revisiting the innocence and rage of finnish youth
Having collaborated with the Jouko Lehtola Foundation to publish a compilation of the late Finnish photographer's work for its first collection, Jouko Lehtola’s archive lingers long on the mind of Tuomas Merikoski. As he shares a selection of his...
I first became aware of Jouko Lehtola's photography in around 2008, I was drawn to a single image from his Young Heroes series. I immediately researched his work and found Jouko Lehtola's Finlandia. I was touched by the honesty of his photography. I felt super excited because finally someone had been able to capture what Finnish youth is, how great it is in all of its madness and extremes. I had finally found an aesthetic that totally reflected how Finnish youth actually was and continues to be, and how my youth was at the same time. Very direct, innocent but extreme. Of course, the imagery conjures feelings of nostalgia but I believe that youth is still largely the same and that is what Aalto wants to show. His work has been hugely influential on us, it is a part of Aalto's foundations.
In truth, many people in Finland were ashamed of these images for a long time because they documented the ugly beauty and the raw reality. It is only recently that his work has received the real recognition his art deserves. When I started Aalto I knew that I wanted to contribute to his art by helping to show how relevant and beautiful all his images are today. That's also the reason why we curated and edited the Finnish Youth book.
We travelled to Helsinki to meet everybody in the foundation, listen to their stories and what Jouko really wanted to tell through the images. We also visited the secret archive to get a real feeling of the original artworks. The idea behind curating a book was to focus on the youth, the boys and girls that we felt mirrored our Finnish society. Very penetrating emotions, simply, through the characters. And as the book is a tribute to his work we wanted to put it into a very high level context, cover, format, layout and printing. A friend of us, art director Daniel Baer, helped us to put it together. Whilst researching the project, with the foundation we had to contact several people from the original photos. I realised that most of them were the same age as me so literally I lived those moments exactly at the same time. Jouko could have taken my picture. It all really was like the images show.
Are Finnish youth different now to the teens documented here in the 80s and 90s? Essentially I think the teen experience is still the same, but of course time changes things. We have all become more global since and it does have an impact in Finland too, and on the youth. But what makes the Finnish youth so special is that it still does things differently, it has its own way, the taboos, the freedom and the primitivity. In the 80s and 90s though the freedom was more literal, they didn't have mobiles and the internet wasn't in the forest to document what happened. You could make a fool out of yourself and it was fine but social media documents too much now.
Text Tuomas Merikoski
Photography Jouko Lehtola