Here Far Away
Pentti Sammallahti’s photographs are real gems. Not only because his contemplative images are brimming with poetry, but also because the Finnish photographer is a real virtuoso behind the camera. For him, black and white never means flat monochrome, with suffocated blacks and blinding whites. Quite the contrary: in his images, the shades of grey form an infinite palette of bright colours that he uses to compose his shots. The lensman has established himself as one of the great living masters of black and white and is best known for his outstanding work featuring the landscapes of his homeland, where wonderfully simple, pareddown beauty vies with the splendour of Japanese prints. Here, however, the full diversity of his work is on show. A selection of images that, whether focused on animals or human beings, are always infused with an innate empathy. Photographs with universal grammar and vocabulary, whose humour and humanity speak to all generations.
Sammallahti was born in Helsinki to a family of artists: his father was a silversmith and his grandfather was the Swedish photographer Hildur Larsson. A family heritage that explains both his unique eye, fostered by an unparalleled photographic culture, and his painstaking love of detail and refinement. Pentti Sammallahti forged his photographic culture from a very young age: he was only nine years old when he visited the renowned The Family of Man exhibition produced by Edward Steichen for the MOMA in New York (1955), comprising 503 photographs of 273 different authors. He had already made a name for himself as a photographer by the age of 21 and has continued his artistic quest ever since, having won some prestigious awards. From 1974 to 1991, he shared his passion with students at the Helsinki University of Art and Design. Master photographer Henri Cartier Bresson selected one of Sammallahti’s images for his personal collection that went on show in Paris in 2003, a year before he died – a final homage to his Nordic colleague.
Even today, Sammallahti’s talent refuses to be confined to one genre, style or format. The artist does away with such barriers to embrace photography as a whole, using it to nourish his imagination and his deep sensitivity.