“The Finnish darkness occurs at a cellular level. Darkness has absorbed itself into people and no amount of light can wash it out. You have to see it for yourself.” These are the views of photographer Touko Hujanen.
At the end of the darkest November, we sent a hard-hitting journalist duo, writer-journalist Jantso Jokelin and Touko Hujanen, winner of the Photojournalist 2018 Award, on a four-day tour around Tampere Region.
Their assignment was to find the Dark Core of Tampere Region.
Why darkness? Why are we, while bidding for the title of European Capital of Culture, searching for darkness in Tampere Region? Why don’t we just report on the bright things, smiling people and happy events?
Let’s at least remember how the EU has instructed the cities applying for the ECoC title:
The project is an opportunity to explore openly and critically a city’s history, including its darker side.
So, we took this instruction seriously and literally. We also wanted to discover some unique things about our beloved region. Something that you can only find in Finland. Something amazing.
The resulting article was published (in Finnish) on Winter Solstice, December 22nd, at 15.03, the exact time of sunset in Tampere.
We talked to the journalist duo about darkness and some other things.
”I Love November”
Hujanen and Jokelin, what are your personal views on darkness?
Hujanen: I love November. Light is distracting. Especially summer is a difficult time for me. It is impossible do get any work done. If I see even a glimpse of a sunny sky, I tear off my clothes and run into a lake. There is no such problem in November or December.
Jokelin: Yes, the less there are any distractions such as light or other stimuli, the more interesting it gets. There seems to be nothing in darkness, so it seemed like a perfect theme for a story. Each thing found in the pit of darkness was a plus.
You have done extensive journalistic pieces together before. What is ‘the secret’ of your working method?
Hujanen: Sisu candies. There are two kinds, long and short pastilles. We pop short ones in our mouths when we need to observe the environment, keeping our eyes peeled for elves or burls. We take the long, slowly melting ones when we get on the road.
Jokelin: That is pretty much the main point. It all rides on pastilles. A secondary element is, of course, our life-long friendship and the common language, sense of aesthetics and silent understanding of the essential evolved during that time.
In your work, it is typical for you to travel to strange places. For example, you have searched for the most terrible tourist attraction in Finland. Why do you take the side roads instead of reporting live from the doors of the Parliament?
Hujanen: We are really interested by the possibility of catching a glimpse of a goblin or a gnome. Also, if you look at an ordinary rock, in a certain light, it may look like a goblin.
Jokelin: The door of the Parliament interests me immensely. The problem is that there is no room for any more people at that door. By contrast, there is currently no one manning the doors of so many potato cellars. We have to accept reality and go to such doors where we can calmly observe their sourdough-smelling furrows close enough.
We sent you out to investigate darkness. What were your own goals for this trip; what were you looking for?
Hujanen: We are always searching for the same thing; the ultimate truth. There are three kinds of truths: the truth on the surface, the real truth and then the ultimate truth, which is actually just a reflection at the bottom of a well.
Jokelin: The well-bottom truth sometimes surfaces in the basic human. This natural phenomenon, described in his novel by F. E. Sillanpää, is what we set out to look for on this trip, along with pyramids and demons. The basic human is a kind of unspoken, purely physical experience of the truth. It is as rare as a gnome; it can only be seen at a glimpse in the darkness.
(article continues after photo)
For a photographer, darkness is an impossible thing, because you can’t take photos in the dark. How do you relate to this challenge as a photographer?
Hujanen: Think about a dog; how boring it looks. But when you turn off the lights, all you see are the dog’s eerie eyes. In the shadows, you see what a dog really is, a stalker.
You toured some peculiar places. Which one frightened you the most?
Hujanen: I have really bad shoes, so I was scared of the slippery rock surface at Ellivuori in Sastamala.
Jokelin: I was afraid of the ostriches that we came upon at Helvetinkolu (Hell’s Gorge) in Ruovesi. The warning signs on the fence read that their kick could be lethal. I imagined the police ringing my parents to tell them that I had been kicked to death by an ostrich in Hell. I took a step back pretty fast.
Why is the darkness in Finland so devastating? As we all know, the nights in any Southern tourist spot are also really dark. Why is the Finnish darkness so unusual?
Hujanen: I haven’t noticed any difference. If you don’t like the dark, you can turn the TV on and there will be four episodes of Love It or List It Vancouver back-to-back. Then you can drink hot chocolate and enjoy!
Jokelin: I used to live in Turkey, where the darkness fell suddenly and without warning, at least to a Finn like me. You just blinked, and the sun was gone, and you were faced with a pitch-black void. At least we have stages, such as the blue hour or lull of the dusk, that prepare you for the darkness. No one is confused about what is to come. The inevitability of darkness fills us with melancholic determinism.
Is there anything unique in Finnish darkness, any kind of commercial value?
Hujanen: The Finnish darkness occurs at a cellular level. Darkness has absorbed itself into people and no amount of light can wash it out. You have to see it for yourself. Welcome!
Jokelin: The artist Anish Kapoor was sold the exclusive rights to use the world’s blackest material, Vantablack, that practically reflects no light at all. Looking at the wider global economy, dark dealings seem to hold more market value than just about anything else. Of course, you could list Finnish darkness in this market. Fortunately, there are also things in the darkness that will not be subjugated to commerce.
Do you think that Tampere and Tampere Region should be selected as European Capital of Culture 2026, and if so, why?
Hujanen: Absolutely yes. There are two good things in the world. One is eating pastilles in the car and the other is Tampere Region.
Jokelin: Of course it should. Tampere and Tampere Region should also naturally earn it by their Calvinist culture work ethic and by adding opportunities particularly for all kinds of obscure artsy antics.
Come spring, if we should ask you to do a tour around Tampere Region in search of light, would you be up for it?
Jokelin: The car is already running.
What kind of work will you be doing after this?
Hujanen: I will shoot reportages for magazines, galleries, cellars, books, the streets and my bottomless desk drawer.
Jokelin: We will continue with the tireless hunt of thousands of elves and burls.