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 the University of Art & Design in Espoo from the beginning of 1990s (since 2010 Aalto University, School of Arts, Design & Architecture). So far, with over a 180 international publications, the Helsinki School represents a collaborative approach, where students of photography, not only work together by presenting each other's works but, exhibit with their professors, mentors and former alumni in a joint effort to share in mutual contextual dialogue that uses the photographic process as a tool for thinking.[1]


In the beginning of the 1990s the University of Art & Design Helsinki (since 2010 part of the new Aalto University), Finland, embarked upon an educational experiment that challenged and initiated new approaches in teaching and preparing soon to be MA graduates for their professional careers. Yrjö Sotamaa the then acting Rector of the University, envisioned a program that would offer as well as create a different set of measurements in how one would evaluate graduating MA students. Led by the adjunct professor Timothy Persons and a group of his academic colleagues, Jorma Puranen [Wikidata], Ulla Jokisalo [Wikidata] and Timo Kelaranta [Wikidata], and Jyrki Parantainen, they adapted an Open Studio approach in how to teach through an emphasis on content, collaboration and experimental exercises. Timothy Persons who had done his graduate studies in Southern California during the 1970's at the Claremont Graduate University, was a recipient of that Open Studio ideology that was being championed by John Baldessari at CalArts and its sister school in Claremont at the time. Persons through his Professional Studies Program, built upon this Southern California model, by taking the class out of the classroom and into the various international art venues as means for experimenting, teaching, referencing and experiencing the realities of what a professional career demanded. This was realised through the creation of a virtual gallery known as Gallery TaiK, now Persons Projects. By joining all these generations together, it became the vehicle used by the Helsinki School artists to present their works on an international level through its participation in art fairs, publications, Pop-Up exhibitions and museum shows. 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. To this day it is directed by adjunct Professor Timothy Persons and Asia Żak Persons.[2]

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 is 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. As a world-leading university in the field of Art & Design, Aalto University School of Arts, Design & Architecture supports and encourages the use of contemporary pedagogical methods including collaborative knowledge building and co-design in which students may also teach and learn from each other through their shared experiences. A good example of this is in internship programs in which selected students travel abroad to work in residencies, galleries and other professional platforms.[3]


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's defining trait is the use of the photographic process as a tool for conceptual thinking.[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. (...) 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] - Alistair Hicks (2014)



Pentti Sammallahti and Arno Rafael Minkkinen were the original mentors who inspired the first generation of artists like Jorma Puranen [Wikidata], Ulla Jokisalo [Wikidata] and Timo Kelaranta [Wikidata].[3]

The next generations include artists such as Jyrki Parantainen, Marjaana Kella, Pertti Kekarainen [Wikidata], Joakim Eskildsen, Ilkka Halso [Wikidata], Tiina Itkonen [Wikidata], Elina Brotherus, Aino Kannisto, Ola Kolehmainen, Santeri Tuori [Wikidata], Niko Luoma [Wikidata], Sanna Kannisto [Wikidata], Ville Lenkkeri [Wikidata], and Jari Silomäki.[6]

Group exhibitions[edit]



  • Female Positions from the Helsinki School, 27 August – 1 September 2020, Fotografisk Center, Copenhagen, Denmark
  • The Helsinki School: The Nature of Being, 27 June – 5 September 2020, Persons Projects, Berlin, Germany[8]
  • A Kiss Given by Time to Light, 23 May – 25 June 2020, Persons Projects, Berlin, Germany
  • Nurture, Nature, 13 March – 19 June 2020, David Behning Galerie, Düsseldorf, Germany
  • A Fresh Breeze from The North! Images of Nature in the Helsinki School, 26 January – 26 July 2020, Kunsthalle St. Annen, Lübeck, Germany


  • Tree Time, 29 October 2019 – 23 February 2020, Museo Nazionale della Montagna "Duca degli Abruzzi" CAI Torino, Italy
  • Abstractions, 26 October – 16 November 2019, Persons Projects, Berlin, Germany
  • Power of the Image: The 7th China International Digital Photography Art Exhibition, 10 September – 7 October 2019, Datong Festival, Lishui, China
  • Grenzgang Fotokunst: 11. Wiesbadener Fototage 2019, 17 August – 1 September 2019, Wiesbaden, Germany
  • An der Nordkante. Der Mensch in der finnischen Gegenwartskunst, 2 March – 26 May, Stadtgalerie Kiel


