The Helsinki School

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The Helsinki School Logo 1.jpg

The Helsinki School was a name introduced in an article by Boris Hohmeyer, Aufbruch im hohen Norden (Breakthrough in the Far North), in art Das Kunstmagazin in 2003.[1] This was the first time it was used as a brand name to describe a selection of artists who had studied under adjunct professor Timothy Persons at Aalto University School of Arts, Architecture and Design in Helsinki from the beginning of 1990s until now.[2]

It was based upon a Professional Studies program that used its academic platform to create an environment that blended its teachers, students and former graduates together in a contextual dialogue through group exhibitions, publications and the utilisation of the international art fairs as a means for teaching, referencing and presenting these artists’ works to the international community.[1]


Pentti Sammallahti and Arno Rafael Minkkinen were the original mentors who inspired the first generation of artists like Jorma Puranen, Ulla Jokisalo and Timo Kelaranta.[2]

The next generation would already be composed by artists like such as Jyrki Parantainen, Marjaana Kella, Pertti Kekarainen, Joakim Eskildsen, Ilkka Halso, Tiina Itkonen, Elina Brotherus, Aino Kannisto, Ola Kolehmainen, Janne Lehtinen, Sanna Kannisto and Riitta Päiväläinen.

The third generation: Sandra Kantanen, Ari Kakkinen, Niko Luoma, Santeri Tuori and Jari Silomäki.

The fourth generation: Ville Lenkkeri, Anni Leppälä, Susanna Majuri, Mikko Sinervo, Nelli Palomäki, Milja Laurila, Niina Vatanen, Eeva Karhu.

Fifth generation: Tanja Koljonen, Juuso Noronkoski, Mikko Rikala.

Sixth generation: Ville Kumpulainen, Jaakko Kahilaniemi, Hilla Kurki, Rainer Paananen.


The Helsinki School follows other of two key photographic movements: The New American Color Photography which established color photography as an important artistic medium, beginning with the William Eggleston exhibition at the MoMA in New York in 1976. And the Düsseldorf School, which emerged in the late 1970s under the guidance of Bernd and Hilla Becher, followers of the 1920s German tradition of Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity). Their students, Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer, Thomas Ruff and Thomas Struth modified the approach by applying new technical possibilities and contemporary vision. These movements combined with the influence of the Icelandic minimalism and artists like Donald Judd, played a pivotal role in understanding the roots of the Helsinki School.[1]

The Helsinki School was based upon a Professional Studies program that was unique in how it used its academic platform to create an environment that blended its teachers, students and former graduates together in a contextual dialogue through group exhibitions, publications and the utilisation of the international art fairs as a means for teaching, referencing and presenting these artists’ works to the international community. It's grounded on an approach that introduces the students in how to use criticism as a positive tool. This places the emphasis more on how to find solutions rather than the fear of making mistakes. Due to financial restrictions, common to many universities, Aalto has conceived a system where students teach each other through their shared experiences. A good example of this is in Aalto’s intern program of sending selected students abroad to work in residencies, galleries and other professional platforms.[2]

Gallery Taik Persons (currently Persons Project) was conceived as the vehicle to join all these generations together. The gallery was established in 1995 in Helsinki, however, since 2005 its permanent exhibition space has been located in Berlin. Its primary responsibility is to prepare and guide the students in how to manage their professional life.[3]

Defining traits[edit]

The Helsinki School’s defining trait is the use of the photographic process as a tool for conceptual thinking. It was founded in 1995 in Helsinki and is to this day directed by Adjunct Professor Timothy Persons, who also created Persons Projects (former Gallery Taik Persons) based in Berlin.[4]

"There is a clarity of vision that seems to come out of the late evening northern summer light. The conceptual base is lucidly presented. There is an honesty and sincerity behind the work that is rare to find among a group of artists, (…) the borderland discourse, which touches the very idea of identity. Many Helsinki School pictures bear signs of Finnish culture, unconscious or not, meanings related to nature and remoteness. This is quite natural in a country so sparsely populated. These photographs seem to be presentations of artists who sink with themselves." His verdict diverges from mine, however, in that he says, "Their photographs seem to be covering something, preferably hiding and hinting than saying anything direct. Yes, there is ambiguity, yes there is a Northern loneliness, but it speaks very directly. There is a sense of isolation in the way several of the artists express their identity. Instead of direct contact with somebody in the picture, photographs became full of landscapes, empty spaces, and figures somewhere in distance."[5]


The Helsinki School platform sustains a direct link to its former alumni by joining their works with each new generation of graduates through the publication of The Helsinki School books by Hatje Cantz, that is currently in its 6th volume.[6] The first book under the brand name of the Helsinki School was published in 2005.

