Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Kids Eat Snow in New York Too

My approach to tourist photography is a bit complex. As some of you might know I have studied tourism research as my major. I am aware of the theories and discussions about tourist gaze and the ways of how people tend to take photographs on their journeys. Then when I am being a tourist myself I constantly analyze my own behavior and interests which is annoying. Thus the experience of being a tourist and enjoying it without self-criticism is partly spoiled from me because of my career choice. I recognize my inner snob who avoids iconic landmarks that most of the people want to see in the destination. I have an urge to get on my film spool something unique and how cliche is that! 

We individualistic travelers want to see, experience and document something that no-one or at least our fellow travelers, haven't noticed. Maybe be one of the locals for that week we are at the destination. In the action we scratch the surface and end up seeing precisely what we have been taught to see. Easy way to explain what I am meaning is the case Statue of Liberty. Me and my friend went to Staten Island Ferry that goes past the Statue. We had both seen a good number of pictures of the Statue before our journey. Photographs and movies that set up in New York. We had been taught to look after certain kind of monument yet what we saw was quite small statue with large scale surroundings. This made me ponder from which angle have all the movies been filmed and photographs taken? In a journey back from Staten Island I finally spotted the angle that made it possible to catch an iconic New York picture that had been presented to us through numerous popular culture products. 

To see the Statue of Liberty was not my number one goal when travelling overseas. If it was I could have just googled it and actually in that way I would have seen it better than in presence. I have been fascinated about the stories of New York and its atmosphere. The reason to travel was the need to know what is true. Can New York really be that amazing and one of a kind? Also the reason to leave home is to see something different, be in a new environment, meet new people and experience things that are not possible in where one lives their everyday life. I think one of the driving forces to travel is to feel the difference and exotic of far away lands. Sure we see more than generations before when we open the internet. But it is different to see it with your own eyes, or are we capable of seeing and learning?

Is it possible to make a notion that what we see is the same we have around us in everyday life? That actually people are the same and doing same activities as we would  in our homes if we weren't touristing at the moment? Fun thing is that I myself live in a town that is a popular tourist destination. On an ordinary day I go to the library and might see travelers exploring Alvar Aalto architecture in our main library. Then I travel over seas to stare and photograph New York Public Library because it looks so different compared to what I see weekly. I acknowledge that I am intruding to peoples lives with my camera. Maybe they want to wander between the shelves, study and concentrate, like I want in my own home library. But at the same time in New York I am amazed by the decorations in the ceiling, the spirit of history flying past me, old binds that rest on the shelves feeling no time. I am absolutely thrilled when I notice on my last day in New York that the library has been decorated for the Holiday season. The whole place makes me think of fantasy books like Harry Potter.

Yellow cabs make me think Sex and the City and boutiques on Fifth Ave are bursting with clothes and accessorize beyond imagination. Those creations of fashion are magic to my eyes, I rush from a pile of glitter and color to another almost without breathing. After seeing a season or two of Sex and the City I have anticipated that people in the streets would be wearing these kind of clothes. I have stressed that my clothes, black coat and jeans, will step up from the crowd as old fashioned and worn out. I even watched YouTube videos where people from USA explain how to dress in Europe, learning about differences and searching for clues how I should dress in my journey. In real life people are wearing exactly same kind of clothes as I am, jeans and warm coats as it is winter after all. 

Then one day, Thursday it is, snow begins to fall down. The drains can't take in all the water that comes from the wet melting snow and crossings turn into pools. We have bought tickets to New York Philharmonic's concert, there are Viennese waltzes in the program, and before the concert I decide to visit MoMa. Since I don't check things, I have to realize on the door that the museum closes in thirteen minutes so there is no sense buying the costly entrance ( I succeeded to see the exhibitions following day). I have few hours to spend in snow covered city. Trees have been decorated with fairy lights in a small park between two tall buildings. Snow on the branches make the christmassy effect even stronger. Small bars with their colorful signs look warm and inviting. I love how every surface is covered with those signs that come from bars, shops and theaters, it makes the view look very homey. To avoid soaking my heels to some of the pools I pop into a coffee house on the corner. There, sitting on a bar bench in front of the window I sip the coffee and eat a chocolate croissant. I look people in the snow storm and hear the Christmas songs played on the background and I feel I am in New York. The city had felt so big and hard to comprehend for the first days after arriving that a kind of anxiousness to experience something over the big mass of emotions had followed every step.

