Re-engaging with the Beauty of Nature

In 100 Hectares of Understanding, Finnish photographer Jaakko Kahilaniemi returns to a patch of land he has inherited, rediscovering a sense of belonging.

© Jaakko Kahilaniemi, from the series, 100 Hectares of Understanding

In 1997, an 8-year-old Jaakko inherited a small patch of land from his grandmother - 100 hectares of soil and forest a 30-mile drive from Tampere, a city in southern Finland between Näsijärvi and Pyhäjärvi Lakes.

In Finland, the forest is more than a scenic stretch of shrubs, trunks and foliage: the most densely forested country in Europe, with nearly two-thirds of the soil covered by thick woodlands - about 23 million hectares - its coniferous taiga forests are an emblem of Finnish topography and culture.

Now with 100 hectares under his soles, Jaakko Kahilaniemi obtained a plot he could claim as his own. But what does it mean to possess land? Kahilaniemi calls the concept of owning nature “absurd” – does it include the air above the ground? And the birds and insects flitting by? Uninterested in a career as a forester like his father and grandfather, Kahilaniemi eventually returned to nature with 100 Hectares of Understanding, and started exploring this space of his, documenting this new sentiment through a study of the landscape and its earthly elements as seen through his lens.

© Jaakko Kahilaniemi, from the series, 100 Hectares of Understanding

Descended from generations of foresters, Kahilaniemi soon nurtured the desire to break free from the tradition. Following his artistic disposition, instead, he pursued photographic studies in high school and later in college in Helsinki. However, in Finland, the land and its roots are never left behind for long.

In 2015, Kahilaniemi began a photography project that brought him back to his own terrain, considering the past of this space, planting seedlings, farming it, drawing through photography imaginary lines of comprehension between the past and future, both somehow present in the dirt. A sense of confusion takes over at times, his artistic mindset distancing him from his kin of foresters, but a new relationship with nature is also established. In “Family Re-Union,” two jumbles of pine needles from the present and past are photographed as opposing circles. Kahilaniemi felt himself emerging, he says, from beneath the spiny green foliage.

© Jaakko Kahilaniemi, from the series, 100 Hectares of Understanding

Red circles dot the landscape in a black-and-white image – “tree-stamps” drawing a territorial map of extirpated trees. “100 Mistakes Made by Previous Generations” – as the photo is titled – is Kahilaniemi’s response to the unregulated clear-cuttings that are running rampant without any plan for sustainability. As his countermeasure, “100 Planted Saviours of the Heritage” gives back to the territory – red lines rise where Kahilaniemi has planted new seedlings himself, after meticulously measuring their weight and height. “I felt like the seedlings are somehow like my babies,” he says, “and that was why I wanted to measure them.”

This new awareness of the territory also led Kahilaniemi to rethink issues related to the environment, climate change, the impact on nature’s circle of life. Art, as it is apt to do, nudges at social and environmental issues. In one study of a small toy tree reflected by a mirror, the irradiant surface speaks of a dimension of reality and simulation, prompting us to question how the environment will look in the future: maybe differently than what we have imagined? Maybe something not yet imaginable?

© Jaakko Kahilaniemi, from the series, 100 Hectares of Understanding

Suddenly, 100 Hectares of Understanding becomes 100 hectares of soil and trees upon which we can learn; 100 reasons to reflect on the tradition and destiny of forests; 100 ways to interpret the passage of time. After his initial disengagement from nature, Kahilaniemi returns to his land to reconsider the past, evaluate its consequences, and embrace the earth, part of a landscape that remains a backdrop for too much of our lives yet informs our sense of identity.

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Jaakko Kahilaniemi is a Finnish freelance photographer specialising in documentary-based essays, portraiture, commercial and editorial photoshoots, and photo-based illustrations. In his work, he attempts to understand the world around him and the impacts of human activities on the surroundings. Follow him on PHmuseum and Instagram.

Lucia De Stefani is a multimedia reporter focusing on photography, illustration, culture, and everything teens. She lives between New York and Italy. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

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This article is part of the series New Generation, a monthly column written by Lucia De Stefani, focusing on the most interesting emerging talents in our community.

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