Book review of Here, far away

  • Book title: Aqui, tan lejos (Original title: Here, far away)
  • Author: Pentti Sammallahti
  • Translation: Remedios Diéguez Diéguez
  • Page count: 254
  • Release date: 2012
  • Publisher: Blume
  • ISBN: 978-84-9801-657-4

When starting with analog photography in 2019 I didn’t know much about anything. After getting a grasp on the basics I started visiting photographic exhibitions to study the works of others. One of those resonated with me in a way that is hard to explain. That exhibition was Distant Lands by the finnish photographer Pentti Sammallahti. When passing through the gift shop a photo book caught my eye. It was made by the same photographer whose images had just captured me a moment ago and after flipping through its pages I felt that I had to have it. Unfortunately the price was too high for me at the time, especially after some camera and lens purchases that I had made earlier. And so, with a heavy heart, I left without it.

Fast forward a couple of months and I was back to finally buy the book but to my dismay it had sold out. No, wait, there were still some copies left. In spanish. A language I can’t understand. After some thinking, a decision was made. I will buy the book even though it is written in a foreign language because, after all, it’s the photographs that are most important to me. Hopefully Google translate won’t completely botch the translation when I want to read the few text pages that populate it.

Even though my skill level and experience are that of an amature I decided to write a review of this book, to add my thoughts of it to the wider world. So here is my short review of Pentti Sammallahti’s photo book Here, far away.

Here, far away is a retrospective work of Pentti Sammallahti’s 50 year photographic career. The book is quite large, at 31x25x3.5cm and weighing in at about 2kg. It consists of black and white photographs taken at various places and points in time and some text at the beginning describing the work. They are printed on thick matte paper that are bound to a nice cloth hardcover featuring a mounted photograph. The book is divided into nine chapters, each with its own theme. First we see a series of barren land and seascapes that are then broken by the appearance of a frog breaking the water surface. From here on animals start to appear more frequently and then humans.

Pentti’s photographs are incredibly detailed and of high quality. They really show his talent for composition and capturing the decisive moment. This can be seen in the photograph of a horse drawn cart on a dirt road, its passengers reacting to a motorcycle coming their way from afar (page 71). The same image has a cinematic feel to it and this can be said about several of the photographs populating the book. While on the subject of the feelings the work impart on me, I think the entire work gives off a timeless and otherworldly feel, as if they were taken in a reality separate from ours.

Later on in the book we encounter street scenes with both humans and animals. One thing that struck me after my second reading was that Pentti photographs his animal subjects like they were human. I think that this can be seen on page 138 where we see a ragged looking dog walking past a cat pawing behind a window. Or on page 163 where a dog, with a bag in its mouth, walks past a cat on a snowy road. My personal favorite of these animal images are the one on page 156 where we see a taxi driver on the left trying to fix his car during a snowstorm while a hooded crow is looking at him from the right of the photograph.

Most of the images in the book are low contrast but there are some that deviate from this pattern. In these few images Pentti shows his ability of using contrast to highlight and separate his main subject from the rest of the composition. A good example is the wide angle shot on page 40-41 where we see white swans in the middle of a pond surrounded by grey mallards and black eurasian coot.

Overall I am really impressed by Pentti Samallahti’s work, both this book and the exhibition Distant Lands. His technique of replacing humans with animals is something that I really like and I’ll try to incorporate in my own work. Pentti’s work breaths quality and I thoroughly recommend this book, and the exhibition, to anyone interested in photography.

By Skoge Farman

I am a street photographer based north of Stockholm.

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