  • Cyclic Repetitions, 24 November 2018 – 16 February 2019, Gallery Taik Persons (now Persons Projects), Berlin, Germany
  • Considering Finland, 10 November 2018 – 13 January 2019, Kunstverein Ludwigshafen, Germany
  • On Disappearance and Appearance — The Ephemeral in Photography, 30 June – 9 September, Alfred Ehrhardt Stiftung, Berlin, Germany
  • Reflections: From Here to There, 30 June – 8 September 2018, Gallery Taik Persons (now Persons Projects), Berlin, Germany
  • New Territory: Landscape Photography Today, 24 June – 16 September 2018, Denver Art Museum, Denver, USA
  • The Log Lady, 9 June – 12 August 2018, Fotografisk Center, Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Landscapes the Masters of a Finnish School, 7 April – 10 June 2018, part of Lumières Nordiques, Aabbaye de Jumièges, France


  • Vision of Nature, 13 September 2017 – 18 February 2018, Kunsthaus Wien, Vienna, Austria
  • The Helsinki School at Landskrona Foto Festival, 8 – 17 September 2017, Landskrona Museum, Landskrona, Sweden
  • Lichtblicke | Zeitgenössische finnische Fotografie, 3 September – 22 October 2017, Kunstverein KunstHaus Potsdam, Germany
  • Five Finnish Photographers, 10 March – 3 April, Purdy Hicks Gallery, London, United Kingdom
  • Marked Sites, 21 January – 11 March 2017, 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
  • Displacement, 14 March – 25 April 2015, Gallery Taik Persons (now Persons Projects), Berlin, Germany


  • Helsinki School of Photography in Istanbul, 29 May – 6 September 2014, Gallery x-ist Istanbul, Turkey
  • Nine Nameless Mountains, 9 May – 18 July, Monopol Gallery, Warsaw, Poland


  • 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, Germany


  • NordLichtBilder – Vier junge Positionen der Helsinki School, 11 March – 6 May 2012, Kunstverein Augsburg e.V., Holbeinhaus, Augsburg, Germany
  • Helsinki Abstract, 27 January – 17 May 2012, Gallery Nikolaus Ruzicska, Salzburg, Austria


  • The Helsinki School - A Female View, 29 October 2011 – 7 January 2012, FOTO-RAUM, Vienna, Austria
  • Helsinki School, 8 July – 22 October 2011, Christophe Guye Galerie, Zurich, Switzerland
  • The Helsinki School – A Female View, 23 June – 23 July 2011, Purdy Hicks London, United Kingdom
  • Touching Dreams – Helsinki School Vol. 3, 13 May– 27 August 2011, Det Nationale Fotomuseum, Copenhagen, Denmark


  • The Helsinki School at Daegu Photo Biennale: tru(E)motion, 30 September – 24 October 2010, Daegu Culture & Art Center, Bongsan Culture Center, South Korea
  • 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 – Seven Approaches, 2 March – 3 April 2010, Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery, New York, USA
  • Helsinki School - Photography and Video NOW, 24 February – 23 May 2010, Meilahti Art Museum, Helsinki, Finland


  • Photography Matters: The Helsinki School, 1 October 2009 – 1 February 2010, Statoil Collection, Oslo, Norway
  • Helsinki School – New Art Photography from Finland, 12 September – 12 October 2009, Loft Project ETAGI, St. Petersburg, Russia
  • Helsinki School Photography – Internal and External Landscape, 27 June – 9 August 2009, Shiseido Gallery, Tokyo, Japan
  • On Top of the Iceberg / Auf der Spitze des Eisbergs – Neue Fotografie aus Finnland, 31 January – 25 May 2009, Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Germany


  • Ecole dʼ Helsinki: dialogue entre 4 générations / Helsinki School: dialogue between 4 generations, 6 November – 6 December 2008, Galerie Baudoin Lebon, Paris, France
  • Rose Boréal - Photographies de l'École d'Helsinki, 23 October 2008 – 11 January 2009, The Palais des Beaux-Arts of Lille, 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, 1 April – 11 May 2008, École des Beaux-Arts, Paris, France


