Oxford School of Photography

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Photography Oxford Festival Exhibition Highlights Part 1- Pentti Sammallahti


Today I took to my bike to visit about half of the exhibitions on offer at the festival. I will do another half next week, I don’t want saturation I want feeding. Feeding my eyes that is. Sadly I cannot say the whole festival has so far excited me although there have been some real highlights. I did the circuit that included Wadham, Pitt Rivers, Keble, Lady Margaret Hall, Maison Francaise, Studio 45 (closed), St John’s and Art Jericho (also closed). This is not a review, nor is it comprehensive, it is just a brief opinion of some

Wadham has the exhibition Designed to Deceive This exhibition explores the photograph as construct, rather than as truthful witness, showing photographs taken with the deliberate intention or unintended result of misleading the viewer and/or distorting the meanings contained within them. Whether subtly manipulated or dramatically retouched, these images disprove the earliest view of photography as the objective representation of a scene, and the long gone notion that the camera never lies.

It is full of well known pictures that have been manipulated before Photoshop and/or manipulated the viewer by the use. Interesting, diverting, not essential.

Keble has pictures coming out of Bangladesh. As you would expect in a show that has 6 or 7 photographers the subject matter and quality is varied, honestly some of it is pretty dire, but some of it was worth the trip, certainly worth a visit although the final piece on suicide is not joyous, predictably.

LMH has the exhibition of wooden churches. WOODEN CHURCHES – TRAVELLING IN THE RUSSIAN NORTH // Richard Davies


I was not surprised to find that this was really good, so much so that until, PENTTI SAMMALLAHTI, it was my favourite. This was the first exhibition today that is printed well, displayed in frames and a serious body. The churches are charming and the photographs often quite lovely. Displayed in the chapel at LMH, propped up on the wooden pews, the pictures suited the surroundings. In some ways I would have preferred to see them properly hung on walls but needs must and I would have preferred to see them than not.

Maison Francaise has  Bernard Plossu French photographer Bernard Plossu has never been shown in Britain. The Maison Française d’Oxford will show some of the major pictures which have dotted his career, as well as new work made recently in Britain.Plossu has had an influential career unattached to any institution or newspaper, producing a constant rich stream of exhibitions and books. His manner has been to photograph autobiographically but not diaristically: he is allusive and elliptical, and his photography connects to a wide culture of literature, music and cinema. 

Poorly hung, small images in non descript frames, some interesting and engaging images and as it was on the way to St John’s worth the stop over, just. Here is a better one



So to the Finns, there are three of them, the one that you should be heading for as the absolute highlight is  PENTTI SAMMALLAHTI. I have done a little research and here is a bit for you

About Pentti Sammallahti

Pentti Sammallahti was born in 1950 in Helsinki, Finland. Growing up, he was surrounded by the works of his grandmother, Hildur Larsson (1882-1952), a Swedish-born photographer, who worked for the Helsinki newspaper Kaiku in the early 1900s. After visiting The Family of Man exhibition at Helsinki Art Hall (1961) Sammallahti made his first photographs at age eleven. Pentti joined the Helsinki Camera Club in 1964. His first solo exhibition was in 1971.

Sammallahti has travelled widely as a photographer, from his native Scandinavia, across the Soviet Republics through Siberia, to Japan, India, Nepal, Morocco, Turkey, across Europe and Great Britain, and even to South Africa.

Sammallahti’s travels and interest in fine printing and lithography has led him to publish numerous portfolios of which the largest and most well known is “The Russian Way” (1996). As a benchmark figure in contemporary Finnish photography, his work has a supernatural sense of a moment in time with the sensitivity and beauty of the world displayed through its animalistic existence. His particular use of dogs, which reflects the human existential experience, shows the shared nature of the earth with a gentle humor and fleeting attitude.

Sammallahti describes himself as a wanderer who likes the nature of the great north, the silence, the cold, and the sea. He likes the people and the animals of far off places and he records the relationships between them and their environment.

As a master craftsman, he meticulously tones his prints, which come in various formats, from 4 by 5 inches in image size to panoramas of 6 by 14 inches. In 2010 for his retrospective exhibition in Helsinki he created large format pigment prints, about 9 by 21 inches and 15 by 35.5 inches in size.

As a passionate seeker of the perfect mechanical printing method, his own innovative printing techniques and reintroduction of the portfolio form have re-awakened broader interest in published photographic art. Influenced by the idea of ‘artist books’ – individual works in which the artist is responsible for the whole: photography, the making of prints, layout, design and typography, reproduction and often the actual printing process either with the offset or the gravure method.

Since 1979, Pentti Sammallahti has published thirteen books and portfolios and has received awards such as the Samuli Paulaharju Prize of the Finnish Literature Society, State Prizes for Photography, Uusimaa Province Art Prize, Daniel Nyblin Prize, and the Finnish Critics Association Annual.

From 1974 to 1991 Sammallahti taught at the University of Art and Design in Helsinki, retiring when he received a 15-year grant from the Finnish government, an unusually long endowment, which is no longer awarded. Both as a photographer and a teacher, he has had an enormous influence on a whole generation of documentary photographers in Scandinavia.
My advice is go and see his pictures. 






Car by Pentti Sammallahti

here are some more links with information and pictures by Pentti





6 responses to “Photography Oxford Festival Exhibition Highlights Part 1- Pentti Sammallahti

  1. Jane Buekett September 16, 2014 at 5:07 pm

    I am so glad you are doing this research for us! Where is Pentti Sammallahti on?

  2. oxfordschoolofphotography September 16, 2014 at 6:53 pm

    St John’s, the entrance opposite Little Clarendon Street

  3. brerterrapin September 16, 2014 at 7:07 pm

    I agree wholeheartedly with Keith’s comments. I left Keble thinking that this had been conceived as a Festival of Misery and that perhaps I would ultimately feel some sort of cathartic release, but at the moment the experience wasn’t making me feel good about the world. Sammallahti’s work however has a light touch, but real vision – with a strong sense of the ‘decisive moment’; and the presentation got me very excited about the craft of photography – these are beautiful prints. In fact, the most exciting body of work I’ve come across in a very long time.

    His work is at St John’s.

    David (The Brer Terrapin thing is a long story…)

    • oxfordschoolofphotography September 16, 2014 at 8:37 pm

      I sat in the garden of 337 Banbury Rd tonight watching the Paddy Summerfield work Mother and Father. As the dusk turned to night and the birds sang their last the atmosphere for these touching images was almost perfect. It only takes about 15 minutes to see the images roll through and it is a good way to spend the time. Recommend it

  4. Barnaby Nutt September 17, 2014 at 1:04 pm

    I’ll be travelling down to see the Sammallahti show specifically – I saw some of his work at the Photographer’s Gallery earlier in the year and immediately sought out his ‘Here Far Away’ book which is stunning from cover to cover (I wrote about it here: http://yeahyeahyeahyeahyeahblog.wordpress.com/2014/02/16/pentti-sammallahti-here-far-away/). Thanks for cranking up my anticipation another notch!

  5. Pingback: Brighton Biennial Photography Festival | Oxford School of Photography

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