Finnish photographer sees light alone in landscape

Anyone who has visited a bustling Helsinki café knows that stereotyping the Finns as antisocial is outdated and exaggerated. Yet award-winning Finnish photographer Mikko Lagerstedt has made a career out of displaying the beauty and nuances of solitude (see slideshow).

Pictures speak louder than words, and Lagerstedt’s photos speak of what you can gain by keeping your own company. Time spent alone can be a great source of empowerment and strength.

Finnish people’s love for their alone time is an essential part of their culture, as is their need to regularly spend time walking in the woods or by the shore. As a landscape photographer, Lagerstedt has found these traits inspirational to his art, as he usually works by himself and takes pictures of the natural world.

It’s important to note that being alone and being lonely are two different things. Finns understand that you can be alone and happy at the same time, though this idea sometimes requires some explanation for people who originate in other cultures. While being lonely tends to be harmful to any individual in the long run, choosing to be alone every now and then provides the Finns with something positive, a meditative time to unwind and charge their batteries.

International interest

The “Alone” collection “can give people comfort and an experience of beauty,” says photographer Mikko Lagerstedt.Photo: Mikko Lagerstedt

Lagerstedt has published numerous collections of landscape photography, one of them specifically on the theme of solitude. It is aptly called Alone. He transforms a certain atmosphere or feeling into visual art, informed by his Finnish understanding of the need for solitude.

“I didn’t go looking to portray loneliness or solitude, but the collection kind of came into being of its own accord,” says Lagerstedt. “Those photos are of separate times and places that, in hindsight, seemed to carry a common theme. I came up with the name Alone because the images just seemed to suggest it.”

Although created by a Finnish photographer in Finland, Alone has gained most of its online viewers from abroad. This suggests that the interest in solitude is not such a Finnish phenomenon after all.

The beauty of darkness

Someone finds a way through the wilderness in “Strange ways.”

Someone finds a way through the wilderness in “Strange ways.”Photo: Mikko Lagerstedt

“Since being published, Alone has kind of started to live a life of its own, reaching new viewers all over the world with a surprising speed,” Lagerstedt says. “It was the collection that really took off in terms of me being internationally known and recognised.”

The photo collection features images of seemingly lonesome figures in vast, dark areas: in a forest, on a lake, in a field. The pictures can also be seen as delivering a calm, stress-free atmosphere in serene natural surroundings.

“To me, the Alone collection is a bit dark, but not in a bad way,” says Lagerstedt. “It can give people comfort and an experience of beauty, perhaps. In my opinion, solitude is meditative.”

Result of the past

In “Between two worlds,” a small, solitary figure walks through the towering woods at sunset. Does this indicate sensible exercise or a sense of foreboding?

In “Between two worlds,” a small, solitary figure walks through the towering woods at sunset. Does this indicate sensible exercise or a sense of foreboding?Photo: Mikko Lagerstedt

When asked what has influenced the beginning of his career as a photographer, Lagerstedt picks one particular experience of his personal life:

“I lost my best friend suddenly when I was only 20 years old. I cannot say for sure but I’ve got a feeling that that had something to do with me starting to take photographs and getting deeper into photographic techniques. Most of my photos have got an element of darkness to them, and since you are always the result of your past, a great sorrow would inevitably play some kind of lasting role in your life.”

Whether the tragic incident is behind the atmosphere in the photos or not, the Alone collection is not about sadness and loneliness. It is simply about solitude.

“Feelings of being alone in this world are just a part of life,” says Lagerstedt, “and maybe they shouldn’t be seen as particularly negative or positive, since they can be both.”

Nine photos from Lagerstedt’s “Alone” series

By Mari Storpellinen, January 2017