  • Mapping the Unknown - Fotografie aus Finnland, 19 August – 30 September 2007, Overbeck-Gesellschaft Kunstverein Lübeck, Lübeck, Germany
  • New Photography from TaiK, 30 May – 26 August 2007, The Finnish Photography Museum, Helsinki, Finland
  • Finnische Fotografie, 29 April – 17 June 2007, Ludwig Museum, Koblenz, Germany
  • The Helsinki School – Photography by TaiK, 23 March – 21 April 2007, Purdy Hicks Gallery, London, United Kingdom
  • The Helsinki School of Photography, 8 February – 29 April 2007, Stenersen Museum, Oslo, Norway


  • Nordic Cut – The Helsinki School of Photography, 19 October – 12 November 2006, Art Pavilion, Zagreb, Croatia
  • Vad är fotografi? The Helsinki School, 23 September – 26 November 2006, Borås Konstmuseum, Borås, Sweden
  • Dialog – The Helsinki School, 6 September – 29 October 2006, Langhans Galerie, Prague, Czech Republic
  • The Helsinki School - Finnish Photography from the 21st Century, 8 July – 10 September 2006, Hôtel de Ville de Bruxelles, Brussels, Belgium


  • The Helsinki School, 25 November 2005 – 21 January 2006, Photology Gallery, Milan, Italy
  • Die Vierte Generation – The Helsinki School, 29 September – 3 October 2005, Art Forum Berlin, Berlin, Germany
  • The Helsinki School – A New Approach, 16 September – 23 October 2005, Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin, Germany
  • Die Vierte Generation – The Helsinki School, 19 May – 19 June 2005, PPS Galerie, Hamburg, Germany
  • Personligt / Personally - Photographs from The Helsinki School, 26 February – 2 April 2005, Kulturhuset, Stockholm, Sweden
  • Finnish Versions - The Helsinki School, 25 February – 10 April 2005, CFF (Centrum för fotografi), Stockholm, Sweden


  • 30 by TaiK - The Helsinki School, 5 May – 15 August 2004, The Finnish Museum of Photography, Helsinki, Finland
  • The Helsinki School, 23 April – 6 June 2004, Brandts Museet for Fotokunst, Odense, Denmark
  • The Helsinki School - Photography by TaiK, 2004, Galleri Bo Bjerggaard, Copenhagen, Denmark


  • Fünf Positionen Finnischer Fotografie, 21 February – 4 April 2003, Kunstverein Schwerte, Germany
  • Fünf Positionen Finnischer Fotografie, 9 February – 6 April 2003, Kunstverein Arnsberg, Germany


  • Northern Spell. An Exhibition of Finnish Installation Photography, 7 May – 22 June 2002, University of Toronto Art Centre, Toronto, Canada
  • Northern Spell: Contemporary Finnish Photography, – 21 April 2002, The Embassy of Finland, Washington DC, USA


  • Magnetic North, 27 September — 18 November 2001, The New Art Gallery Walsall, United Kingdom
  • fotoFINLANDIA!, 2001, Fotografisk Center, Copenhagen, Denmark


  • Finnish Photograph, 2000, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki, Finland


  • Tila/Espaces, 24 November 1999 – 9 January 2000, Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris, France


  • Gallery TaiK. Me, Myself and I: 20 Perspectives Mixed Media, 1998, Bensow House, Helsinki, Finland


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.[9] The first book under the brand name of the Helsinki School was published in 2005.

  • The Helsinki School Vol. 1: Photography by TaiK, 2005[10]
  • The Helsinki School Vol. 2: New Photography by TaiK, 2007[11]
  • The Helsinki School Vol. 3: Young Photography by TaiK, 2009[12]
  • The Helsinki School Vol. 4: A Female View, 2011[13]
  • The Helsinki School Vol. 5: From the Past to the Future, 2014[14]
  • The Helsinki School Vol. 6: The Nature of Being, 2019[9]


  1. ^ a b c Hohmeyer, Boris. "Aufbruch im hohen Norden". art. Das Kunstmagazin. 09/03: 18ff.
  2. ^ "About | Persons Projects". Retrieved 21 July 2020.
  3. ^ a b "History | Helsinki School". 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. ^ a b "Artists | Helsinki School".
  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.
  9. ^ a b "Hatje Cantz | The Helsinki School Vol. 6".
  10. ^ "Hatje Cantz | The Helsinki School Vol. 1".
  11. ^ "Hatje Cantz | The Helsinki School Vol. 2".
  12. ^ "Hatje Cantz | The Helsinki School Vol. 3".
  13. ^ "Hatje Cantz | The Helsinki School Vol. 4".
  14. ^ "Hatje Cantz | The Helsinki School Vol. 5".

External links[edit]