HELSINKI, Finland – The Finns are “delightfully quirky” according to photographer Martin Parr – who has shared his work in an exhibition with Nokia.
Travelling between Helsinki in the south and Oulu in the north, Parr tried to photograph the essence of a country that’s captivated him since the early 1990s when he was a professor at the University of Art and Design in Helsinki.
He was followed on his journey by Director Rami Hanafi, who shot a video to accompany the work on a Nokia N8.
Parr’s exhibition ‘Think of Finland’ was held at the Laboratory gallery as part of World Design Capital Helsinki 2012, and reflects what the award-winning documentary photographer believes is the Finnish “tension between tradition and modernity”.
Opening the exhibition Parr said: “My starting point in this was clichés.”
But his outsider’s view of familiar Finnish scenes, including saunas, lakeside scenes, and summer nightlife, brings a fresh, and warmly satirical, perspective to the “interaction between modern technology and tradition”, that Parr says he finds so fascinating.
The “Strange motifs, garish colours and unusual perspectives,” of Parr’s work is reflected in scenes of teenagers with blue hair sitting by the docks, a middle-aged man with a paunch filling up an aging Mercedes Benz, and a wagon-wheel candelabra with plastic lights and red-fringed lamp shades.
Finding the essence of a country as much in a state of mind as in everyday life, is a familiar theme in Parr’s work.
A member of the renowned Magnum Photos agency, Parr has published more than 50 books on subjects including British suburbia, the super-rich and, last year, ‘Finns and Finnishness’.
His epic collection, ‘The Last Resort’ in 1985, redefined photojournalism, and horrified some critics, with a pitiless depiction of life in a crumbling British seaside town.
What one critic dismissed as merely “an exercise in looking” another – Robert Morris in the British Journal of Photography – derided as a “clammy, claustrophobic nightmare world where people lie knee-deep in chip papers, swim in polluted black pools, and stare at a bleak horizon of urban dereliction.”
Even without the sharp social observations about life in Thatcher’s Britain, it is impossible to forget the sullen stare of a teenage girl – with her hair styled in an 80’s perm, and all of her hopes and future lying ahead of her – serving small children in an ice cream shop.
This image of a girl with her nose painted in the Finnish flag seems less poignant, but ‘Think of Finland’ also contains such an unsentimental, but intimate, look at humanity.
Nokia is the main partner of the ‘Think of Finland’ exhibition which runs until April 8, 2012. Images by Martin Parr