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