  • The Helsinki School Vol. 2 New Photography by Taik in 2007
  • The Helsinki School Vol. 3 Young Photography by Taik in 2009
  • The Helsinki School Vol. 4 A Female View in 2011
  • The Helsinki School Vol. 5 From the Past to the Future in 2014
  • The Helsinki School Vol. 6 The Nature of Being in 2019

Selected exhibitions[edit]

  • Gallery TaiK. Me, Myself and I: 20 Perspectives Mixed Media, 1998, Bensow House, Helsinki, Finland
  • Tila/Espaces, 24 November 1999 – 9 January 2000, Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris, France
  • Finnish Photograph, 2000, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki, Finland
  • fotoFINLANDIA!, 2001, Fotografisk Center, Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Magnetic North, 27 September — 18 November 2001, The New Art Gallery Walsall, UK
  • Northern Spell. An Exhibition of Finnish Installation Photography, 7 May – 22 June 2002, University of Toronto Art Centre, Toronto, Canada
  • Northern Spell, 2002, The Embassy of Finland, Washington DC, USA
  • Fünf Positionen Finnischer Fotografie, 9 February – 6 April 2003, Kunstverein Arnsberg, Germany
  • Fünf Positionen Finnischer Fotografie, 21 February – 4 April 2003, Kunstverein Schwerte, Germany
  • The Helsinki School - Photography by TaiK, 2004, Galleri Bo Bjerggaard, Copenhagen, Denmark
  • The Helsinki School, 23 April – 6 June 2004, Brandts Museet for Fotokunst, Odense, Denmark
  • 30 by TaiK - The Helsinki School, 5 May – 15 August 2004, The Finnish Museum of Photography, Helsinki, Finland
  • Finnish Versions - The Helsinki School, 25 February – 10 April 2005, CFF (Centrum för fotografi), Stockholm, Sweden
  • Personligt / Personally - Photographs from The Helsinki School, 26 February – 2 April 2005, Kulturhuset, Stockholm, Sweden
  • 4th Generation – The Helsinki School, 2005, PPS Medienbunker, Hamburg, Germany
  • The Helsinki School – A New Approach, 16 September – 23 October 2005, Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin
  • The Helsinki School, 25 November 2005 – 21 January 2006, Photology Gallery, Milan, Italy
  • The Helsinki School - Finnish Photography from the 21st Century, 8 July – 10 September 2006, Hôtel de Ville de Bruxelles, Brussels, Belgium
  • Dialog – The Helsinki School, 6 September – 29 October 2006, Langhans Galerie, Prague, Czech Republic
  • Vad är fotografi? The Helsinki School, 23 September – 26 November 2006, Borås Konstmuseum, Borås, Sweden
  • Nordic Cut – The Helsinki School of Photography, 19 October – 12 November 2006, Art Pavilion, Zagreb, Croatia
  • The Helsinki School of Photography, 8 February – 29 April 2007, Stenersen Museum, Oslo, Norway
  • The Helsinki School – Photography by TaiK, 23 March – 21 April 2007, Purdy Hicks Gallery, London
  • Finnische Fotografie, 29 April – 17 June 2007, Ludwig Museum, Koblenz, Germany
  • New Photography from TaiK, 30 May – 26 August 2007, The Finnish Photography Museum, Helsinki, Finland
  • Mapping the Unknown - Fotografie aus Finnland, 19 August – 30 September 2007, Overbeck-Gesellschaft Kunstverein Lübeck, Germany
  • Rose Boréal - Photographies de l’École d’Helsinki, 1 April – 11 May 2008, École des Beaux-Arts, Paris, France
  • Helsinki By Night. Fotografie und Videokunst aus Finnland, 5 April – 11 May 2008, Gallery TaiK (now Persons Projects), Berlin, Germany
  • Rose Boréal - Photographies de l’École d’Helsinki, 23 October 2008 – 11 January 2009, The Palais des Beaux-Arts of Lille, France
  • Ecole dʼ Helsinki: dialogue entre 4 générations / Helsinki School: dialogue between 4 generations, 6 November – 6 December 2008, Galerie Baudoin Lebon, Paris, France
  • On Top of the Iceberg / Auf der Spitze des Eisbergs – Neue Fotografie aus Finnland, 31 January – 25 May 2009, Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Germany
