JORMA, THANKS FOR ACCEPTING THIS INVITATION TO TALK ABOUT YOU AND YOUR WORK!
Acceptance is the first step! I am very grateful you got me into this.
WHAT IS IT THAT YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU WANT TO BE AN ARTIST?
At this moment, I would say I want to be an explorer of the obscure landscapes that fill my mind—sceneries that are formed of questions and fears and volatile desires.
WHAT DOES YOUR WORK ASPIRE TO?
The destination of my journey is unknown to me. It has been more about personal research than the proclamation of a message. All the better if my findings trigger something in the viewer — we seem to have something in common and should exchange thoughts about it.
HOW DO YOU SOLVE FORMAL PROBLEMS IN YOUR WORK?
I think there is a proper distance to most things. Distance can change size and perspective. This includes time as well. Experimenting with those parameters can bring me solutions.
When shooting portraits, there is that moment when I feel the pressure of having to be creative on the spot. I can release it by trusting the thought that inspiration will come.
IN BOTH FORMAL AND CONTENT TERMS, WHAT DOES YOUR WORK COMMUNICATE?
Most possibly, it shows my dealings with different topics that I aspire to in my daily thoughts, e.g. the links between heritage and social character, physiognomy and provenance or personal history, etc. To combine this with etheric interactions between human beings that happen independently from their environment is among my motivations in photography. The use of photographic film and larger formats allows me to have more time to contemplate the image or interact with my opposite. Limiting my possibilities also opens a broader playground within that specific area.
REALITY FAVOURS SYMMETRIES AND ANACHRONISMS. COMPOSITION IS ESSENTIAL TO YOUR WORK; WHAT ARE THE FORMAL AND HISTORICAL QUESTIONS YOU THINK ABOUT IN YOUR PRACTICE?
I don't see composition as a crucial part of my images. What matters more to me is the spirit I am in, what I intuitively see and feel during that moment, and how my opposite reflects on me. The notion of history, geography, society merely renders into a view of things. I rarely have a concept of what or how I want to do something. It happens as I go.
WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT RESTORATION TO A BETTER PAST, YOUR NEW BOOK?
Restoration to a Better Past is a process that requires time to get to its essence. First, one can't quickly browse it like an ordinary book. Secondly, one must probably consume it several times, digest, let it grow, let go of prefabricated conceptions on how to interpret the depiction of plant and human, the allusion of young and old, the lack of an evident narrative. If only the spectator could look through the images, through the glass, into the void, not seeing a broken flower or an elusive black and white head, but a reflection of their own.
WALKING THROUGH YOUR BOOK AFTER SPREADING IT ALL OVER THE FLOOR, I HAVE TO THINK ABOUT T. S. ELIOT'S VERSE, "ONLY THROUGH TIME TIME IS CONQUERED". PHOTOGRAPHY IS ALSO ABOUT TIME, SO IS YOUR BODY OF WORK; WHAT DOES TIME MEAN IN THIS PUBLICATION TO YOU?
When I think about moments from my youth, some feel so close that I can still smell their ether. The sentiment is all the same, but I remember them with an altered mind that has changed in time. So have the photographs in this book. They look the same on paper, they evoke the same atmosphere, but I look back at that time (of their creation) in a different way, which again was influenced by my looking back even further. Every memory keeps shifting with time moving on, and things start getting blurry. What's left is the photograph and the aura of what once was.
WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU FELT FRUSTRATION, AND WHY?
Frustration comes when I can't seem to channel my thoughts. When there is a puzzle before me, I keep juggling the pieces while my head is bumping on the wall again and again. The last time was, well, putting together this interview. For a person who communicates mainly through photography with very little narrative, finding words to describe a situation is gruelling.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
I really couldn't tell you. I do consume a lot, books, movies, music... And I think a lot. I need a lot of time to spend alone. Though most of what I have read or seen seems to fade away. There are times when I feel very present, like when walking through a bleak forest in the cold. But the rare moments of inspiration appear unexpectedly. Like when everything I'd absorbed in the past time had translated into something new.
YOU ALSO DID A SPECIAL EDITION WITH THE HELIOGRAVURE TECHNIQUE. HOW WAS THE PROCESS? WHAT WERE YOUR INTENTIONS TO RESCUE SUCH A TIMELESS ART?
A hundred years ago, heliogravure was more or less the industry standard of reproducing photographs, just as today we have offset print (aside from the presentation on a digital screen). The manual creation of that copper plate and the very few copies we drew from it, which today almost seems like a secret process, symbolises the eternal value of uniqueness that we know from the Polaroid, on which all these photographs originally have been made.
Also, of course, I see this technique as a reference to the great photographers of those times, Stieglitz, Weston, Sander, Blossfeldt, Strand… who all had most of their works published employing the heliogravure, or photogravure, as some might know it as.
YOU WERE LOOKING FOR SOMEONE IN AMERICA AND AUSTRALIA TO REPRODUCE SOME IMAGES FOR A SPECIAL EDITION, BUT THEN YOU FOUND A STUDIO NEAR BASEL THAT DOES HELIOGRAVURE. HOW DID YOU FIND THAT PLACE? HOW WAS THE EXPERIENCE?