That was my New York moment that was essential in making an emotional picture of the city. The moment made the blurred picture clear. Picture that had been affected by all that I had seen through my life from a television and magazines to what I had self experienced in four days. When I stepped back to the stormy street I saw a kid with a parent. The young New Yorker gathered snow to a mitten, looked it for a second and tasted it. Just like the kids in Lapland who sit in their piles of snow wearing overalls. Places are unique with their own characteristics and atmosphere. But at the same time most of the human life is same.

New York for me is a huge but cozy city. I absolutely adore the contrast between old and new buildings. How in the arms of  polished skyscaper there is a shabby old building with its blinking signs that sell everything between heaven and earth. I enjoy seeing the magical clothes that hang in luxury boutiques even though I have never had nor ever will have money to buy those. Still I have afford to be inspired by the creatives who have designed them. And the doughnuts are great, how cookies, cream and chocolate can be served in a handy way in a one bun. Yet it is equally worth noticing the sameness. The world opens in two ways. To see that something is similar doesn't mean the journey would be unworthy. Chasing after uniqueness can be a way of blindness and arrogant desire to preserve images of exotic when the exotic doesn't exist. It is healthy to fix those images inside our heads every now and then. 

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Floating in the Consciousness

Of all the books I have read so far this one has the most beautiful, original and poetic language. Eeva Turunen uses words one doesn't hear that often. This book made me remember how magical Finnish language can be if the author has the gift to use it on it's full potential. Turunen's Neiti U muistelee niin sanottua ihmissuhdehistoriaansa (2018) has not yet been translated to other languages, so this treat is now only for those who can read Finnish. I wonder what a challenge it would be to try to translate this because one of the main elements of this work is in the language and it's nuances. But they translate poetry so it must be possible.

The book also plays with genres and it can be read at least in two ways, as a collection of short stories, dialogues and poems that tell the histories of different characters or as a novel that describes different angles of the person's life. The main characters have a lot in common what comes to their personalities. Their way of seeing the world is similar and it makes sense that actually all the stories tell about the relationships, career and life in general of the same person. The characters are referred as miss U, miss K, miss N or their names are not told. This made me ponder the idea that maybe the characters are written anonymous, like in a manner which someone would really tell about their relationships; Well I won't tell their names lets refer them as A and B, OK? Personal issues are often told with a mist of anonymity so it won't feel too revealing to tell what has been going on in mind.

The relationships described are mainly between women, love affairs, crushes and friendships. It is refreshing to read women's experiences that are not to do about relationships with men or raising children. Turunen also breaks the  conventional roles by writing characters that surprise, their choices and ways of seeing the world are not as one might first assume. For example in some stories the gender is not so obvious or necessary in a main character's mind but when they reflect other people's actions toward them it reveals how those people are assuming and behaving according to their interpretations. 

The stories are stream of consciousness in the most fluent way. The reader gets to the waves of consciousness and gets a glimpse of what is currently on the mind of the main character. In the opening story two women are travelling in Island and the other one, miss N predicts that the volcano might erupt soon. In her mind she does all kinds of neurotic arrangements in case it happens. She seems to be aware that her mind is going to paths that are not logical anymore and tries to hide the purchases she has done in case the emergency hits. In another story an architect is not getting sleep at night and begins to reflect her latest commission. She is in the  beginning of her career and goes through what possibly went wrong because she was not chosen to complete the design of the building. The thoughts circling in her mind are very relatable; should I have laughed in that situation to bond better with the customer, was my way of expressing myself unclear and did the work done correlate to what the customer was looking after and so forth. All these annoying details that make it impossible to be proud of one's own work. To add to the pile of anxiousness she begins to imagine how her ex-girlfriend is living a dream life with her new woman. It is so real to go though the whole life and it's mistakes and could bes in the late hours of the day when sleep is not arriving.

I think it shows in the style of this book that the author is an architect and a play writer. At parts there is something similar with a play manuscript. The situations are described in a minimalistic way, A says, B says, A thinks etc. For a visual person it gives more than thick and fully charged writing. The style gives air to picture the situation, where the people are standing and what they are doing. The picture formed to one's head gives more about the whole context of the happenings that could be written with more words. In one of the stories the main character tells about her worries to the property manager in a letter. Instead of the letter being static it is in constant move as the main character goes though her home, what can be found there and who she meets in the yards and corridors. The letter contains her life and the past events which open the situations and why she has so much time to ponder and write to a complete stranger she has made her friend.

