincidence converts image into a pictogram. A pictogram is a picture that has only one meaning (or one truth, so to speak), such as a coffee cup on a roadside signboard. The best photos can be viewed on forever, and their internal splendor won´t disappear. Of course, the best images can be humorous, and in any case they are always compassionate.
So I´m taking pictures of people, who happens to be along the way.
I feel that my photos are documents of the time I´m living in. My view to the documentary is poetic and interactive. These modes are based on the work of Bill Nichols, who have named six types of documentary films.
At the heart of poetic documentary mode is to encounter the subject by subjective process, interpreted by author. The author will be recognized from visual aesthetics. Visual aesthetics means here the whole subject, and visual processing. The traditional narrative content does not mean much. People and events do not develop. It´s a question of juxtaposition of time, space and the subject.
On the other hand, I feel reflective documentary mode close. For me, it has always been clear that the reality is difficult to talk about. How to take an image, which corresponds to reality. I solved it by creating ”street setups” with a sense of artificiality. It´s a way to lower the sense of truth, to express that the image is a subjective product. It forces the viewer to understand that the image is the result of a some one´s mind set as well as it tells us something about reality. If viewer suspects the authenticity of the picture, I´ve succeeded.
So what do I want to say with my images? This is a question that puts the author in a difficult position. I feel that my images are first and foremost documents of this time and people. My goal is not to present one truth, more like several of them. On the other hand I do not feel just plain aesthetics productive, but important enough to seduce the viewer.
We all are linked to the great story of humanity with communication. It´s a never ending path, and nicer to walk with camera.
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