It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.
Henry David Thoreau
Many photographers describe their photographic journey as a lifelong passion for photography. I can’t claim such a history but came to photography relatively late in my life. My interest for it awoke through the nature of Finland.
Finland’s nature is quite particular in many respects. Not only does it contain some of the last wild places in Europe, but also an incredibly varied assortment of micro landscapes, rocks and lakes formed by the last ice age. The northern latitude with its harsh climate only supports coniferous forests but those are full of character and dignity. Foremost however, Finland’s nature is steeped in beautiful light, which is never really harsh and can turn magical even during the darkest season.
These elements and the sharply marked seasons, which highlight the seemingly endless circling of life, infuse a sense of timelessness that inspired me to take up photography. My photographic journey can thus be described as a quest for timelessness.
Many photographers hunt for the opposite: to capture a decisive and unique moment in time or history, a memory, frozen action in sports or a singularly beautiful sunset. These are, of course, all good and valid reasons to make photographs. Even in nature the sheer variation of weather, light and season is a fascinating subject in itself. Still, all these phenomena are so visible to us because they follow our own human sense of time.
But there are many aspects of nature that follow rather different time scales. The landmass of Finland still rises, 10 000 years after the last ice age when the ice weighed on the land. The oldest known tree in Finland is more than 700 years old. Processes like erosion are so slow that we glimpse only slices, snapshots of them. Nature thus has a dimension of slow time that looks like timelessness to us.
It is difficult for us to talk about slow time, because we lack words for it. For the aforementioned land rise we use a term (“rise”) that actually implies a fast movement. One rises from a chair and so on. So we use qualifiers like “the land rises 1 cm per year” in order to add the slow time aspect. We simply have no single word describing a movement that slow.
Making photographs of natural landscape thus is a way to overcome our (literal) speechlessness with regard to our deeper connection to nature and its time. It is a way of saying: “see and feel for yourself as I cannot describe it with words”. For me this includes the attempt to create photographs that can be viewed over and over again, that can become friends and companions over a long time. They are meant to evoke meditation rather than excitement, they are more poems then dramas.
Sometimes it seems as if humankind has succeeded in forcing its own time scale onto nature: global warming, mass extinction of species and other environmental problems unfold at unprecedented speed. But this is an illusion. Life on Earth has appeared and (almost) vanished a couple of times. Nature will continue to write its story at its own pace. What we should worry about, though, is if humans have a place in this future history of Earth.
Therefore, even though highlighting slow time in nature is also a protest against destroying our environment in haste, my photographs don’t have an express environmentalist agenda. They are not intended to say: “Let us protect this”. In fact many places I photograph are already protected. Instead, my work ultimately has a humanist agenda in the desire to preserve this last corner of our soul that feels joy and wonder in our encounter with nature and landscape. It is us who become damaged if we let this connection slip.
In summary one could say that my work consists mostly of visual poems about the timeless beauty of Finnish nature. Poems that sometimes have a storyline with water, rocks and trees as actors. Foremost, however, they have the viewer as an actor in the way that the Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi described: Zhuangzi once dreamt he was a butterfly. But when he awoke he couldn’t tell whether it was he who dreamt to be a butterfly, or whether the butterfly was dreaming it was Zhuangzi.
Are you looking at the place, or is the place looking into you?