s. 1965, Kymi
Visual Artist, Media Artist, Photographer, Sound Artist
Juha Metso is among the very few Finnish professional photographers who have managed to successfully maintain a career consisting of both hectic daily newspaper work and a high- profile artistic output of appreciated exhibitions both in Finland and abroad. He has reached the point where he, in his home country, is one of the most revered and acclaimed contemporary photographers. Through the work he has made for the largest Finnish daily paper Helsingin Sanomat, he recently has been chosen Photographer of the Year and Feature Photographer of The Year twice. Nature- and particularly birdlife photography has both been the starting point in his career and one of the strongest continuing themes in his work.
As an artist, Metso paints with a broad brush, or should I say lense. He draws from both cultural and literary history, from zoological references to the philosophical debates of Europe's past. Even when ironic or on the surface humorous, his work contains a serious level of contemplation regarding themes like injustice, the concept of death, cultural traditions and a sometimes disturbing look at the manifestations of power. Although Juha Metso as a person likes to give the impression of being a somewhat, for want of a better word, laddish character, I personally know very few who possess his unique sensitivity, and have both the skill and the vision to present it so engagingly in their art.
John Knutas journalist, art critic
Juha Metso photographs nature and human life as part of it boldly, openly and trying his utmost. He does not limit or interpret his work. As a photographer, Metso is a rugged, passionate, soft and sentient basic dude, who composes dramatic, funny, endearing and bold images of reality.
Nature is the beginning and the end – snow and ice cover the human face.
Leena Räty, Chief Curator, South Karelia Art Museum
Current informationJuha Metso - images from hell and paradise – with a warm compassion for human kind
- How long have you been working as a fine art photographer?
I’ve taken images for 30 years. That means over 100 exhibitions, 15 books and 60 countries. Together with the director of Kotka Photographic Centre and artist Timo Mähönen, I’ve curated over 100 exhibitions as its’ founding member. So I started with film and was amongst the first to embrace the digital tools. When working in the dark room in the 80’s nobody could imagine the digital era we’re having now. I have in my archives 100 teras, between 1600 to 1700 different personalities and people, and with the film archives that take a roomful, it goes up to 3000.
- I understand that you still work as a press photographer. How do you find working in two different photography genres?
The two genders feed and complete each others. As a press photographer I meet enormously different people and get into places and situations where I don’t think I would get into otherwise. And that’s where I get ideas for art, too – from the encounters of people and cultures.
I travel a lot, especially I’ve traveled in Russia and its’ eastern parts Carelia where I’ve spent overall years of my life. My Russian imagery covers the times from Yeltsin to Putin and Medvedev, and the geography from east to west. And everything from woods and wilderness to the metropoles and again to small villages. I love working there and with Russian people – the mutual trust is instantaneous and they love being photographed. Sometimes what happens is that I give my camera to the person in front of me and they shoot me. The situation becomes a kind of a performance and understanding without common language. After all we people are very much alike anywhere in the world, we have the same feelings, desires and gravings. And sorrow or pain.
What you really need for art and visions is living – you need your history and experiences you’ve gone through from laughs to looking at the birth and death from eye to eye. I wouldn’t do now what I do without my years in the battle fields and war in Europe and Africa.
- What is the market like? How much of a demand is there?
- What do you think about selling your images through sites such as 500px or your own website?
I do only unique pieces so my main channel is not on the net, but in the more traditional art world, the galleries etc. The work of art as physical object counts for me, too. I do quality prints and materials. Exceptions of course are my video art pieces. And of course I think the digital distribution and the internet is great. Not only it gives opportunities for images and young artists or to anyone like never before, but it has also changed our way of reading or consuming images. We get visual access almost to anywhere in the world. At the same time what hasn’t changed is the power of use and even the misuse of images. Internet is a very powerful tool for propaganda. Think about for example the moment where Pete Souzas’ picture spread all over the world from the White House, the one where Obama and Hillary Clinton watch live Bin Ladens’ death through the camera on a soldiers’ helmet. And what was explained afterwards about it. I had to do art from that, because I think that picture changed the political world radically. The piece is called Obama versus Osama – what really happened? and its’ on youtube. The project was online just few days after the original picture. That tells something about my way of working. When you get an idea you just do it. Other ideas I might have for years, and they grow and get richer with time. My large series of works are like that. I get them out during a long period of time. For example one of my major series I’m working on at the moment, is the climate change. The first part “The Ice - Stay” is out, but there’ll be more to come, the climate change through the elements of fire, water and the rock.
