Photographs
from Kalevalan laulumailta ('From the songlands of the Kalevala', 1911) by I.K. Inha (edited by Pekka Laaksonen; Finnish Literature Society, 1999

Elias Lönnrot, the compiler of the Kalevala, carried no camera on his poem-collecting journeys, only a pen. In 1894 the journalist and photographer I. K. Inha set off in Lönnrot's footsteps, hoping to find new, unrecorded poems. His lasting harvest, however, was a collection of photographs which may be considered one of the founding works of Finnish photography. The artist Ismo Kajander appraises Inha's Karelian views

When I. K. Inha (1865-1930), idealistic lover of landscape and photography, set out for Karelia in 1894, it was with romantic ideas about the land of the Kalevala. Soon, however, he was forced to concede that the heroic image created by the national epic was fading - if it had ever really been true.
     An idealistic approach nevertheless allowed for realistic observation of the poor, remote villages in the wilderness. The result of the journey was an impressive collection of more than 200 photographs: the mechanical instrument of picture-making is entirely subordinate to the experiences of its user; visions are born of emotions, but not of ideals. The melancholy poverty of the villages recorded by Inha is emphasised when chains of houses are squeezed between broad surfaces of earth and sky. The principled romantic and the realist examining his surroundings often, in Inha, find themselves in productive conflict.
     In the earlier pictures, people were often part of the landscape or working environment, without personal characteristics; now the individual is the focus of Inha's camera. He had set out his application for funding for the journey as follows: 'Collecting them [folk types] is, in my opinion, particularly important, as I believe they have been recorded but little in drawing, and in recording faces the photographic camera is a less partisan agent than the pencil.'
     With the subject pausing, in a primitive manner, to stare at the photographer, Inha follows the classic documentary mode, and does not try to compose or arrange the shot. In his portraits, Inha is closer to his painter an contemporaries, whose naturalism and symbolism included the poor and primitive folk. But Inha's pictures show real people, while the artists, in their 'passion for depiction' - as Inha termed it - do not stick to reality. The form of the photographs varies following the moods of the subjects. The enchanting climax is with a couple of subjective photographs which, despite the realism of the subject, include surreal elements.
     The photograph of the blind Arhippainen Miihkali deserves special mention. Inha's romantic enthusiasm for folk poetry gilds the entire photograph, but the contact with reality persists. Fixed points include the marks of the hewing of the wall-timbers and the collar of the singer's shirt, his beard and wrinkles - a blind Homer with his staff! With this one photograph Inha earns the forgiveness of academics for his highly staged series of images of a wedding with which Inha paid his debt to one of the funders of his journey, the Finnish Literature Society.
     Anyone who knows anything about photographic equipment and the visual world in the late 19th century is dumbstruck by the photograph of Varahvontta, the guide of Inha and his travelling companion, rolling about naked in the snow after a sauna. Inha had attempted to take instant photographs on a number of occasions, including a bear-hunt and a boat shooting the rapids, and now he took his camera with him as he went to the sauna. A snapshot with an enormous camera! And the result is the most subjective documentary image one can imagine. I myself have framed the portrait of an old woman looking suspiciously at the photographer's antics. Somehow, the work of the photographer is present in it, right down to the camera bag. And all the same, the image is universal.
     Inha's oeuvre represents that of the first entirely creative photographer in Finland. His work was linked with the national struggle, and had the same objective as the work of the other artists, but it was not afforded the same respect as art. Inha was born in a country where there was no tradition of photography; and he also died there.



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