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This and the following three photographs were taken by Ismo Hölttö, a goldsmith by trade, who began taking images of his countrymen at the age of 22. For nine prolific years (1962-1971), his Rolleiflex camera accompanied him on lunch breaks, weekends and holidays as Hölttö travelled throughout Helsinki and the Finnish countryside, shooting unpretentiously casual and sensitively nuanced portraits. At the age of 31, he retired from both professional goldsmithing and amateur portraiture, spending nearly 30 years as a commercial photographer until his partial retirement in 2000.
Though largely unknown outside Finland until his landmark publication People in the Lead Role -- Photographs of Finns in 1991, Hölttö's powerful portraits have long been renowned across Finland for their honest and graceful style. Marked by a 'deep and genuine humanity', these images embody the spirit of a nation on the threshold of inevitable change that altered the face of many countries throughout the 19th and 20th centuries: post-war melancholia and sorrowful nostalgia at the loss of agrarian lifestyle, tempered with the optimistic hope of a people transitioning to an urban society. In depicting the lives of his fellow Finns, Hölttö captured the essence of an evolution that resonated far beyond the borders of his own nation.
In the foreword to People in the Lead Role, Erkki Pirtola writes, 'Looking at the work of Ismo Hölttö means making a journey into the heartland of the Finnish soul...[His] photographs contain a truth that will be carried on through different periods and styles. And in decades or even centuries to come, it will tell a tale of a bygone way of life which, without the wonderful power of photographs to witness reality, would only be known by objects it has left behind.' (pp.9-11) Hölttö's portraits speak of change and transition: the story of an era written on the faces of the people who lived it.
FEATURED ARTIST: ISMO HÖLTTÖ
Hölttö, People in the Lead Role: Photographs of Finns, Self-published, 1991, p.178 (fig.1).
Buenos Aires, XXII Salon Internacional de Arte Fotografico, 1967.