There are a few places and views to which I am drawn over and over again. And as I keep taking photos of the same scenery, it feels like I am trying to do a kind of 36 views of Mt Fuji. Which I am not. At least not consciously. So why am I returning? After having thought about this for a while, I think I might have an answer. And one, that in a way surprised myself.
The photo on top has been made at Kallahti a small park in the eastern suburbs of Helsinki. The park is situated only a few miles from the city center and reachable by public transport. As the park is on a peninsua pointing towards the open waters of the Baltic Sea, it is also a good place to study and enjoy the multiple layers of islands that form the archipelago in front of the coast.
The southernmost part of the park is formed by a former island that is now connected by a land bridge. The name of this little island is Kuningatar, The Queen. A few hundred meters out from the shore, The Queen has a small, bare companion islet called Prinsessa, The Princess. Also other islands in the vicinity have smaller companions named after them. One of them is called Kalliosaari, Rocky Island (I don’t know how many islands actually have that name, but it must be a number in the hundreds…). On the picture on top we see the companion to Kalliosaari, named “The Islet of the Rocky Island”. Quite a mouth-full of name for a bare rock with a bush and a tree. But this is in the picture what we are looking at from the shore of The Queen.
This is a one of the places I return to from time to time. And while easy access is part of the explanation why I keep returning, I don’t think it is the whole story.
Last year I took at basically the same spot a very different photo of the islet.
And now, I guess, it is probably obvious that I am drawn to the shape of the alder branches and, in general, to bare islands with only little vegetation. But as I was standing there in the already cold wind something else occured to me. Some landscapes or sceneries seem to me more conductive for the conveyance of moods than others. With mood I mean more the mood of the landscape than my own, although these are sometimes difficult to keep apart, aren’t they?
Michael Kenna has said he holds an inner conversation with every landscape he photographs. That seems to me an aedequate description of what is going on. Mood, I think, is not only a feeling but also a channel for meaning. Thus, this conversation takes the form of questions and answers.
With people, we usually don’t pour our heart out the first time we meet them. And there are people who we find easier to talk to than to others. Finally, with a good friend we don’t leave it at one conversation per lifetime. Instead, we meet up from time to time to have another chat. Something very similar applies to certain landscapes. They don’t open up the first time and in order to get a meaningful conversation going, one has to return often until, finally, one becomes friend with that piece of landscape. As with friends, there is also this interesting question: are we chosing them or are they chosing us, and why?
As the clouds were gathering before the next rain and the sun disappeared behind the clouds, the little islet talked me into taking another picture. “I am pretty also without that boring, old alder”, it said. And sure it is.
Not that it would be all that important, but as I photograph plant portraits, abstracts and scenery I sometimes wonder what my “category” of photography actually is. Am I a landscape photographer or a nature photographer, or what? It dawns on me that I might be simply a photographer of moods and meaning. How’s that for a business card? (And, yes, I’ll come back to the connection between “mood” and “meaning”.)