Miemo Penttinen is a man of many talents. As a freelance designer and startup entrepreneur, he has plenty of experience in bringing his creative ideas to life. But it’s his photography that initially caught our eye: sharp, symmetrical shots of architecture with clean, modern colors. Penttinen’s latest series Tau Zero [ Supersymmetry ] is sure to satisfy lovers of both symmetry and sci-fi.
Wondering how he does it? Happily, we were lucky enough to score an interview with the master of symmetry himself. Read on the find out photographer Miemo Penttinen’s thoughts on sci-fi inspiration, seeing the world differently, and sharpening your photographic skills.
How did you get into photography and what do you most love about it?
At the turn of the millennium, two things happened: I found Lomography, with its “shoot from the hip” attitude, and digital photography became more accessible and usable. The former freed me to try out different photographic approaches, techniques and styles, and the latter made the iteration required for learning much, much faster. I’ve been on that path ever since, marked with milestones like getting a photography degree in 2006, doing my first solo exhibition in 2005, and becoming a contributing photographer for Getty Images in 2011.
What I most love about photography is that it gives me an opportunity to be a modern day explorer: it’s a great excuse to wander around in weird locations and take fascinating visual samples of the wonders of the world.
Tau Zero looks super sci-fi. What was your inspiration and where did you shoot the photos?
Last March, I was sitting in the backseat of a taxi on the ring road around Berlin, heading towards the city from the airport, when I spotted a building unlike anything I’d ever seen: it looked like a spaceship from a 1970s sci-fi movie had landed on the outskirts of the German capital. Turns out it was the International Congress Centre Berlin (ICC), opened in 1979 and nowadays apparently just waiting for lift-off after being closed in 2014. A couple of days later, I returned and walked around the building with my camera. The first outcome of that shoot was the ICC-B series.
While the photos in the set captured the architecture of the place quite nicely, they didn’t yet match how sci-fi the place really felt. I wasn’t 100% satisfied.
A little while later, I happened to be toying around with Instagram’s new accompanying app, Layout. It allows you to create a horizontally or vertically mirrored image, like the image below. I liked the aesthetic of the images I made with Layout on my iPhone, and so I got the inspiration to try out the ICC series photos in a similar fashion in Photoshop. It took the otherworldly feel of the photos to another level. I started to modify the photos even more, adding layers of elements resembling some abstract HUD or lights embedded in the structure of the spaceship.
Your portfolio has a really eclectic mix of photo projects. How do you come up with the ideas and which is your favourite?
To be honest, I do very little pre-planning for my shots. Most happen with a documentarist approach: observing the world as it appears, and then shooting anything and everything that looks interesting to me. And as I personally find many different things visually fascinating, I end up with shots of various styles.
One project that I keep coming back to is “Altered perspectives”, where I’ve used a tilt-shift lens to throw the focal plane off angle. I have a soft spot for how lenses capture out-of-focus areas. This technique allows me to introduce that softer, blurred look into sceneries which would normally be fully in focus – and at the same time, draw attention to specific parts within the image by leaving them, and only them, sharp. It’s a fascinating combination of, on the one hand, that eerie feeling that something is different from the normal way of capturing the world on camera, and, on the other hand, resembling even more how our own eyes work: focusing quickly on one detail and then moving on to the next. It seems to work nicely with sceneries from old cities like Siena, Prague, Porvoo and Tallinn.
What top tips do you have for budding photographers wanting to look at the world differently?
Don’t focus too much of your energy on so-called rules of photography or anything that has to do with technical qualities. Fantastic photos can and have been taken with the crappiest of devices, while totally breaking all the rules.
Instead, seek out the works of photographers who represent a variety of styles. This will help you train your eyes to see the world in multiple ways. Don’t spend too much time in online photography forums — there’s a fantastic history of images taken by people who don’t post their work on the latest fashionable social photography site. Other forms of visual arts like cinema and painting are also great ways of taking a peek into how other people have seen the world.
When you find something that really resonates with you, something that you’d like to spend your time working on, follow that path wholeheartedly. In the beginning, don’t worry about whether you’re just imitating your idols. That’s how everyone starts. There’s an absolutely fantastic theory about this by the Finnish photographer Arno Rafael Minkkinen, called “The Helsinki bus station theory”. It’s a must-read for anyone working in a creative field. I also highly suggest reading Austin Kleon’s “Steal like an artist” on the same topic.
Big thanks to Miemo Penttinen for sharing both his secrets and spectacular images! We hope his work has inspired you in some way, whether it’s getting out there and snapping a few symmetrical photos of your own or simply sitting back and admiring human creativity. Before you go, take a look at a few more photos from Penttinen’s “Tau Zero: Supersymmetry” series. If you love what you see, be sure to check him out on Flickr and Twitter.