“Nothing so thoroughly protects us from illusions as a glance in the mirror,” Aldous Huxley once allegedly said, and because you instantly feel 10 IQ points smarter when you open a text with a quote, I did exactly that. Furthermore, the article is about Samu Karvonen's Dimensional photo series, which consists exclusively of reflections. Samu is also a friend of self-reflecting and the series helped him to do so because the reflections of the images have brought him closer to what he is looking for in photos. Lots of reflections and several levels in one through which the unconcrete becomes concrete and vice versa. It’s more than just photos we are talking about, which is why we drifted a little bit away during the interview. At some point, we were wondering what would happen if Samu suddenly started riding a scooter – clearly a moment of true revelation. If you are also looking for clarity, follow us to the mirror cabinet to get rid of your illusions. Or, to end with another great writer, Axl Rose, “Use your Illusion.”
It was in January in one of the biggest camera stores in Helsinki. They’re having an exhibition every month, and as my mum used to work there, I know the people and buy all my camera gear there. One day, they asked if I would be interested in having an exhibition there.
I had thought about it before to do something with the mirrored photos, but I didn’t have a purpose. When I knew I’d have an exhibition, the progress went up one gear. I focused on it more. Earlier, I had taken some of those photos just occasionally, but I never really explored more of them until the possibility of the exhibition came up.
"I like that these photos have this kinda painting-like abstraction that will make people who don’t skate look at a skate photo too"
There are a couple of really old ones in there where I didn’t think about doing a series, but most of them are from last year where I curated the style and the idea for the exhibition.
There are a few, but I would pick the backtail photo of Ron Modig. The skater is portrayed like a skate photo would portray a backtail. It’s half of an abstract painting but also a really clear skate photo. The only thing that breaks the skate photo thing is that it is mirrored, which is something that skate photographers would never do.
Exactly, so it’s breaking basic rules of skate photos, but I’m also playing with it.
I love classic skate photos – but like with your skating, you also want to go forward. You want to find new spots or try new tricks and that’s the same with those photos. I want to portray skating in a way where skaters see it as a good skate photo, but I also want to bring new ideas in. I like that these photos have this kinda painting-like abstraction that will make people who don’t skate look at a skate photo too. At the exhibition, people saw things in the photos that I hadn’t even realized myself. Where I might look at the colors, another person might see some small details I never paid attention to before. Something I realized more concretely in the exhibition.
Not skill-wise but job-wise in a way. I’m maybe afraid that if my living would solely depend on it, I might lose the fun and creativity because the job side of it would take all my time, focus, and freedom to explore. I would “have” to do it and not do it only when it pleases me. It’s a dream turning a hobby into a job, but a great thing about hobbies, which we might not think about that much, is the freedom and that you can do what you like without any pressure from outside.
Interesting question. [thinks] What is a proof? When you sold a photo? Or when you have a nice Insta account? It’s exactly the same as skating. Who is a skater? Somebody who owns a board? Somebody who rolls at least two times a week or somebody who rolls once a year? Or somebody who used to skate for 20 years but stopped 20 years ago? Maybe nowadays, I’d qualify myself as a photographer. I have the basic skills, I’ve done photography work, but I guess it’s still kind of self-decided if you’re a photographer. If somebody is taking photos of their life, they’re not considered a photographer. However, if you ask them to do it for a magazine, did you then make a photographer out of him or was he a photographer before?
I guess it’s just a term to lock things in our minds. If you ask somebody who they are, normally they’ll say their name and profession first; and that’s basically what we think about ourselves. We tend to seek an easy answer to the question “Who am I?” and those lockers make it easier for us to comprehend and make assumptions of others.
"At some point, I found out that it looks really suspicious when I basically look into every car window around. People were sure that I’d try to break into cars."
That’s basically the crisis that I’m also going through cause I either haven’t put myself in any particular box or in too many. I never got “stuck” on one thing, or I got stuck on skateboarding, but inside skateboarding I did a lot of things. Shooting photos, filming and editing videos, drawing graphics, organizing things, producing events… At the moment, I’m working with Antiz on a video project and on their social media, I take care of the team a bit, and do some marketing. In that case, I’ve got one foot in a brand-specific box at the moment.
