Here far away is the first major retrospective book of the leading international photographer Pentti
Sammallahti. It covers more than forty years of work and unfolds in almost as many countries. The book was released in 2013 simultaneously by a group of European photography publishers in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, and Sammallahti's native language, Finnish. It deserves even wider global attention.
His exquisite black-and-white photographs are quiet, but overflowing with affection, humor, joy and delight at what he discovers in nature — ranging from vast landscapes and urban settings populated by animals, to people out in nature, part of it, engulfed by it. There are interludes that seem like scenes from a movie or an opera, and still life studies that are just perfect.
The "characters" in his images often appear like whimsical cosmic winks — magical unlikely juxtapositions and interactions, such as two pigeons who seem to mimic in unison the exact stride of a statue of Charles de Gaulle that towers above them, or hundreds of white swans surrounded by even more dark-feathered ducks at a crowded pond in the middle of a field. His sense of photographic composition is poetic and musical, and the images he makes require foresight, planning, a bit of luck, and a lot of patience.
Sammallahti is recognized as a master craftsman both in terms of his photographic eye and his expertise in photographic and mechanical printing methods. He has designed and printed many small photobooks throughout his career, each a work of art in itself. His innovative printing techniques and his reintroduction of the portfolio form have been a major influence on published photographic art. And as far as we know, he does not subscribe to the art-world concept of limited edition prints that increase in price as the remaining prints get scarce — he wants to share his joy and his work with as many people as possible, so he keeps his prices amazingly low for an artist of his stature.
Sammallahti is a master and this retrospective book is a masterpiece. But despite its superb quality and artistry, the book, like the artist, is exceedingly unassuming. The title, Here far away, represents this duality. Many of the pictures appear simple enough: a man walking down a path, a flock of birds in flight, a loyal dog in pursuit of its master. These all appear in the "here", the now, the concrete present.
The book doesn't rely on captions or titles (although the locations and dates are shown in the back pages). It's not important where, when, or what exactly is being depicted. The longer we spend with these photographs, the more they subtly, wordlessly, begin to point to something larger, something "far away". The "far away" can't be definitely determined and it's likely that each viewer's "far away" will take its own form and personal association. But that is the power of Sammallahti's work, starting with something simple and immediate and bringing the viewer to a wholly unforeseeable place.
As Finn Thrane writes in the introduction:
"Sammallahti's work is ensured a long life, because with his photographic images he steps outside time and instead grapples with the great mysteries that existence offers the curious: love, death, spirituality, nature — key existential concepts that he would hardly allow to pass his own lips, but would instead be all the more willing to show."
This work enriches its viewer each time and is worth returning to over and over again. Highly recommended.
— Jim Casper and Alexander Strecker
Here Far Away by Pentti Sammallahti
Publisher (English Language version): Dewi Lewis Publishing
Hardcover: 256 pages