Review: The Place of No Roads by Ville Lenkkeri


Book Reviews, Photobooks

“The phone had rung and I had been offered an artist’s residency. I had hastily answered yes, going to stay in a small town in the Arctic for two months was what I wanted to do.”

Thus begins the 24 page introduction to The Place of No Roads, written by Ville Lenkkeri, the photographer. I will admit that with any photography book, I always skip the text to look at the images first, to then return to the text later. For once, I wish I had done it the other way around.

“My initial mental image of a place cut off from the rest of the world, and thus having a tightly knit community, crumbled quite quickly.”

I have come across a lot of talk about how what photographers have to say about their work in their statements is basically just some sort of art-speak nonsense or PR (or a combination of both). While occasionally that might certainly to be the case, usually it is not; and it certainly is not in the case of The Place of No Roads. On the surface, Ville’s text is a description of his travels to some small island somewhere at the Arctic circle where, depending on the season, the sun never or always shines. But it is more: It is also a meditation on what contemporary photography is, a meditation on how a photographer approaches a subject matter, to see ideas falling by the way side and new ones opening up. In a sense, the photographer’s trip was not over once he arrived at his location - it had actually just started.

“I thought carelessly […] that I would be better off denying having any influence on the appearance of the place, or having arranged any of the pictures, if the question arose later. This was after all to be the story of a true place. Only after some years did I awaken to see that truth is always subjective, and even if it was somewhat brushed up, it would still deserve its name. I took my pictures faithful to my vision, since representing the truth as it plainly appeared, ragged and messy as it was, would have been a lie. There surely is often more to the picture than meets the eye.”

What struck me about the introduction was that it could also stand on its own, without the photos. How often can you say that about a text from a photography book?

Ville’s text about his work opens up the work, which reveals a casual beauty and a depth that the casual viewer is sure to miss. The photography - a mix of still lifes, landscapes, and portraits - is very deadpan, and what it wants to convey does not jump at the viewer through a use of cheap gimmicks. The viewer will have to explore the images to see what is going on.

And just like Ville Lenkkeri’s trip up to the Arctic circle was a discovery, looking through The Place of No Roads is one for the viewer: For me, that is the essence of contemporary photography.

(All quotes taken from Ville Lenkkeri’s essay in the book)