The idea got sharper as I started doing it on purpose. I found out what I like and want to shoot. Something that clearly changed at one point was when I made a decision to just shoot vertical photos cause I felt they somehow worked better for this. Then later, I started questioning this and asked myself if I missed something because of that. I also learned a lot about how to make an exhibition and what it means to make a series. Do I want every photo to be similar or do I tell a story with different things? When I got them out of the computer and had them in front of me, I saw them again in a different light. I thought if I want to do a magazine article, it’s maybe boring to just have vertical photos. I started to think about the alternative endpoints of the photo and thought that I should’ve maybe taken two versions, one that works in the exhibition and one that works for magazines.
If I had properly staged this – go out, find a mirror, put it somewhere, wait for the right light –, it would’ve made it probably more spectacular, but most of the photos came from being at a session and walking around cars and mirrors, looking for any reflecting surfaces that could work for a photo. I tried to stage the minimum amount. I moved some doors or cleaned a car window, but mostly it was just happening on its own and I like the idea that it is kinda spontaneous. The way I like skating too.
At some point, I found out that it looks really suspicious when I basically look into every car window around. People were sure that I’d try to break into cars. It also created some funny situations where people were thinking I would be shooting them. At some point, I took a photo through a window and there’s somebody two meters away from me on the other side of the window. Then I had to explain to them that although you can be kind of seen in the photo, I’m shooting something completely different on the other side of the street.
I tried at different occasions with water, but I never found a good enough setup with any sort of liquid to make it work for me. I also tried a fisheye to explore different possibilities but didn’t manage to find ones that worked for my vision either. If I were to start it all over again, I would maybe try to dive into those other options, like wider lenses and liquids, to find some other styles and not repeat myself too much.
At one point, I found it too much work with film photos just to put them online for me and my friends. So I thought I should figure out how to use a digital camera. I had a small digital point-and-shoot, but I used it like my phone. I never really concentrated on taking the picture like I did with my analog camera. So I wanted to find a digital camera that gets me focused like my analog one did. The Fuji X-E1 felt the most like this, and from there on, I went through the X-E series and into the X-T series, slowly gathering some lenses and flashes. When people ask me what camera to buy, I’m like, “Buy a camera you want to hold in your hand.” The camera is supposed to be something that you want to carry around. If you never carry it with you, you most probably will never shoot with it either. Similarly, at some point I realized, even though my camera is small, I had gathered so many lenses to carry around I needed a backpack for them. The camera became a tool that I only took out of the backpack when I was working with it. I finally bought a pancake lens to make it a small camera again to carry it with me and not in the backpack. Things like this interest me, why I’m doing something or not doing something. Behavioral psychology.
It’s easy to say you don’t like a photo, but it’s harder to say exactly why you don’t like it. You’ll have to find out more about yourself and why you like certain stuff. Sometimes they might be in conflict with how you think about this world and then you really have to dive deep into yourself to detach yourself from those old ideas.
Myself. [laughs] I’m trying to find myself and question what I like. I think many skaters subconsciously can’t understand why somebody would stop skating to do other things in life. It’s almost a taboo or at least against the “true skater” spirit in a way. Maybe it’s because, for a lot of skaters, skating is their whole identity, their box, their one and only card. What if one day, they wouldn’t like it anymore? What would they have? Who would they be? Nobody? Nobody wants to be nobody. I haven’t stopped skating. I still love skating a lot, but I question what makes me happy in skating, what kind of skating or what things in skating. Or is it the actual skating after all or just the feeling I get out of it? Can I get those feelings from some other things like snowboarding and surfing that I’ve been into lately? I’ve tried to be open to different ideas and make sure I don’t block myself from trying new stuff because of some old ways of thinking. I mean, if I one day would get really into riding a scooter, then that’s what I should do and not think about what other people think about it.