1: to annul by recalling or taking back (revoke a will).
2: to bring or call back.
"Change of mind is not inconsistency."
Okay, I know this is very eleventh hour (or twelfth—just past midnight, analogously speaking). I know I just said that our Book of the Year for 2012 was the 75th Anniversary Edition of American Photographs by Walker Evans, a current reprint of an important historical book. I even said it was "settled."
Then Here Far Away arrived. And changed my mind.
Pentti Sammallahti was born in Helsinki, Finland, in 1950. He began to photograph at the age of 11, and by age 21 had begun to exhibit. He taught at the University of Art and Design in Helsinki for 17 years, until, in 1991, he was awarded a 15-year grant from the Finnish government—an unusually long endowment and one that isn't given any more. Over a fifty-year career he has photographed in most parts of the world outside of the Americas, mainly Scandinavia and across Russia, the Far East, the subcontinent, and Europe. He is a master craftsman with a deep understanding of printing methods, known for reinvigorating the portfolio form; he naturally works in the form of books. He has published 13 books and portfolios since 1979, which have won many awards.
Here Far Away, published in 2012 by Dewi Lewis Publishing in England, is his first retrospective, representing the best of nearly half a century's work. Reasonably sized and beautifully laid out, it's a substantial 256 pages long, and the reproductions, which the publisher calls "quadratones," are gorgeous. The pictures, mostly rural, enigmatic, and mysterious, are almost pictorialist, painterly and composed. Many of the pictures show the presence of beasts, mostly dogs and birds, but including many other kinds as well—even people, who are often seen as another sort of animal within landscapes or city scenes. Many of the photographs are almost...mystical, if I may, with a sense of lyrical timelessness despite being (for all I can tell, at least) "straight" photography.
Talk about a guilty pleasure. I don't know what blows me away more—the book, or the career. Sammallahti's low profile in the U.S. has blessedly meant that he's mostly new to me (I have a beautiful Nazraeli Press volume of his rural panoramic photographs that is now hard to get, but that's it), which means that most of this work is new to me—which is such a treat for me.
Friends, get this book. That's all I can say. This is just what it's all for. I had some technical problems with the book post the other day and wasn't actually able to finish it—I will add some more titles soon. But I think it's fair to say that even with some strong competition from Vivian Maier and Ray K. Metzker and old Walker, this has gotta be the pinnacle of 2012's books of the ones I've seen. It's certainly one nobody will regret having.
I have a feeling this book is in relatively short supply; it's certainly international in appeal, and the quality of the printing makes me guess they're not just able to churn 'em out. As I write this, Amazon in the U.S. has only 10 copies and Amazon U.K. only six. I had trouble getting my copy—I ordered it several times from two different places before it worked. My copy actually arrived slightly damaged, but no way am I risking sending it back. This gets a place of honor on my bookshelves, and, if you'll forgive me for changing my mind at such a late hour, this has got to be the Book of the Year for 2012.
[UPDATE: Sold out at Amazon.com. They're not accepting orders, either. I'll keep an eye on this in coming weeks and alert people (at least by tweet—@TheOnlinePhotog) when/if they're back in stock. —Mike]
[UPDATE #2, 1/7/13: When I recommended this book it cost about $48 new. I realize the prices for the few copies on Amazon Marketplace are astronomically high. I'll contact the publisher and find out what the story is likely to be; I'm assuming the supply of normally-priced books will be replenished eventually.
I just don't want you to think I'm suggesting you spend $425 for a book! —Mike]
Almost no matter what kind of photographer you are and what kinds of photography you like, I think you're gonna love this.
Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Mikko Kalavainen: "Great. Now you've spilt (spilled?) the beans about Pentti all over the Internet. Thanks a bunch.
"Just kidding, it's always a thrill to see The Favourite Obscure Photographer (choose your own) featured somewhere. I've got two prints from him on my wall, from the 'Pieniä Eläimiä' (Small animals) series. Which are lovely. That book is cheaper over there though, when compared to Finland. Which is no big surprise. Another coin for your coffer from Amazon then. Thank you!"
Mike Chisholm: "Mike, 100% agreement, and then some. I bought the German edition because I couldn't wait for the English one. I have to say my suspicion is that Sammallahti is either a dog-whisperer or maintains a trained pack. Surely nobody can get that lucky so often with so many characterful mutts, can they? Is witchcraft legal in Finland? Miraculous, moving and at times laugh-out-loud perfect work."
GuyB (partial comment): "What I love is the pagan animism, without sentimentality or anthropomorphism."
Stan B. (partial comment): "A 15 year grant—Finland (and the world) definitely got its money's worth!"
olli: "Delighted to see your recommendation. He featured in a recent post on The Guardian website and I ordered my copy from The Book Depository shortly after. It arrived a couple of days ago and I've been staring in awe ever since. It's a beautifully produced book and the quality of the printing of the images is stunning."
Jim Couch: "No you may not change your mind! I already purchased the Walker Evans book I am pleased to say. I like having the 'Book of the Year' for 2012! Now I have to go and purchase another book? One that may even be sold out! So unfair! :-) Too many books, so little money (and bookshelf space!)"
Colin Dixon: "Last year there was an exhibition of his work, and a talk by the artist, at the Side Gallery in Newcastle upon Tyne in northeast England. The book is beautiful but his prints were stunning. A mix of inkjet for the the larger panoramics and silver gelatin. On his ability as a 'dog whisperer,' he said that when he travels he likes to eat tinned sardines, and he saves the fishy olive oil in a small bottle, and when dogs are needed he sprinkles a few drops, and usually dogs start coming around in a few minutes."
Graham Dew: "One can despair at what passes as 'quality' photography these days, and then comes along a book like this that re-affirms your love of the medium. I have a copy as a Christmas present, and it is absolutely beautiful. The images are so elegant, the production first rate and the size perfect. Yes, Mike, you can change your mind!"
Michael Hultström: "In Norway they don't use a translation of changing or revoking one's opinion. They have the wonderful word 'ombestemme.' I think it is used in Denmark as well. What it means, literally, is re-decide. I love it because it doesn't give the image of indecisiveness or a fickle, easily-swayed opinion. It is an active considered decision. It just isn't the same decision as you came to a while ago."
Mike replies: I like it! Funny how various languages have perfect words other languages lack.