jeudi 10 septembre 2009

The Strangely Fascinating Randomness: Photographs by Jukka Lehmus

By Silvia Hosseini

Paris Berlin Helsinki until 10.5.2009 at Gallery Jangva

The common things and the everyday details of the urban landscape are the subject matter of the photography of Jukka Lehmus. In fact the abundance of details makes the composition of the pictures appear as random and unfinished. A closer look reveals, though, that Lehmus expressly attempts to depict the randomness: the dynamics that arise between the passers-by, the spontaneous dialogue of outdoor advertisements and signs.

While there is movement in the black and white pictures of the exhibition, the air about them is often somehow quiet. The effect is caused by the individuals shown in the picture, who are sitting, standing or walking buried in their thoughts. Evidently they are not aware of being photographed. Looking at the pictures feels like watching the passers-by while sitting in a park or a cafe. Though the individuals remain remote, is is easy to identify oneself with them. In the midst of the city's bustle, everyone is sometimes alone or immersed in thought.

Many of the exhibition's pictures do not have any people in them. The human presence is communicated though, as also empty spaces are brimming with signs and messages: stains, advertising, graffiti, tags, stickers, placards, license plates, traffic signs. There is a human touch in everything. In many pictures, the presence of the inhabitants is communicated by the atmosphere: it is easy to imagine the type of individual who just left this spot and the kinds of conversations that took place in this milieu a moment ago.

The effect of randomness of the pictures is emphasized by the presentation of the exhibition: the majority of the works is framed, but some of the Berlin pictures have been hung in a collage-like fashion with masking tape and duct tape. The effect is a bit shabby, but at the same time charmingly relaxed: quite the way I used as a teenager to cover the walls of my room with pictures that inspired me. The meanings of the pictures accumulate and become condensed when they have carelessly been placed close to each other, even stacked on top of each other: all this was seen in Berlin in 2007–2008.

It is refreshing that the exhibition's pictures aren't romanticing the urban landscape in any way, but rather the opposite. The poetical title of the series Pictures from Paris is in conflict with the everyday reality depicted in the photographs. Instead of romantic city views, the pictures have cars, traffic signs, waste bins and backsides of people. Alexanderplatz, Berlin evokes thoughts of the decadent city life of the 1920s, but the pictures bearing that mythical title open up panoramas on the banal: street sweepers, baseball-capped youngsters and elderly people walking arm in arm. The moments captured in the pictures show that even at their most common, cities are strangely fascinating.

Seemingly spontaneously, signs in the urban space create dialogues, through which some of the pictures become charged with social criticism. For example, in the middle of one of the pictures from the Paris series there is an advertisement for Dior, radiating with glamour — and in front of it a waste container is overflowing with trash. In the urban landscape of one picture, a poster criticizing capitalism comments on street advertising. The pictures show what's so enticing about cities: the multitude of voices and discords don't create a cacophony, but instead diversity and exciting tensions.

Lehmus approaches his subjects from a neutral viewpoint without an attempt at irony. Nevertheless, some pictures invite to interpret them ironically. Humoristic is for example a picture from Helsinki, where the busy Christian Democrats are shown shivering in the vicinity of a campaign tent on the rainy, ghastly Narinkkatori.

One of the most fascinating pictures of the exhibition is Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin, 2008. In the photograph the old signposts of the strictly guarded checkpoint of the Cold War era are visible, but people — citizens from various countries, representing different ethnic groups — are moving about in freedom. In the same picture, old lampposts are standing in front of a contemporary glass-façaded building. The flag of the United States and modern advertisements reflect from the windows and have conversation with an old military portrait. The pictures by Lehmus capture also the historical layers of the city and remind one how many things could be different than they are today.

Originally appeared in (in Finnish)
Translation: JL