AAPO HUHTA. THE DOCUMENTARY ELEMENT
by Karl Ketamo


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© Aapo Huhta, from the series ‘Ukkometso’

Tell us about your approach to photography. How it all started? What are your memories of 
your first shots?

Aap Huhta (AH): I was born in a small village in the middle of Finland and had a strong urge to escape from there when I finished my school. I applied to the University of Helsinki to study to become a teacher, or just to get away. I guess I never really had a dream job or anything. At the time I was moving I bought myself a camera and started shooting, using my friends and my girlfriend as models. There wasn’t really a purpose for those photos or any deeper understanding of what I was doing, but what really caught my eye was the coincidental nature of photographing and that evolved slowly to the idea of collecting these coincidences by learning to get closer to them.

After finishing my BA in education, I applied to study photography at the Lahti Institute of Arts and Design and at the moment I’m finishing my MA in photography at the Aalto University of Arts and Design, Helsinki Finland. After reading through the history of photography I felt that I related to some photographers more than to the others. My first favorites were Diane Arbus, William Eggleston and soon after that I saw the books by Christian Patterson and Alec Soth. So my fascination towards photography has always been documentary by it’s nature. Though it’s evolving all the time.

© Aapo Huhta, from the series ‘Ukkometso’

How did your research evolve with respect to those early days?

AH: It happened by doing and reading. I was shooting a lot, trying to learn everything technically and by doing that I believe I’ve slowly found themes that feels natural to me. At the same time I spent a lot of time looking at monographs and reading about photographers that inspired me the most. 

What are some of your best memories of your studies? What was your relationship with photography at that time?

AH: I did my BA in photography at the Lahti Institute of Arts and Design, Finland. Now, I’m just about to finish my MA study at the Aalto University of Arts and Design. I also made two student exchanges in Israel and in NY. In every school you find people that you share the same kind of mentality with. To find those people, to share your thoughts with them and learn with them is obviously playing a big role in developing yourself as an artist. I never felt an urge to be a part of a bigger social group, but merely to spend my time with a few people that I appreciate and that appreciate me.

Our discussions were all the time strongly related to photography and about defining yourself as a photographer. You know, there are so many influences at school that it can be overwhelming. What has always been a part of my work is the direct nature of photographing; the documentary element that can be found from every single photograph, though it doesn’t need to be obvious. For me, this documentary elementhas become a core of the grammar of reading photography. Somehow I see all photographs, no matter if staged or composed etc. through that grammar.

What were some of the courses that you were passionate about and which have remained meaningful for you? 

AH: I liked the classes where you had to bring a body of work to the class and then you just had a talk about it for a couple of hours. It’s a kind of class you can find in every art school at some point. I believe that seeing and talking and describing the work that is somehow at the same level than your own makes you understand different kinds of processes, and the pictures of course as well!

I was taking part of this kind of class at the SVA with the teacher Allen Frame. He has an amazing presence in teaching and an approach to students and their work. He somehow earned the respect of every student and that’s why people took it really serious and wanted to get the most out of it. By the end of the class, it felt a little bit like a family-kind of an experience.

© Aapo Huhta, from the series ‘Ukkometso’

Any professor or teacher that has allowed you to better understand your work?

AH: Allen was excellent as he’s always trying to catch a glimpse of the personality of the student and trying to see through the process of developing. He also has an excellent eye in seeing the core of someone’s work and the ability to describe it. At the same time he feels like a strong person without any need for egoism. I was in the beginning of working on my first monograph by the time I had his class and I owe him so much for helping me find my way through the process.

How do you relate to the discussion about photography in the era of digital and social networking?

AH: It’s a huge topic and constantly changing. I still think of photography as a craft that one can develop oneself to become a master of it, if you work really hard and honestly in order to understand it.

At the same time I see photography becoming easier and easier to produce, technically speaking. There are plenty of photographers that can create nice picturesthat are still somehow empty or feels that you’ve seen tons of that kind of imagery. You get bored of it quite quickly and only the very few excellent works matter. The amount of pictures being produced every day is so huge that it forces you to rethink the purpose of doing it.

From the industry perspective, it also has its own issues. I’ve been fortunate to be able to make my living out of it for five years now, but I also have the feeling that the industry and its rules are changing so fast I can’t really understand. Trying to be in the front line feels like a running competition. In that sense, I feel more like running a marathon every now and then, you know, to have a more like a hobby kind of perspective towards photography, and maybe spend five years with a single project and make a small edition book out of it without any pressure to participate in ever-growing amount of competitions and social media wrangle. Speaking of which, it also seems that the personality of a photographer needs to be more like a basic office person rather than a lonely vagabond.

