ABOUT TEN YEARS AGO I came across an article in the Helsingin Sanomat monthly supplement (Kuukausiliite) with simple, minimalist images shot from a kayak, always with the same composition – and a story written about the photographer.
I was immediately struck by the zen-like calm and serenity present in the photographs. No artificial enhancing, no gimmicks, no tilting the camera nor unnatural angles – none of the usual visual noise so prevalent today.
Just the vision of the photographer offered to you — as a gift — as he’d seen and experienced it.
I don’t think I’ve ever sent real fanmail to other photographers, but now I did. Couple of days later I got a polite answer thanking me for my feedback, and I was happy. I’d followed my instinct and hopefully made him happy as well.
Did not think more about it.
THEN COUPLE OF WEEKS LATER I got a call. He had gotten curious who was sending him feedback… and we got talking about photograpy, kayaking, sailing, art, etc. Turned out he was retired and had just recently picked up photography and started to combine it with his rekindled interest in kayaking.
The article in Kuukausiliite had caused quite a stir and he’d gotten lot’s of positive feedback — along with an invitation to set up an exhibition. He invited me to see it. I went, we got into talking, had a coffee, talked some more – and became friends.
OUR PATHS DID NOT CROSS THAT OFTEN but the connection was there: I went to see his exhibitions; he followed my career and came to see when I was speaking and showing my work somewhere .
I even interviewed him once with the idea of doing a multimedia on his work — quite like this one — but I never got to finish it. At the time there were lots of things happening: his wife was terminally ill, I had just become a father… I just kept postponing it. I would do it later, I thought.
About a year ago I noticed that he had put his sailboat “Juliet” on the market. And commenting on one of my images in Facebook he said he’d sold the kayaks as well. I was a bit puzzled, but thought he had just had enough or decided that it was time to do something else.
BUT THEN HE SENT ME A MESSAGE — he must have guessed that I was confused. He told me he had been diagnosed with unoperable cancer and there was no way he’d be able to continue with these activities which had meant so much to him. I knew his previous sailing season had gone bust, but I had thought it had been because of some technical things with the boat. But it had been the chemotherapy which was making him too ill to do anything.
What can one say or do when a friend tells you something like this? I remember I took my boat out that evening and paddled out – and stayed out way after it became dark.
I HAVE ALWAYS JOKED TO HIM that I feel bad when I make images similar to his – like I were somehow copying or ripping off his art. And he laughs it off. But last time I remarked on it he said instead: “From now on, you do it to remember me by”. What can one reply? But to bow your head and humbly think “yes, I will”.
This passing winter we’ve seen each other a bit more than usual. Just sitting down and talking about pictures, kayaking, sailing, children, life and death. He has decided to give up the chemotherapy as it is only making him sick and there is no cure to the disease.
He has been giving away his exhibition prints and he gave me one, one of the early ones from 2007. It is hanging now on our bedroom wall so that when you are lying on the bed you can feel like you are really sitting in a kayak. In front of the white bow there is a white sailing boat — an H‑boat — exactly similar to my first sailing boat ever. I really love it and I am proud I have a dedicated print on my wall from one of the photographers I admire the most in the world.
THE OTHER DAY WHEN WE WERE TALKING he expressed concern on what is going to happen to his images after he is gone. They are basically only stored on his computer and will disappear as soon as the hard disk gets destroyed or reformatted.
So we decided to copy all his exhibition work to a RAID I store my images in — plus uploaded a selection to the PhotoShelter – and agreed that I could use them as I best see fit.
I UNDERSTAND THERE COMES A TIME for each and everyone of us to lay down our paddle. And I also understand that the ripples the paddle leaves or the wake of the boat are destined to disappear. But there is something else, something which does remain. I feel these images are an embodiment of it. It would be a shame to let them be forgotten — simply by a careless click of a mouse doing a reformat.
I am professional photographer and thus know first hand how the whole industry is in total dire straits – individual images are not highly appreciated, if at all.
But a body of work such as this is a testament of a real life lived. It is a glimpse to a passion, a narrow window to the world as the photographer saw it, right then and there. A unique vision, a unique perspective – the bow of the boat gently leading the visitor from the two dimensional image to the three dimensional world and beyond.
These images will be cherished, valued, appreciated and preserved.
April 2018, Kari Kuukka