- You have had many exhibitions. How do you make contact with the curators? Do you find them, or do they find you? Both happens, for example my New York agent found me through my old web pages, and I mean they were really old and simple, historical from the internet point of view. This is where I get into my favorite subject: the image and the content is what counts, not the fancy bling on the pages or the technical details of the cameras. I hate people asking me about the cameras, I couldn’t be less interested. What counts is what I happens or what I express through the images, or more precisely what the viewer is living or not through the images. There’s no art before it’s seen by someone.
-What is your advice for people who want to break into fine art photography?
My advice is live. Have passion and work. There are no short cuts. Life is the best fuel for art. And it happens right here under your feet. Don’t wait, don’t think it’s somewhere else. Don’t make plans for retirement.
- what do you think is the best way of selling images
In art? Or in the press? Well, for both what’s in common is that the picture is not a technical issue. For me it’s always a story that needs the audience to be heard, and even more. A piece of art is like a baton passed on. When it’s out it becomes the viewers’ story not mine anymore. My pieces tell a story of our time, too, and like many other pictures before I think time will make them more interesting yet. My strengths in my art are warm hearted humor for human kind, the not predicted moments of comedy and Finish melancholy. Sometimes black humor. Interpreting the time being. I think that can be seen in my Climate Change series.
- what is important about an artist’s portfolio and website
What’s important is the honest self-description. What you feel, what you want to do and how you live things. Like I said art is not a technical issue for me, but a vehicle of emotions you give. You can succeed without the internet, too.
- what does a photographer need to know about business to succeed as a fine artist?
Trust in your own vision. Agents are of help of course, when you have something to show. I’ve got many different editor contracts. In art I don’t think about business, because I cannot define what works for others. I do what works for me. And if and when it works for others I’m happy about it. My art is viewers property, I don’t know what touches or speaks to different people, I don’t know what you’ve lived or what’s important to you. I also really appreciate when someone comes to tell me that Metso – this is total crab what you’re doing. The critics are for me the salt in life and having different or opposite views make life richer.
For me living is a gathering of a spiritual capital. I’m not going to take my art into the grave with me. Death is very present in my works, like in my Woodoo Child –series that comes out this year as a book and exhibition. I spent 5 weeks in Benin, Africa in a small village where unlike our western world the death and spiritual world are a natural part of everyday life. The differences in believes, religious cultures and superstitions are the main subject through a story of a boy. The art reflects of course the artist and I constantly reflect my own world through my art. It took many weeks to gain the trust in the village, so that I could take part of their woodoo ceremonies. The situation was strongly visual, coloured with blood and sweat, full of strong smells, people in trans and speech with the dead. I think we here in Europe have delegated and hidden the death away. We don’t anymore have a natural connection to it.
- In your experience, which images sell best?
Camera is my optical paint brush that takes me to hell and paradise. By pure change I think. If I didn’t use cameras I’d propably paint or sculpt. I can’t say what sells the best. Or when. Or if its’ the result of marketing or why. I just concentrate in doing what I need or want to do.
- More generally, as a photographer what is the best way to get your photographs noticed? What is the best way into fine art photography?
I really enjoy and appreciate working with other great artists, like in my book projects. I get inspiration from group work and get to work with amazing people, like the Finn Ville Haapasalo, who’s one of the most famous actors in Russia. His personality and his story of success are exceptional; wherever he’s present he fills the room. We came out with a coproduction book, Ville Haapasalo, I and the writer Kauko Röyhkä, and the book is a best seller, with already 8 editions. This year the book is being released in Europe and we’re making a second book with the same team. I’m happy to work with many great writers, in the fields of popular and classical music genders, the novelists and scientists.
- Is there anything else you would like to add?
I’m hitting 50 and have more to come, life’s better every day.