The luxury of time is common to all characters in these stories. They have time to look back and go through every detail in their past relationships, they have time look where they are at the moment and what is around them. There are cotton swabs in door wreath, the flowers are nastily packed to revealing transparent foil and neighbors move in their balconies. Also there is something similar in their lifestyles. Work or other interests in the cultural field are visible. Past relationships are haunting their life at the moment or low self-esteem is affecting to the current affair. Their life sounds real and something we can feel through our own experiences. Even though we would be doing great and we would have a work we enjoy and well functioning relationship, still there is some insecure place that gives warnings and puts us to reflect what we have done wrong. It happens every now and then in all situations where we communicate with each other. Because most of us want to show themselves in good light and treat other people in a manner they deserve. 

What I particularly liked about this book was that the main characters are quite ordinary, trying to make it in their life whether single or in a relationship, with a job or without. They are lost after a girlfriend has left or waiting the woman of dreams come out of the DIY cardboard teleport. They are looking for appreciation in work life. I think almost all have gone though moments like that, absent minded wandering in the apartment and streets waiting for something wonderful to happen. I am not sure if that reflective and neurotic spirit ever stops haunting even though the teleport would blink. 

Thursday, 8 November 2018

World As We Don't Know It

Hannu Rajaniemi. Summerland (Kesämaa 2018)

Secret service agent Rachel White gets a tip that there is a high class spy in the system. In a classic setting of an espionage story she can't be sure who are supporting and covering the acts of the spy. Spy named Peter seems to have connections to the highest authorities of the society. After speaking to her nearest superior she is accused to have stress and incapable of continuing in her position. Therefore she is moved to lower rank work. Yet she doesn't stop the investigations but gets allies from both sides, the living and dead, to figure out the pattern.

If the setting of the story is classic the surroundings are anything but. The story takes place in 1938 British secret service.  The world though is not the same we know now. In the turn of the century the division between life and death has been broken. People can call to the other side to their friends and relatives. People who have passed can visit the living as unseen ghosts or hire a body from a person who can take in the spirit. The secret service has an office in both sides and these two are cooperating. The world doesn't know Hitler or Nazism which is an interesting choice. Usually stories that are set in that era take material from World War II happenings. I think it is a stylish decision not to repeat those in this novel. Horrors of that time have been used too often in entertainment I think. Still in the world Rajaniemi has created war is not absent. The wars are even more brutal and apocalyptic, if possible. Some soldiers are turned into monsters that take their fuel from souls.

In many ways the other side is very similar only the essence of everything is more abstract. If the world of the living is more material the other side is built on thoughts. This is an interesting and philosophical thought about the essence of life itself. We believe in the matter we see and touch yet we have no clue who we are and where we are. How Rajaniemi describes the other side tells about our constructions as human beings. Peter, the spy, has difficulties with his self-image and the appearance he builds every day might broke. Once he stands in public transport when his arms become arms of a boy. It is like we draw our lines daily to keep the surface but some situations bring out the insecurities and one's own history. The world around us is also abstract, the buildings, streets are a common agreements. We agree that those are there and we believe in the ideas of these things and accept those as a part of a shared reality. In the world on the other side all the material might disappear during the sleep and one has to make these constructions all over again in the morning. Peter's house is not the same, interior becomes bare after night. Like he has lost the common idea of the world and seen beyond.

One bigger theme in this science fiction novel is the necessity of life and death as a dichotomy we can't break.  In the world Rajaniemi has created life has no meaning because death is just one step that has no bigger influence. Death as we know it is scary, because we can't know what is on the other side. We have our own and shared beliefs that direct our look to afterlife. We acknowledge that life on the Earth is limited and then we go some place else. Yet our understanding and knowledge is narrow. Rajaniemi plays with the idea, what if we would know exactly what is waiting for us, how would it change our life? In the world where Rachel and Peter are living life has lost meaning. There is no progress made because of the lack of the driving force. No motivator to develop medicine and work with life expectancy. Neither death nor life has no meaning.