© Aapo Huhta, from the series ‘Block’

As the visual culture is being enjoyed more and more through streams of artwork, it gives less time for each of them. You know you can find a nice and interesting new work online everyday. On the other hand, it’s easier to share your work with a larger audience so it’s not that black and white. At the same time I still have the feeling that photography matters and I enjoy doing it and watching some of it. For me, it’s still mostly about finding my own language to observe my surroundings and to share that. So, I just don’t feel like participating too much on the attention-chase what’s going on at the moment. You know, people could sell their moms to get their piece of attention and I don’t really share those values.

About your work now. How would you describe your personal research in general?

AH: Every project I’ve done has started from some kind of a coincidence and without me trying too much to produce anything. Then by the time it evolves to a direction that somehow feels important to me. So the starting point has never been really clear to me, but after a while I start having the need to understand what I’m doing and that is sort of like a second beginning of the process, when it all becomes conscious. After that it takes more work until I feel totally fed up with the whole thing and can’t reach any higher levels. I assume that is a good time to start building the body of work. But I have done only a few projects so I can’t say that I would be able to see any kind of patterns in my practice yet.

© Aapo Huhta, from the series ‘Block’

I’ve noticed that over the years you’ve worked with a variety of different photographic mediums. How do you go about choosing a certain medium for a project? For the collective project “Kainuu” and your series “Ukkometso” as a part of it you worked with medium format. I am interested how you go about choosing a certain medium for a project? In other words what determines the medium you use?

AH: It changes by the time quite much, depending on the aesthetic development one is constantly having as well as on the method of shooting. It’s not really that conscious all the time and I enjoy keeping it a little bit more intuitive as it is a one way to expand a dimension of an aesthetic language. For a quite many years I was shooting large format but it started to feel too static and lately I have been shooting with smaller formats. My new book is shot with 35mm and it fits well to the method of stealing pictures.

© Aapo Huhta, from the series ‘Ukkometso’

Could you tell us about your latest project titled ‘Block’.

AH: I have been working on my first monograph that is titled ‘Block’ and will be published by Kehrer Verlag later this year. It started by coincidence as I moved to New York for the first time and spent a lot of time by just walking around the city. After some months of just shooting randomly I started working more consciously. I had the idea of showing somewhat dystopic scenes of an anonymous city witnessed by a stranger. At the same time it is a story where the photographer plays the role of a protagonist in an infinite whirl of new people and weird, concrete surroundings with no signs of our time (like advertisement or contemporary clothing etc.) After six months of shooting I started the editing process that took me another half year. During that time I made several dummies to see the work in the shape of a book. Then I went back to New York to shoot more. It’s been a process of a year and a half now and the printing process is just about to start, I’m really excited to see the final book once it’s ready!

© Aapo Huhta, from the series ‘Block’

Which contemporary artist or photographer do you feel have influenced your work in one way or another?

AH: I think my biggest sources of inspiration are the same old where it all got started, I mean William Eggleston, Sternfeld, Robert Frank, Alec Soth and Diane Arbus. I haven’t really spent too much on looking at new works recently as you get so easily lost with the idea of the world as an infinite blog
stream. I’m trying to avoid spending too much time online and to focus more on the physical world.

Three books of photography that you recommend?

AH: I just bought the ‘Minutes to Midnight’ by Trent Parke and what I enjoy the most is absolutely the really good photography in it. Also Lars Tunbjörk’s ‘Vinter’ and the ‘Office’ are my big time favourites. It’s a tragedy to lose one of the very bests.

Is there any show in particular that you’ve seen recently that you find inspiring?

AH: I was very keen to see Heikki Kaski’s ‘Tranquillity’ as an exhibition in the Finnish Museum of Photography, because the work is initially designed to be a book and I have had the chance to see his working process quite closely as we are schoolmates from our previous school.

Heikki Kaski, exhibition views from the Finnish Museum of Photography // 20.3 – 17.5.2015

Projects that you are working on now and plans for the future?

AH: I’m currently focusing only on my first monograph that will be published by the Kehrer Verlag later this year. I haven’t really spent too much time on thinking what to do after that but I hope there will be more coincidences!

Good luck with the finishing touches of “Block”! Look forward on seeing the book out there later on this year!

LINKS 
Aapo Huhta
Scandinavia