Photography for me is feeling and making others to feel what I see and feel through my photos.
I was born in 1978 in Vaasa, Western Finland. I was a creative and a musical child. When I was in kindergarten, I loved to do crafts. When I was about five years old, I used to tell everyone I would become a crafts preceptor when I grow up. I loved marionette theatre and making puppets. When I was seven and eight years old, I spent my summers at a marionette theatre workshop. I had my first TV performance for a Finnish national TV channel YleTV with the puppets I had made at the workshop and I also gave my first radio interview to local radio station. I found media very exciting. I was also interested in music before I started school, I loved to sing and play piano. I enrolled to a conservative music school when I was nine years old. I sang in the choir, I played a violin in the school orchestra and also played guitar and bass in the school band. I also created my own magazine for my classmates, which was called Minna´s Stories. I was the head editor and my classmates also participated in the creation of the magazine by writing stories and drawing pictures. During the school years I was also an active scout. I loved spending time in the nature going trekking and camping. As a child I was already very interested in photography, and I got my first camera when I was 11 years old. My mother was the first person to notice I had a good eye with photography. When I was 12 years old, our school organised a choir performance tour around Hungary. When we got back from the trip and my mum saw the photos I had taken, she was very impressed and she thought they looked like they had been taken by a professional photographer.
How I become a photographer
Back in 1995 when I was in high school, I was thinking a lot what I wanted to do when I grow up. Then suddenly, I felt like a big light bulb went off in my head. I realised I wanted to become a photographer. I did a black and white photography course which I absolutely loved, it was very exciting to make my own photos in a dark room. I realised how important it is to do the kind of work that I love. I bought my first SLR camera and three months later I had my first picture and article published in my home town’s newspaper called Pohjalainen. It was an article about a hardcore punk band called Refused from Umeå, Sweden who had a gig in Vaasa. The band had a good message for people which I wanted to share with the Pohjalainen readers. They stood up for straight edge which refrains from using alcohol, tobacco and other recreational drugs and it also follows a vegetarian diet. After the article was published, Pohjalainen asked me to write more stories about youth culture. And because of my musical background, I wrote about a lot of bands who visited Vaasa. As a scout I got to work as a reporter and a photographer for Pohjalainen on a week-long scout camp called Loisto (Shine), in Hanko, Finland in 1996.
In 1997, I graduated from high school and moved to Helsinki. In early 1999, I started to work for a teen magazine called MIX. I now had my foot in the door of media and music industry. In 1999-2000 I worked in Brighton and London for four months to study English. After I returned to Finland, I studied photography at the Institute of Visual Communication in Tampere while working as a freelance photographer. I graduated in 2004 and the following year I started my own company, Open Mind. I thought this name described me who I am as a person and as a photographer. I have done different types of photography: editorial, artist’s album covers and promo shoots, advertising, weddings, fashion, development work, events and kids.
Music is tells about our lives and emotions. What would our world be without music?
As music is the biggest part of my life, I have always felt comfortable working with artists in the music industry. I have been extremely happy to be able to do it for all these years. I was working as a freelancer for MIX magazine for eight years. Most of my work for MIX was about artists, Finnish as well as international artists. When I started to work for MIX, I also found my way to the rock magazine Rumba where I worked for nine years. I started out by taking photos of gigs but soon after that, I also got to take photos for articles and mag covers. In 2000, I did my first international promo and album cover shoot for a band called 69 Eyes and their album Blessed Be. After I graduated and started my own company, Open Mind in 2005, I started to work more for record companies shooting artists’ album covers. I have worked with Universal Music Finland, Warner Music Finland, Sony Music Finland and some independent record companies. I have worked with many different styles of music, from pop, rock, hip hop, punk to classical music. From small bands to world´s biggest stars, such as Celine Dion, Rihanna, Metallica, Moby, 50 Cent and Muse. One of the most rewarding thing in this career is to see new artists to grow and become popular artists, how they keep things real and stay positive about their evolving careers. I see artists, musicians and songwriters people who can lift our spirits and interpret emotions.
I believe, a little achievement can have big influences, as just a smile! Every trip I’ve done to developing countries has taught me a lot about our world, humanity and myself.
Before I started my company Open Mind, I sometimes worked as a Shop Assistant at UFF Second Hand shops. UFF is a humanitarian organisation which has development work programs in Mozambique and India. While I was working at UFF, my colleagues told me about Mozambique where they had travelled to. I then started to dream about a trip to Africa. I travelled to Australia in early 2007 and while I was there, I also decided to go to Fiji. I thought the small quiet paradise islands were definitely something I had to experience so I went on an island hopping tour. But when I arrived to the first island, Nanuai Lai Lai, which belongs to Yasawa Islands, I also saw another side of paradise. I saw people leaving garbage in the beautiful nature wrecking coral reefs. I also heard stories about life in the poor villages. It was my first trip to a country which was a developing country. After that week I got a feeling I wanted to help the world somehow and work as a photographer in developing countries.
MALAWI, AFRICA 2007
I did my first trip to Africa in August 2007. I travelled to Malawi with WWF Finland and Finnish pop star Antti Tuisku. WWF Finland created a large conservation program in 2002-2009 in Malawi. Tuisku travelled there as a goodwill ambassador to raise awareness amongst Malawian youths on issues with HIV and AIDS, environment and nutrition. We visited at Chembe in Mangochi the HEEED-Malawi project and at Liwonde National park. Tuisku had a concert at Chembe, which was held at Malawi Lake beach and the stage was on the boat. The entire village was there and it was a lovely night with a beautiful sunset. Liwonde National park was an interesting experience. We arrived at the safari resort by small boat which was by the river full of hippos and crocodiles. Our lodge was also next to the river. When we were having dinner, monkeys stole avocados from the table and after dinner when we were on our way to our lodge we were chased by a wild and angry Elephant! We did three safaris there. I felt Malawi was like being on another planet. Poverty everywhere and it felt incessant! I thought, how can we ever help all these people? I had a feeling I could to take photos of every centimetres of Malawi. I knew, I would definitely had to come back to Africa. And I thought Kenya would be the next African country that I was going to visit. I also started dream about a safari photo shoot with giraffes.
