We’ve arrived at the time of the year when us Finns hibernate in our homes. Summer is for having fun with friends, winter is for closing the doors and listening to your morbid thoughts, perhaps interspersed by the odd melancholic Schlager. It’s too dark outside to see anyone anyway, so why bother trying?
Fortunately, for many of us, this hibernation is self-imposed, but according to research, one in ten Finns suffers from chronic loneliness. While Finnish people don’t consider themselves any more lonely than their Southern European counterparts, their loneliness more often includes poverty, alcoholism and depression. Professor Nina Junttila from the University of Turku sees this as a result of weaker inter-family relationships. “In Spain and Italy, for example, relatives are very close. In Finland, family bonds are weak and people tend to seek help from friends. Those who have no friends will be left out,” she recently told the Kodin Kuvalehti women’s magazine.
Photographer Mikko Lagerstedt suffered a dramatic loss when he was only 20 years old. Perhaps this is why his images do so well in capturing the sense of being all on your own in a dark, cold world. We spoke to him about his amazing art and the Finnish state of mind.
Capturing the emotions of places
Lagerstedt lives in Kerava, a modern small town about an hour away from Helsinki, which he characterises as “a quiet and comfortable place.” Instead of photographing its uniform apartment blocks and low-rise shopping complexes, he enjoys going out in the surrounding nature. He says the aim of his photography is to describe the emotions of places.
“I want to bring out the feeling I have when nature surrounds me in a place and time. I try to showcase the beauty and ambiance of a location through photographs. When you are alone in the field with a sky full of stars, it’s more than a view, it’s about the connection and feeling that I want to capture.”
Some of Lagerstedt’s most hauntingly beautiful photos come from a series called “Alone”, made up mostly of low-light photographs captured when there’s only a few hours of daylight.
“When I look back at the series, I feel that it came from my sub-conscious because I lost my best friend when I turned 20,” Lagerstedt explains.
A journey into the Finnish soul
Lagerstedt sees loneliness as a very Finnish theme. “The series is a journey into the darkest time of the year here in the north, the time when we’re alone with our thoughts. It’s not just about the darkness but the way we relate to it, the way we let our thoughts and sorrows close down on us.”
There are few places in the world where you can be as totally alone as in the Finnish countryside in winter time. But as Lagerstedt’s photos highlight, loneliness can be as beautiful as its haunting, as liberating as its wistful. Perhaps we just worry too much about it and unnecessarily label solitary people as weirdos and outcasts. Because loneliness as it’s seen today causes of immense sadness, Professor Junttila, too, calls for a change of attitude.
”As long as we think that loneliness is a horrible, ugly problem, it will continue to be just that. We need to talk about loneliness and make it acceptable.”
So, when darkness closes in during the coming weeks, let’s embrace it, light a candle and meditate. But if some intrepid soul rings our doorbell, let’s still answer. Otherwise, when spring finally comes, we might not remember how to say hello.
P.S. To while away the lonely autumn evenings, take a look at Mikko Lagerstedt’s personal favourites from his online gallery down below. You can also see more of his art on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.