Juha Arvid Helminen was featured in 2011 for his fantastic, gothic photos. His absolute use of black is a vivid and gripping, his content is fearless, tackling abuse of authority, religion, and the human response. Read on.
Introduce yourself and tell us what your first camera was.
Iiiks, I hate to talk abaut tools. I am Juha Arvid Helminen born 1977. I have had shows of my art In Finland, Germany, France and Colombia.
What are the Police like in Finland? How have authority figures and your experiences there factored into your work?
That’s a good question! I think that my experiences in the Smash Asem riot had a great effect on this series. I saw the ugly side of Finnish police up close. People believe the police a bit too easily in our country, it’s a part of our culture. But I became interested in the nature of power when I saw it being misused.
What kind of background do you come from? How do you think that has contributed to your conceptualization of authority figures?
I was raised with liberal values.
Two overwhelming constants of your work are the anonymity of the subjects and the use of black. How do these two facets work together to convey the commentary you are trying to make? How do you think the two are related?
The black is there for practical reasons. The different tones of black are easy to match and make look alike. Lighting brings out beautifully the different textures in wool, leather etc. Because my photo series deals with power and its misuse the lack of color brings its own meaning. In my pictures the individuals often drown in the sea of conformity. I’m fascinated by the acts of the individuals under the pressure of the many.
In “Faith” you seem to have depicted a figure in Catholic (pardon me if I’m incorrect in guessing the denomination) dress, while “Faith II” seems to contain a burqa. What is your opinion of religion? Do you think there is a difference between religion and spirituality? Do you think all religion can be compared similarly or are there religions that defy such consideration as it seems you have applied to Christianity and Islam?
We are spiritual mammals. We have always wanted to understand where we come from and what this is all about. Before science this gap was filled with men with their stories, exploiting the human weakness of wanting to believe that there is something better after death. Religion is a word including many different kinds of dogmas but as for example in sports, boxing is not as dangerous as, let’s say, the 100m run. The same goes with religions. Islam and Christianity are the two great religions in our planet and they have established their status for the sake of millions of deaths. The Christians murdered millions of native Americans and Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus, destroying the polytheistic religions completely in the Middle East. Both of these groups are responsible for the slavery and murder of millions of Africans. Nowadays, both in Iraq and United States, the slaves’ descendants are considered to be second class citizens. Religion can be a beautiful thing but when being held above criticism it can make an ugly mess.
I’m an atheist but in a way I have based my life upon a Greek-Protestant way of thinking. You only have one life and in the end of it you have show the ferryman what you have accomplished during your lifetime. I’m lucky that many of my dreams have come true but there’s still much work to do.
What uniform have you based the military uniforms after? It seems to be in the style of Nazi regalia, how long do you think it will be before Germany and associated areas will live down the stain left by the Nazi party, World War II and Hitler’s “Final Solution”?
The inspiration of the very first picture, “Black Wedding”, was a First World War British jacket. The jacket was black and it reminded me of the SS uniforms. Nazis did what people with the power usually do, which is to cover their own emptiness with the most beautiful veil. Many let themselves to be fooled. Nowadays, Germany and Japan are some of the most peaceful countries. Although, the Japanese have never been through with the ugliness of its past as well as the Germans. Nazi’s polished look has been living on in many films as well. It’s hardly a coincidence that the Starship Troopers and Star Wars’ evil empire marched in space wearing uniforms like the one’s of Nazis’. Of course, it wasn’t always so. On the other hand, Flash Gordon’s evil caesar Ming reminded more of Ivan the Terrible. It’s made clear to the viewer who the bad guys are or that, in the future, fascism can still swallow us. I’m afraid that we are too much conditioned with the idea that the future’s oppressions would look like the bad guys from the past.
“A moment” strikes me as the most, well personable and emotive, human really, of your portraits. It seems more like a snapshot from life than the others, less posed, although it clearly is. The face, while without features, is emotive in a pensive way that the other portraits are not. How did you approach this photograph differently? How did you feel about it once you had the shot?
The way I see it is that there’s this black world and it is portrayed by different characters in slightly different ways. That’s why there are different styles in the series, although I have created them all. “A Moment” deals with the awakening to the sins of the past: a man stops and finally realizes something. Many of the pictures take place in early 20th century and some even in further back. The closer I’ve come to modern time, the more the characters bandaged in black think of what they have done. I’m greatly fascinated by the individual’s behavior under the pressure of the mass. My new work is about riot police.
Who are some of your sources of inspiration? What artists, sites or other outlets do you go to for new ideas? Name three of the most influential people in your life. What have they taught you, whether directly or indirectly?
So many artist that mean a lot to me put the biggest I must say Is Vilhelm Hammershoi. He was one of the great masters of silence.
How did you decide on photography as the medium for expression? How is it enabling? How is it limiting? How do you get around the limitations?
My first love was to paint and draw, then I became interested in Photoshopping and lastly in photography. It’s one media amongst many. It’s fast but at the same time a bit clinical. I like making the props because you can get your hands dirty. Because I’m a conceptual art photographer, my photographs take a lot of money, which artist usually don’t have, and that’s why I create pictures quite slowly.
When is the last time you climbed a tree/building? Do you miss it?
I wonder when was the last time I climbed? Now I can’t think of anything other that some ridges or eskers I have climbed to. I promise to climb a tree with my girlfriend this summer and yell: “Empty Kingdom!”