The Nordic Dummy Award

Edited by: Siw Aldershvile Nielsen, Fotografisk Center

The Nordic Dummy Award is an initiative by Fotogalleriet and the Norwegian Association of Fine Art Photographers. It takes place annually in connection with the Fotobokfestival Oslo. Artists with a connection to the Nordic countries can submit their unpublished photo books to be judged by a jury that shortlists candidates and selects the winner.

The winning book will be published by Kehrer Verlag in collaboration with Fotogalleriet and launched at the Fotobokfestival Oslo in 2016. The shortlisted books and the winning book will be exhibited during the Fotobokfestival Oslo at Fotogalleriet in September 2015.

The nominated shortlist for 2015 were:

Gard Aukrust – Fjella (NO)

Nadja Bournonville – Blindfell (SE)

Tine Bek – Barok (DK)

Helga Härenstam – Sunshine & Shadow (SE)

Anni Hanen – Just small hiccups (FI)

Jóhannes Kjartansson – Rånebiler (IS/NO)

Karina-Sirkku Kurz – Ungleichgewicht (FI/DE)

Anni Leppäla (FI)

Anna Niskanen – Lustrum (FI)

Kaisa Rautaheimo – Good Boy (FI)

Johan Willner – Wind Upon the Face of Waters (SE)


The nominees will together with the winner be exhibited also in Sweden, Denmark and Finland:

24-27 September
Fotobok GBG 15
Gothenburg, Sweden

8-10 October 2015
Galleri Image
Aarhus, Denmark

15-25 October 2015
Fotografisk Center
Copenhagen, Denmark

5-7 November 2015
Northern Photographic Centre
Nordic Comic Festival
Oulu, Finland

Nordic Dummy Award winner 2014

In 2014 the finnish artist Iikka Tolonen won the Nordic Dummy Award with his project Härkälä. Härkälä is a book based on the documentation of a group of befriended »hell-raisers« in the suburbs of Helsinki. Härkälä is a photo-poetic story of the harsh world of men stepping out of the system to live their lives in their own way. The Härkälä guys used to make their living with self-made car repair shops and spent a lot of time drinking and having a wild time. Time has touched them with a sledgehammer but despite that they don’t give up. Härkälä, roughly translated as »oxville«, is an attempt to enter the reality of a social environment, which started as an innocent documentary project yet began to paint a picture of a kind of social isolation found in contemporary Finland.

After a year of production the book is fresh from the printer and so we sat down with Tolonen to ask him a few questions about his project:

FOTOGALLERIET, interview 4.9.2015

  1. Can you describe the images that one will get to discover through your new publication?

My book Härkälä is a trip to another reality behind the surface of the Finnish middle-class society. The images show fragments of the lives of a group of a few individuals living on their own outside the system. The story goes on from the early 1990s until today. In the beginning the focus is in hellraising and the drunken absurdity of their lifestyle. The guys hang around in a self-made car repair shop, in which some of them live and make their living as well. They make pranks, take road trips, the sun shines and the spirit is high. Time goes on and things change. Some of the guys settle down, others get seriously down on alcoholism, two of them die on the way. The images get rougher and the atmosphere gets darker by the end of the book. Härkälä is a work of pure documentary photography. All images are absolutely authentic, nothing has been staged or directed. 

  1. Can you tell me how you got to know the Härkälä guys?

Actually one of them Hara, the bearded guy who´s always wearing a jeans vest and a cap, is my first childhood friend. I learned to know him at the local playground when we were two or three years old. We were good friends from those days until the early teenage, when we were put to different schools and our ways separated. We lived in the same suburb though and I saw him every now and then until he moved up the country. The other main character Ese, the guy with the horse in the beginning of the book, is also a friend from the past. I got to know him sometime in the mid-1980s at a gas station in east Helsinki where I used to hang around. Me and my friends were totally enthusiastic about old American cars and motorcycles and that was the place where that kind of people used to go. Ese was a well-known character in those circles. He was called Crazy Ese due to his uneven personality and his rough behavior. He´d been a notorious “raggare” in Stockholm in the seventies and he was well respected due to that. Even though those guys were much older than us, we got along real well. Sometimes we were drinking beer and having a wild time with Ese and the guys. So in a way we were hanging around in the same circles. Other people in the book belong to the same societies with those two guys.

  1. In your book you describe Härkälä as the land where men are still men and where vodka runs free. Did your impression of this specific place change over the years?

Härkälä is a mental state, more of an imaginary land than an actual place. Literally it means something like Bullville in English. My impression of that changed a lot during the years. In the early 1990s when I started taking these photos it was completely different. Those guys used to drink a lot already then, some of them even more than today, but the spirit was high and energic. It wasn´t depressed at all but wild and crazy. They were full time pranksters and hellraisers, living more or less outside the law. There was a certain danger around those guys back then and they were really not the ones you´d want to mess with. The spirit of Härkälä has changed a lot towards more depressed and socially troubled way. The endless party happens only inside a smoky living room nowadays and it is real sad to see the guys drinking themselves to death. Of course it´s not the same with each one of them. For example Ese, who really was a heavy drinker, lives quite easy with his new family now. Another big thing is how I´ve changed over these years. Back then my lifestyle was not so much different from theirs, even though I was never such hardcore. By the time I started taking these pictures I lived at an old farm with a few friends, spent my time in motorcycle clubs, had wild times and drank too lot. Years have taken toll on me as well and I´ve lost a big share of the energy of the younger days as well. When I started working on the project again in 2013, it was amazingly hard to get into the spirit I had had in the earlier sessions. Staying awake overnights with the guys became hard work instead of having fun. I can see the changes in me when comparing the new images to the earlier material and I think it´s very interesting, at least to myself.

  1. What made you think that the book format would be suitable for this specific project?

I´ve always loved photo books. When I started studying photography a bit more seriously, I got in touch with classics like Robert Frank´s Americans, Anders Petersen´s Café Lehmitz and Larry Clark´s Tulsa. I remember being crazy about those books. They were like rock´n´roll to me, giving me a great inspiration. I see photo book as a great format to publish art photography, especially in these days of digital chaos and visual overdosing. A book gives you a chance to spend an intimate moment with the images in peace and quiet, not having to be disturbed by all kinds of digital noise. I think it´s just natural that Härkälä became a book and I´m very happy that it became real after all these years. I´m working on Härkälä exhibition right at the moment, so that´ll be the next step in the project.

  1. Could you say something about how the guys in your pictures have reacted to the images and this project? How do they feel about their lives being literally published?

Well, I can´t tell how they feel about being published, because they haven´t seen the final book yet, but I´m quite sure they´ll dig it. I think Härkälä has been a kind of an interactive art project, in which the guys have played a very active role during the whole process. I believe it´s been fun and something extraordinary for them to be involved in this. And it sure hasn´t been just shooting photos non-stop all the time, but also having a good time together sharing memories, telling stories and so on. I´ve showed a lot of images to them and we´ve talked quite much about them. I also asked their comments about a next to ready dummy of the book, so they know what there is to come. Certainly they think that some of the images are rough and there are many pictures showing moments that they don´t remember at all, but all of them are with me in this project and they think it has to be published. At one point they even offered to get some funding for the book but I had to reject that idea. Of course it will be different when they´ll see the real book and realize that their images will be in public and they might get spread all over the world, but I don´t believe it´ll cause any harm to them. And the project continues, so we might see Härkälä volume 2 someday.


All text and photos are copyright Fotogalleriet.

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