  • Photography Matters: The Helsinki School, Statoil Collection, Oslo, Norway
  • Helsinki School Photography – Internal and External Landscape, 27 June – 9 August 2009, Shiseido Gallery, Tokyo, Japan
  • Helsinki School – New Art Photography from Finland, 12 September – 12 October 2009, Loft Project ETAGI, St. Petersburg, Russia
  • Helsinki School - Photography and Video NOW, 24 February – 23 May 2010, Meilahti Art Museum, Helsinki, Finland
  • The Helsinki School – Seven Approaches, 2 March – 3 April 2010, Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery, New York, USA
  • Helsinki10. Contemporary Photography and Video from The Helsinki School in the Statoil Art Collection, 20 April – 27 July 2010, Rogaland Art Museum, Stavanger, Norway
  • The Helsinki School at Daegu Photo Biennale: tru(E)motion, 30 September – 24 October 2010, Daegu Culture & Art Center, Bongsan Culture Center, South Korea
  • Touching Dreams – Helsinki School vol. 3, 13 May – 27 August 2011, Det Nationale Fotomuseum, Copenhagen, Denmark
  • The Helsinki School – A Female View, 23 June – 23 July 2011, Purdy Hicks London, UK
  • Helsinki School, 8 July – 22 October 2011, Christophe Guye Galerie, Zurich, Switzerland
  • The Helsinki School - A Female View, 29 October 2011 – 7 January 2012, FOTO-RAUM, Vienna, Austria
  • Helsinki Abstract, 27 January – 17 May 2012, Gallery Nikolaus Ruzicska, Salzburg, Austria
  • NordLichtBilder – Vier junge Positionen der Helsinki School, 11 March – 6 May 2012, Kunstverein Augsburg e.V., Holbeinhaus, Augsburg, Germany
  • At the End of the Rainbow - Helsinki School, 17 January – 3 March 2013, Nordic Embassies, Berlin, Germany
  • New Wave Finland: Contemporary Photography from the Helsinki School, 24 January – 6 April 2013, Scandinavia House, New York, USA
  • At the End of the Rainbow - Helsinki School, 17 January – 3 March 2013, Nordic Embassies, Berlin
  • Helsinki School of Photography in Istanbul, 29 May – 6 September 2014, Gallery x-ist Istanbul, Turkey
  • Displacement, 14 March – 25 April 2015, Gallery Taik Persons (now Persons Projects), Berlin, Germany
  • “I plunge into black holes and emerge intact.”, 27 June – 12 September 2015, Gallery Taik Persons (now Persons Projects), Berlin, Germany
  • Marked Sites, 21 January – 11 March 2017, Gallery Taik Persons (now Persons Projects), Berlin, Germany
  • The Helsinki School at Landskrona Foto Festival, 8 – 17 September 2017, Landskrona Museum, Landskrona, Sweden
  • Reflections: From Here to There, 30 June – 8 September 2018, Gallery Taik Persons (now Persons Projects), Berlin, Germany
  • Cyclic Repetitions, 24 November 2018 – 16 February 2019, Gallery Taik Persons (now Persons Projects), Berlin, Germany
  • Abstractions, 26 October – 16 November 2019, Persons Projects, Berlin, Germany
  • A Fresh Breeze from The North! Images of Nature in the Helsinki School, 26 January – 26 July 2020, Kunsthalle St. Annen, Lübeck, Germany
  • A Kiss Given by Time to Light, 23 May – 25 June 2020, Persons Projects, Berlin, Germany
  • The Helsinki School: The Nature of Being, 27 June – 5 September 2020, Persons Projects, Berlin, Germany[7][8]


  1. ^ a b c Hohmeyer, Boris. "Aufbruch im hohen Norden". art. Das Kunstmagazin. 09/03: 18ff.
  2. ^ a b c "History | Helsinki School". Retrieved 21 July 2020.
  3. ^ "About | Persons Projects". Retrieved 21 July 2020.
  4. ^ "Timothy Persons - Der Greif | Guest-Room". Retrieved 21 July 2020.
  5. ^ Alistair Hicks, The Helsinki School Vol. 5 p. 22
  6. ^ "The Helsinki School | Fotografie / Hatje Cantz Verlag". Retrieved 21 July 2020.
  7. ^ "Group Exhibitions | Helsinki School". Retrieved 21 July 2020.
  8. ^, Grupa Łukasz Piec-. "The Helsinki School – The Nature of Being". Helsinki School / Person Projects. Retrieved 10 July 2020.

External links[edit]