KENYA, AFRICA 2011
The first trip I did to Kenya, was with a journalist, we made many stories of Kenya to Finnish media. We visited World Vision and UNICEF development work programs. During this trip I got deeply touched by the lives of African people. We visited Nairobi and places near Equador: Nakuru, Meibeki, Eldoret and Mogotio. We spent part of our trip with Wilson Kirwa, who was travelling with the sponsors of World Vision Finland (WVF) . Kirwa was born in Eldoret. He moved to Finland 1997 and became one the best middle-distance runners in Finland. He told us miraculous stories about his life in poverty in Kenya, how he moved to Finland and became a runner. I was very touched when he spoke about his life to the children in schools, encouraging them to study and follow their dreams. Kirwa was like a big hero to the children in his home town. The hardest place for me was Korogocho slum in Nairobi. I was completely shocked by the slum. The smell was awful and I lost my appetite. I felt like whatever I tried to eat, it tasted like slum. After spending the day there, it made so sad I started to cry. One memorable moment was in the countryside, a place called Meibeki, where we attended a party sponsored by WVF. The locals were dressed in tribe clothes and we were dancing and singing along which was a lot of fun! We also got to plant our own trees in the garden.
AMBEGAON, INDIA 2012
In October 2012, I travelled to India with WVF. We drove from Mumbai to Ambegaon where WVF development program of 15 years program was coming to an end. Our job was to document the result of the work that had been done by World Vision. Ambegaon was unbelievable! The area had changed a lot in 15 years. There was no longer aridity but instead, plenty of beautiful, lush green everywhere. The nature was simply amazing. All the children were in school, healthcare was up and running and all the homes had toilets. I found Indian people very kind and approachable. I also admired their great taste for colourful clothes and homes. I had a very memorable and touching encounter with an older woman. We didn´t speak the same language. I took photos of her and her husband and she invited me to their home. I was very impressed by her. Her home was poor but very nicely decorated with colours. I absolutely loved it. We were sitting in front of her house and she was just smiling and tapping me on my shoulder. We attended many ceremonies where we got to plant roses all over Ambegaon. The area was full of temples and we stayed at a pilgrim hotel where meat and alcohol were forbidden. We heard praying and singing from the temples for 24/7. Everywhere we went, we were given a tikas, the sign of blessing and a symbol of the third eye. This was completely new to me to see a country where religion was visible in every aspect of people’s lives. I felt very happy after this trip, it was great to see that development work really works!
KENYA, AFRICA 2013
We traveled to Kenya with World Vision Finland in June 2013. A Finnish actor, Risto Kaskilahti who is an ambassador for World Vision Finland and sponsors a child in Mogotio was also with us. We visited Nairobi, Nakuru, Mogotio and Masai Mara. Before the trip I was excited but I also wondered how I would feel about going back to Kenya. It was a great trip. Nothing shocked me like the way it did during my first two trips in Africa. I felt very comfortable around the people. When we visited the same school in Korogocho slum where I had been two years earlier, I could not believe my eyes and I had to ask were we really in the same place. The school had new walls and many of the class rooms were full of pupils. I went to one class room where maths was being taught and I looked at the blackboard where the teacher was writing. I was surprised, such young children and I didn´t understand anything what they were studying. There was also a such a nice feeling in the school, kids were singing and playing. I got a feeling of hope! Regardless of how hard the life is in the slum, I found a nice spirit of people´s life in Korogocho. I was walking on the main road and I had a feeling I could dance on the road because I had found hope in Korogocho. We visited Kaskilahti´s sponsor child´s Lydia´s home. Lydia is living in Mogotio in a village which is 40 km from the main road in the remote countryside. We met kids there who had never seen white people before, some were scared and ran away when I tried to take photos of them. It was a very nice and warm-hearted day hearted at Lydia´s home. It was very touching to see when Kaskilahti and Lydia met for the first time and when they played and had fun together. The final activity of the trip was the Masai Mara safari. The nature in Masai Mara is very beautiful and it felt like a dream to see all the wild animals there. One of the spots where we stopped had a few giraffes around and it looked like there was one giraffe waiting for us. It was looking straight at me and when I started to take photos of it, it started to pose me like a super model. I got so emotional, I almost started to cry as one of my dreams had come true. And I knew it. That was just that moment.
SAGAR, INDIA 2013
In September 2013, I travelled to Sagar, which is in central India with a Finnish Santa Claus, World Vision Finland and Finnish national TV channel MTV3 to film a documentary of World Vision´s Development work which had started in 2010. It was a very poor region, but after I had seen Ambegaon and the results of a successful development program, I was looking at Sagar with big hopes. Sagar is far away from tourism, the town was very dirty, without any luxury and we didn´t meet any western people there. In one village we were also the first westerners ever to visit the village. It felt like we were big rock stars there, people were asking for our autographs and following us everywhere. It felt comfortable to visit the homes of poor people. They were very kind and it was heartwarming feeling to make a documentary of their lives in order to help them. With Santa, we visited schools, a kindergarten, a medical centre and a private home where he was given a cow as a gift. One memorable thing on this trip was to teach the local kids Finnish play songs. One of the songs had a loud word "tottakai"(of course) and afterwards it was fun to see the kids shouting with happy faces the word "TOTTAKAI"! around the village.
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