Finlandia-talo (Finlandia Hall) is a prominent landmark in Helsinki city, Alvar Aalto’s last masterpiece, and the center of an ambitious urban plan never implemented.
2017 will see Finland celebrate its 100th birthday, and to start the year, many events were organized in Helsinki on New Year’s Eve. Among those, one looked particularly appealing: a free visit to Finlandia-talo, a congress and event venue designed by the maestro himself: Alvar Aalto, maybe the most famous Finn in history. I didn’t know that visits were organized regularly, so it seemed like a unique opportunity, and I was really happy when the woman at the desk added a line for me, even though the visitor list was supposed to be already full. I’m not going to give you a historical overview of the building; instead, I’ll show some visual details and tell some anecdotes that our friendly guide showed us.
When people think about the Finnish winter, their first thought usually is: “snow”. And then, when they get to know the country a little bit more, especially the south of it, they think: “grey”. Yes, snow but not enough to cover everything, and then it melts quickly, creating this depressing pools of slush stirred by the passage of cars and buses. Not to mention the clouds.
I totally understand this feeling: I love snow, I love to see it fall and hide the roads, and attenuate all the sounds. I love the sight of a city wrapped in a blanket of peace, and I always get distressed when temperatures rise again. When snow stops falling, I hate to see those endless, boring grey skies, and I start dreaming about sunny days. Or more snow. Usually I dream about a return of the snow.
When I went to Kontiolahti to view the Biathlon World Championship, I saw a wonderful sunset over the frozen lake, and it was a revelation: there is beauty out there, waiting for me!
Over a year ago, I was with my brother, on a trip that took us from Grenoble to Grenoble, via Helsinki and Copenhagen, and got us memories for a lifetime, when we stopped at Bomarsund. Located on the eastern shore of Åland’s main island, at first sight it’s an impressive ruin crossed by a road… yes, the road runs through the fortress, so you can’t really miss it.
Two weeks ago, I made a picture that I felt was great, and which is undoubtedly my greatest accomplishment from a purely technical point of view. It was this portrait of a Blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus).
Today, I want to explore the path that led me to it: how I created it, what I find so great in it, and what it means to me. So let’s go!
On the day after, I was due to visit Suomenlinna with a birdwatching tour organized by Tringa, the local bird protection society. However, I already knew that conditions would be very different, with temperatures rising and the sun disappearing behind a veil of snow. So, after Miguel left me (click here to read the first part of the story), I embarked south. I didn’t really expect to arrive in the midst of a fairytale.
Mr. Winter this year is lunatic and, to be honest, rather frustrating: one day it snows (a lot), and you start believing in the possibility to go skiing, finally… except that the day after, the temperature rises above 0°C, and everything melts. Everything? No, some parks and sidewalks resist eternally against the pervading warmth, but trees are bare again, and streets are slushy brown. It’s not fun.
Last year, as a member of the photo-club of the university, I had access to a professional studio equiped with tons of backdrops, flashes and light modifiers… all things I had never seen before, and which opened a completely new field of possibilities. This sparked some interest towards portrait photography. I, the misanthrope, always happy to avoid the crowd, started to take pictures of people. I knew I wouldn’t be able to go to this place very long (Finland called, you know), so in addition to reading a lot about this topic, I bought an external flashlight that I put to good use in Bornholm. Still, I rarely use it.
On the other hand, I have also been experimenting with my two plastic white tigers, Iso and Lyhyt, shooting them in scenic locations. This kind of photography asks for more work than I have put into it yet, but I like it, maybe because it’s so different from what I usually produce. My mom offered me two elves (and a chandelier) when she stayed here in December, and ideas started to form inside my head.
I really started to work on them when I received my new gear. A Canon 7DII and a Canon 100-400mm II arrived on Friday, in the middle of a cloudy period. I wanted to try those marvels, but the ever-greyness outside stuck me home. So I transformed my dining room into a studio.
Please meet, from left to right, Lyhyt, Elmer and Puna.
234mm on a cropped sensor – f/5.0 – 1/10s – ISO640 – Manual mode
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This was one of the few sunny week-ends of these past weeks. On Saturday, a freezing walk in the forest didn’t yield the expected results in terms of photography, as there were very few birds around (some Blackbirds (Turdus merula) and a Great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)), and I was too cold to stop and take my time. I walked, blinded by the rays of sun reflecting on the frozen ground. Behind the trees, I spotted a herd of Roe deers (Capreolus capreolus).
On Sunday morning, I was in the bus when I saw the horizon turn a deep orange, beyond the city. I met Patrick in the tram to the harbour, a curious coincidence that made us laugh since I had told him on the phone that we would meet “inside”… the ferry terminal, of course. So we met a bit earlier than expected, on our way to the harbour. I got a really smart smartphone this autumn only, and it was my first opportunity to use a digital ticket. So I scanned my phone, and it worked. Aah, technology…
I’ve been rather sloppy, recently. I wrote some articles, then kept postponing the following ones. As a result, my publishing rate has dwindled. Time management is a crucial issue to many people these days, and I’m no exception. It’s simply way too easy to waste my time on the internet rather than do something meaningful but that requires more effort.
Before we go any further, I would like to recommend a TED Talk a friend of mine posted on Facebook recently: Inside the mind of a master procrastinator, by Tim Urban (check for subtitles, they are probably available in your language if you want them).
In this video, Tim describes situations so familiar to me that I was comforted in my recent thoughts about further developments at Eiwawar. More than the publishing rate, it’s the way I write that annoys me. Basically, I’m like “OK, let’s write something for Saturday”, then on Saturday, after days of postponing, “OK, let’s do this”. Pressed by time, I write an article, spend my afternoon on it, and finish it on time, usually an hour or two before my publishing time, around 22.00. The panic monster has struck.
Kaisa Talo is the Helsinki University Main Library. Located in the city center, inches from the Senate Square, it was opened in 2012, taking the spot of the shopping center Kaisa. The buiding houses the collection of the Faculties of Arts, Law, Theology, Behavioural and Social Sciences. It’s a relaxing place with an original architecture. Like any real library, it’s fairly silent… it looked like a pleasant place to study, and a friend of mine confirmed that.
On one side of the building, there’s this large U-shaped window, with balconies facing it from each floor, a bit like an old theater room. In the shot below, I tried to include both the street outside, with the tram tracks and the zebra crossings, and the students at the balconies, oblivious to the world rumbling outside their cage of glass and metal.
Composition was made tricky by my limited range; I wish I had a shorter focal length available for indoor shots, but for now, I do with what I have. The window let in a lot of light, so I didn’t have to use extreme settings for shutter speed and ISO, but I wish I had overexposed a bit, for I lack details in the dark areas, and bringing them up creates a lot of undesired noise (I shot in Aperture Priority mode).
18 mm on a cropped sensor – f/8.0 – 1/125s – ISO400