Helsinki (1947) born Juhani Seppovaara is active in many creative areas. The photographer, videographer, writer and journalist belongs to the Berlin creative scene as much as the TV Tower belongs on the Berlin skyline. For over 30 years he has been documenting the landscapes and culture with his camera, leaving unique reports of a creatives’ view not only on Berlin, but also many other places. Juhani has published 20 photographybooks, of which some have been translated into English, French or German. Besides Finland, his photographs have been on display in Paris, Madrid, Berlin, and St. Petersburg. Meet the person behind the documentary about the Berlin café Kohlenquelle!
What fascinates you about photography? Was it always clear to you, that you would be a photographer?
The thing I love the most is probably that photography teaches one to observe the world from a visual point of view, regardless of the camera. I have been cruising around a lot in Finland taking “Kaurismäki – style” pictures of abandoned provincial regions. It is very rewarding to be able to leave behind signs in this world – by doing something that you love. All the books, that contain those pictures of mine, are memorials that go back to peasantry, Finland and its nature. I’ve always been writing and taking photographs. Becoming a photographer and writer has been my dream for a very long time. But it only came true after I left my daily job as an economist at the Bank of Finland in the middle of the 90s.
You are probably the most settled northern European creative in Berlin that I know of. What do you find so adorable about this city?
In the 80s I ended up in Berlin almost by chance. The city is open, curious, and green. Many of its places are at the same time so village-like that one might forget one is actually living in a big city. It bears some sort of village life anonymity – something that you cannot find in a real village of course.
Your documentations show Berlin in so many different periods. You have seen the city in states many people don’t even know about. How do you experience those changes?
My own neighborhood in Prenzlauer Berg is quite different now from what it used to be in the 80s GDR. Back then there were only a couple of cafes and bars at Lychener Straße. Now there are over 30 of them. But on the other hand life was much more ascetic in a good way in general back then.
Do you ever get nostalgic?
The atmosphere of 80s east-Berlin reminded me of my childhood in Helsinki in the 50s. Dark and quiet streets, coal-burning stoves, old eastern cars, commercial paucity and endearing compositions in the shop windows. These childhood memories do make me nostalgic.
What do you miss?
I miss cross-country skiing through the forest, beach sauna, and probably the mild heat of smoke sauna.
What recommendations do you have for creative new-Berliners?
Learn the German language immediately: it is cultural imperialism to be living for years hermetically in Berlin – speaking only English. Find your own Berlin and get to know yourself better through that.
Visit the website of Juhani Seppovaara to see more pictures of 80s east-Berlin: www.juhaniseppovaara.fi
Interview: Victoria Trunova
Editing: James Hudson