According to Finnish folklore, the world was created out of the shells of gold and iron duck eggs and the first human was born to a goddess impregnated by the wind. The mythology, known as Kalevala, hails from the region of Kainuu, an area famed for its vast wilderness but plagued by steep population decline.
What remains of the mythical past in contemporary globalized Finnish society?
A five-photographer collective explores in a series of quasi-documentary approaches. Read below to see how these different artists approached the same task of capturing a place, its inhabitants and their way of life.
Having lived years abroad and travelled to many continents, it suddenly dawned on me that what I was actually lacking in was knowledge relating to my own culture and roots. As identity is a central and a recurring theme for my projects, what better a place to finally began this exploration than the mythical region of Kainuu where traditions still remain strong. My method was to take part in local events and happenings and document them in a somewhat journalistic fashion; I was impressed by the inclusion I felt with the people I met, and humbled by their tolerance, sincerity, and kindness. The results are my depictions of local personas, phenomena and places.
I wanted to see what life looks like at the end of the road. I drove randomly, until the roads became too narrow, and visited the houses I found at these remote places. I tried to encounter all the inhabitants of these houses and convince them to let me into their homes and lives for a short while. Most of the houses were inhabited by solitary old men, whose lives looked quite similar to what I imagine life here must have looked like a century ago. The only things placing these homes in the modern world was some technical equipment. It felt like time traveling. I had the opportunity to not only see but also to feel the lives of these people. And there is something really tempting in the way they see their own lives. In a certain way, I wish I could some day reach the same way of living with that kind of freedom and perspective.
The only way a geographical location becomes remote or peripheral is when compared to another place. In an increasingly globalized world, a continuous cultural exchange is going on, with symbols and cultures being appropriated and spread in a way never before experienced in human history. When visiting Kainuu for the first time in 2013, I was delighted and excited by the mixture of tradition and cosmopolitanism. The quintessentially Finnish nature with its beautiful lakes and coniferous forests was juxtaposed with graffitis mentioning LA, weed and Tupac Shakur. The focus of my documentation of Kainuu is precisely on this: contemporary rural living.
The village of Liimatavaara in Kainuu is the birthplace of my grandfather. To me its lakes and forests epitomise the Finnish landscape as well as the quiet mentality so often attributed to our culture.
In order to pay respect to this stillness, I chose to travel by foot around Kainuu’s capital, Kajaani, slowly documenting the people and places that presented themselves to me. It felt like the best way to see – with no clear destination and a slow means of transport, one tends to focus on surroundings and on one’s internal experience in a more corporeal way.
To me this relates strongly to “Walking” by Henry Thoreau. Traveling by foot connects a man not only with trees and stones and sunsets, but also with himself and with other people, strangers, who seem to become more familiar with each and every step.
The Finnish national epic, Kalevala, features the trials & tribulations of many mythological heroes. I was searching for these legendary characters from the people of the same Kainuu region where the Kalevala stories were originally collected.
— Alexander Strecker
Editor’s Note: These photographs are part of an exhibition, “Kainuu”, that will be showing at the Photographic Centre Peri from May 16 to June 8, 2014.