Rooms of Man Sideshow Gallery
In Rooms of Man, a series of photographic portraits, artist Jaakko Heikkilä documents the relationships between apartment dwellers and their homes; moreover, the dialogue he establishes between people and their environments is broadly narrated as an east-west dichotomy. Heikkilä's route includes visits to the Torne River of Finland, to Njuchtja, Russia, Rytow, England, and Harlem, New York. Each image is created with a panoramic camera that scans either the width or height of his subjects: many of whom are friends, neighbors, and acquaintances who pose by sitting, musing, or napping, amidst the things they have collected and assembled over the years.
Heikkilä, who is Finnish, and has documented his own locale, situated at the edge of the Swedish border, currently lives in Harlem; so that the anthropological implications of this series, also suggests personal biography. He skillfully tempers the issue of voyeurism, through the respectful, yet emotive relationships he establishes with his subjects. The works are formal yet relaxed, and through this attitude, Heikkilä disarms to some extent, the problematic status that the photographer often has in relation to his subjects. Mounted on aluminum, the images project into the space of the gallery.
It is immediately apparent that the light of longitude and latitude create a mood that floats across the accumulated belongings of each respective dwelling; so that the contrasts of cultural aesthetics and economic differences are presented in terms of kind, abundance, and inheritance. Images cross reference, like "Lennart in his Living Room," who looks disinterestedly at us, in a comfortable if crowded setting, next to his TV, and his African masks and musical instruments. "Vlas in the Kitchen," leans over the edge of a counter, across from the pots and pans that are lined up neatly next to a brick oven, reaffirming one of my images of Eastern Europe, where paisley fabrics and colorful enamel paint charmingly soften the years of wear and tear; or "Maja in the Kitchen," who sits with her tea cup and glasses in what looks to be a newly built development. We are invited to survey, speculate, and ruminate on others' personal effects and way of life, their contingencies and their sentiments. Shared across cultures is the use of mass produced casual and fairly generic clothing.
At either side of the gallery, are two exceptions to the theme of domesticity: "The School - Njuchtja, Russia," whose wooden floored hallways stretch along a bank of windows, radiators, and benches, and "The Police Station - Dolgostsjelie, Russia," in which maps and chairs, framed by the green wainscoting and floral wallpaper of adjoining rooms, convey a sense a dolorous comfort, yet evoke a Foucault like vision of law and rule; yet whose environments have a nostalgic air.
Heikkilä has an interesting way of sublimating his didactic points within sociable relationships. On the verge of adolescence, "Coby in the Hall," sits in his parents' comfortable apartment surrounded by their array of houseplants, and "James in His Room" is seated in an inflatable chair next to his rocket ships and toys, in a bedroom that has been designed around the theme of outer space. Each image implies a connection to how the boys' environments will contribute to the formation of their individuality.
The images in Rooms of Man are well thought out and are unified by Heikkilä's emotional connection to his subjects. Heikkilä touches on some of photography's most salient themes, like the photographer's compulsion to capture glimpses of a social fabric. There also remains the ever present afterimage of the photographer as someone who has passed through, and left behind the lives of his subjects, a problematic which is as inescapable as the medium itself; yet the images invite us to pursue the intersection between local and international differences, individuality and collectivity within our zeitgeist.
Rachel Youens is a painter, writer, and teacher who lives in Brooklyn.