Helsinki School takes photographers into the world of success
’Finnish photography is nowadays better known abroad than in Finland,’ says Adjunct Professor Timothy Persons from Aalto University.
’We are present at Europe’s most important art fairs every year, our photographers’ works sell well and they receive invitations to important galleries and exhibitions. However, our success is not based on the number of works sold, rather on a unique teaching method.’
Timothy Persons leads the Helsinki School project in the School of Arts, Design and Architecture. During the recession at the beginning of the 1990s, the concept launched by the former University of Art and Design Helsinki set its sights high: making young Finnish photographers successful internationally.
’That target has now been achieved and the method has been proved to work. In addition, the Helsinki School is the longest functioning, uninterrupted photography education concept in Europe and even in a worldwide context.’
According to Professor Persons, the most important lessons can be condensed into four Cs: content, commitment, collaboration and communication. The first one refers to the content of the work and its distinctiveness. The second means that the work must commit to achieving international quality standards in art, just reaching the national standard is not enough. In addition, Persons emphasises the importance of collaboration and communication. An artist must be able to present his or her work and artefacts professionally.
’Our strengths lie in the interaction between different generations of artists, the transmission of knowledge and its application in practice through teaching, an active programme of publication and exhibitions, as well as a multi-faceted network of collaborators.’
Anniversary year programme in Europe
At the moment there are some fifty photographers in the Helsinki School, all of whom are Aalto University’s alumni or students. They include some of the most established top names in the field such as Elina Brotherus, Hannu Karjalainen, Ola Kolehmainen, Susanna Majuri and Jorma Puranen.
The gallery that features the artists’ work is in Berlin and six exhibitions are organised there annually. ’The current exhibition is Professor Jyrki Parantainen’s solo exhibition Earth. There were queues for the opening,’ says Professor Persons. Solo exhibitions by Aino Kannisto and Ulla Jokisalo will also be shown at the gallery this year as well as several group exhibitions.
The photographers have established a foothold in Berlin including residence at Künstlerhaus Bethanien. There is tough international competition for places between artists and between different art forms. The first Finnish artists in residence are the photography students Mikko Rikala and Tanja Koljonen. Their six month residency culminates in an exhibition at Bethanien that is just opening.
As well as the great international art fairs such as ARCO Madrid, Unseen Amsterdam, ViennaFair and Paris Photo, artists from the Helsinki School have solo and group exhibitions all over Europe during the course of the year. For example Ola Kolehmainen and Niko Luoma are exhibiting in London, while Anni Leppälä and Joakim Eskildsen will be in Paris. The Maanantai Kollektiivi (Monday Collective) exhibition, composed of the works of young photographers, is on show in Brussels.
In honour of the anniversary year, the Helsinki School has also published a wide ranging monograph; The Helsinki School – From the Past to the Future, together with the German publisher Hatje Cantz. The book gives an overview from the early days of the Helsinki School to the present day. The book includes articles by influential international cultural figures.