A wanderer’s world in sparkling silver
It was a snowy day when I went to see Finnish photographer Pentti Sammallahti’s exhibition “Here Far Away” at Gallery Kong. On any other day, the snow would have been unwelcome, but as a backdrop to Sammallahti’s work, it was perfect. Pentti Sammallahti prides himself as a master craftsman, working without an assistant during his long photography career and focusing on innovative printing techniques. His favorite is gelatin silver printing, a method that was widely used during the late 19th and early 20th centuries to develop black and white photographs using gelatin and silver salts. Albeit more difficult to process, gelatin silver printing gave Sammallahti the freedom to control the grain size and distribution as well as light exposure for the perfect tones of gray. This exhibition is made up of photos selected from his prolific collection taken from1970 to 2014. The photos capture scenes from all over the globe, including his birthplace of Finland, as well as Russia, England, Italy, Bulgaria, Japan and Nepal. Subjects also vary widely from animals and nature to human beings. Sammallahti appropriately describes himself as a wanderer and lover of nature who takes a particular interest in the relationships between living creatures and their environments, a theme oft-repeated in his photographs. The highlight of this collection is the series titled “The Russian Way,” which captures what a thousand words couldn’t— the traces of sparkling white snow the wind left behind and a boy and dog playing and running around a frozen tree on the snow-covered ground. The repetition of these scenes creates the illusion of movement and you can almost hear the subjects breathe in the square frames. Slight traces of his unique developing methods can be found scattered throughout the photographs, adding to their mysterious and romantic allure. Like all great art, Sammallahti’s photographs can’t be fully appreciated unless seen in the flesh, which is why this exhibit is worth a visit. Go to feel like you’ve stepped into a different world, a cold Northern European landscape that is still strangely evocative of a comforting feeling like a childhood memory. Although it’s Sammallahti’s first exhibition in Korea, I predict this won’t be the last.
— Harry Jun (Design journalist)