A WORLD I CAN BELIEVE IN
In the early 1930’s, British filmmaker John Grierson coined the term ”documentary” in order to describe the emerging genre of photography documenting reality. Since then, it has been a source of debate for photographers as well as scholars.
The photographer Joakim Eskildsen, born 1971 in Copenhagen, could be described as a documentary photographer, yet at the same time as a humanistic photographer. A pictorial poet who in ”A World I Can Believe In” describes ”reality” as he sees it in three series: Nordtegn, The Roma Journeys and Home Works. Strandverket regards Joakim Eskildsen, with his deeply human style of photography, as a worthy successor of the world-class photographers we have displayed since opening in 2012: Aron Jonason, Håkan Ludwigson, Christer Strömholm, Lennart Nilsson and Maria Miesenberger.
Now based in Berlin, Joakim Eskildsen recieved his education in photography in Helsinki at the Konstindustriella Högskolan (now Aalto University), under legendary pedagogue Timothy Persons’ firm tutoring. Joakim Eskildsen’s first extensive book project ”Nordtegn” (self-published in 1995) is an homage to the northern European landscape and the people who inhabit it. The project can be regarded as Eskildsen’s examination project from the demanding Finnish photography program. It was realised between the years 1989 and 1994, the result of many working trips to Norway, Scotland, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland and the Farrow Islands.
However, it was ”The Roma Journeys” (Steidl 2007) that marked Eskildsen’s big breakthrough and led to his worldwide recognition. Between the years 2000 and 2006, Joakim Eskildsen travelled along with the writer Cia Rinne through seven countries (Romania, Russia, Hungary, India, France, Greece and Finland) in an ambitious quest to capture the folk soul of the Romani and the significant vulnerability this discriminated ethnic group is subjected to, long before Romani beggars became a common sight in streets and squares all over Sweden. When the photo book was published, thick as a brick at 416 pages and including a heartfelt preface by Nobel Prize laureate Günter Grass (1927-2015), it was met by immediate success. For the first time, we as viewers were given the opportunity to experience Romani culture from the inside.
At the exhibition we are also presented to Joakim Eskildsen’s most recent photographic project, a project dealing with matters of the photographer’s own family. In Home Works we are invited to follow the early childhood years of Eskildsen’s son and, later, his daughter. It is a magical series of photographs which, through the gaze of Joakim Eskildsen, brings us back to the elusive land of childhood; to the balancing act of fantasy between fairytale and reality. Is it the children’s reality? The adults’ fairytale? Or do the photographs depict how adults wish reality to appear for the growing species?
These questions evoke associations to the history of photography. Eskildsen’s photograph Willow Tree (2012) is an explicit reference to W. Eugene Smith’s enchanting image Walk to Paradise Garden (1946). Other images in Home Works may be regarded as a Scandinavian variation of the theme in Sally Mann’s breakthrough work ”Immediate Family” (1992). With every generation, Joakim Eskildsen seems to suggest, humanity has a new opportunity to start fresh:
– For me it is important to believe in a better world, to believe in humanity and that everything has a meaning. This contemporary age is plagued by so many issues – war, diseases, poverty and ecological catastrophes – so to remain an optimist, discipline is required. I try to gather images that bring me hope and moments of magic.
Strandverket would like to thank Joakim Eskildsen for his outstanding commitment to make the exhibition ”A World I Can Believe In” into what it has become. We feel equal gratitude towards the exhibition’s guest curator Timothy Persons for his indefatigable efforts to create the perfect photography exhibition – and for his abiding achievement for primarily Finnish photography by introducing the globally recognised notion of The Helsinki School.
Strandverket Art Museum