Yes, it was a total coincidence. I stumbled upon an Instagram post about an exhibition in Edition VFO, which publishes prints with a focus on contemporary art in Zürich and read something about an expert of the heliogravure, Arno Hassler, who lives in Zurich and has his studio in the French part of Switzerland between Bern and Basel. I contacted him, and we met for coffee. Four weeks later, I drove to Crémines. Of course, my part in the process was that of the viewer, and nothing in that workshop reminded me of ancient industry except for the building itself and maybe the cast-iron press. Arno has made most of his tools out of wood to replicate the process as carefully as possible, inventing his own techniques for different tasks. The printer from Australia, whom I had initially asked to do the prints, wrote to me after sending her photos of the process: "I see he is a much more traditional printmaker than I am. Hand wiping the plates is a dying art, and he still does it so beautifully. You are very fortunate to have worked with such a master. "
YOUR WORK IS ABOUT INTIMACY—AND FORTUNATELY, NOT ABOUT IMMERSION! HOW DO YOU MANAGE TO CREATE THAT BOND WITH YOUR OBJECT?
A plant is a beautiful object that modifies in a relatively short time. I can admire it, look past it, have other thoughts, and care for it... I can look at it again and again, watching it grow. Yet there seemed to be very few meaningful moments where I would take a photograph.
... BUT PEOPLE ARE ALSO OBJECTS (OF DESIRE), AREN'T THEY? HERE IS WHERE THE INTIMACY PLAYS A SIGNIFICANT ROLE IN YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY, DON'T YOU THINK?
I was transferring that to a certain extent. Photographing people to me is an act of utter closeness. It's like fervently singing a love song or sculpting a pair of hands, shaping, almost caressing them, until they reach their ultimate form. Interesting you mention the word desire; I see it as the longing to be part of the object, seeping through the ground glass and merging. But that can happen with a flower as well as with a person. What a transcending thought!
… STILL-LIFE/NATURE MORTE AND PORTRAITS… ONE HAS TO BE BRAVE TO PUBLISH A BOOK WITH THIS THEMATIC, ISN'T IT?
Yes, especially compared to what I see as the current trends in photography, the book seems relatively unsophisticated and artless with this uncommon combination. I try to use the tools I feel comfortable with or, like with this project, that happen to be in my surroundings. It is more my perceiving the environment than about constructing a concept.
Maybe the bravery lies within accepting one's own way of doing something rather than trying to separate oneself from others artificially. Following the Wolga river in Russia, my current project is mainly portraits and landscapes, a more popular pairing. Hopefully, it will soon turn into another publication.
A GOOD OLD FRIEND FROM THE PAST COMPARED BRAVENESS WITH STUPIDITY; THEY ARE, SOMEHOW, SYNONYMOUS. I FOUND THAT BEAUTIFUL, LIKE DON QUIXOTE, LIKE RESTORATION…
Courage isn't really among my virtues, so foolishness does come closer. I am more spontaneous, so I let coincidences lead my way rather than a planned undertaking with a set goal, which would again correspond to bravery. Paired with sincere ideals to humane encounters, a portion of foolishness seems to be the better horse for me. And by keeping my imaginations to myself, the playground is restricted for others to interfere, which leaves me more freedom to evolve. The outcome might diminish the number of the audience, but all the more, I can hope to be sure of their comprehension.
IMPOSSIBLE NOT TO ASK YOU ABOUT RUSSIA: YOU HAVE BEEN THERE ALMOST EVERY YEAR IN THE LAST DECADE. I REMEMBER THE WOLGA RIVER PROJECT (THEIR SOUL RUNS BENEATH IF I'M NOT WRONG), THE RE-ENACTMENT OF SOLDIERS (WHICH ARE POWERFUL!), NOW THE NEW BODY OF WORK THAT BY NOW CAN BE CONSIDERED A GUERRILLA OR RESISTANCE ACTION. WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE RUSSIAN SOUL YOU WERE SEEKING AND DOCUMENTING, ABOUT THAT VAST AND ANACHRONISTIC LAND AND THE GOOD FRIENDS YOU HAVE THERE?
The notion of a spirit or a soul, something we can't picture clearly, but still radiates between certain people, has touched me in my early years. Some kind of a mutual understanding, a requited love towards someone, a wordless gaze followed by silence—it also manifests in the way I photograph. Almost certainly, my Finnish heritage establishes a connection to that… intangible entity that has long become a Leviathan to us and its own people.
By drifting along that heart of the Russians, the Wolga river, I have tried to record the inexplicable. What warmth and caring have welcomed me, what curiosity about my provenance met me, and yet deeply rooted with a natural suspicion towards the unfamiliar and with a gloomy melancholia— behaviours that find their soils in the distant past of that vast steppe.
WHAT WAS THE LAST BOOK YOU READ?
I read several books parallel, depending on the mood and many of which I can't seem to finish. Among the last ones were Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet. I keep re-reading parts of it to find peace. But the book I want to mention is The Maid Silja by Finnish writer Frans Eemil Sillanpää. I couldn't recapitulate that dark and deeply sad plot, but I can still see the sun shining through the woods while she is swimming in a late autumn lake.
IF YOU COULD INTERVIEW YOURSELF, WHAT WOULD YOU ASK?
The questions I ask myself are...
THANKS A LOT, JORMA!
Thank you for your interest in my thoughts.
PHOTOS BY ANNE GABRIEL-JUERGENS
ZÜRICH, MARCH 2022