The series Autuas Aina – Photographs of Finnish Schools consists of 75 colour photographs, shot in 24 schools all around Finland. The images focus on the spaces, the details, and the marks that remain once the people are gone. Architecture and spaces affect us. By spending year after year in these environments, we allow them to leave their mark on us. In these images the spaces themselves are cast in the leading role, but the story they tell is nonetheless a story about people.
Experiences are always linked to spaces. Things happen somewhere. When I think about an event in my life I automatically assign it to the corresponding space. I probably can’t remember every detail in the room or even the general layout, but some key elements from the space have found themselves into my memory. Every one of my memories possesses a spatial aspect. The event and the space in which it took place are inseparable.
When we talk about photographs and schools, we essentially talk about memories. For many of us, school is something that exists only in our memories. Schools are not often photographed apart from being backdrops for class pictures. When we think about our school years our memory has to work without the helpful assistance of photographs. A photograph is always the past, something that has been. It can function as an aide-mémoire or a mirror, but it can also lead us astray by creating false memories. Its meanings are not set in stone, but bend and shift according to the viewer. This is one of its most attractive features. Each viewer always sees the photograph from a different standpoint, the view affected by personal experiences and memories.
The schools pictured in this book are for children between 7 and 16 years old, which is the compulsory amount of education in Finland. Being compulsory, these schools form a part of everyone’s personal history. Each of us has their own perception of what a school looks like, what it smells and sounds like. We can trace back the feeling of the wood grain on the top of the desk and can be overtaken by strong emotions if we get a chance to visit the spaces years later. These images were created in an attempt to access those emotions, but also to find out whether something interesting, surprising, or even beautiful could be found in a space as seemingly dull as a school.
Finland is a leading country when it comes to quality of education. Finnish teachers travel around the world to share their expertise and foreign delegations make frequent visits to Finnish educational establishments with hopes of tapping into what makes them so successful. These images form a portrait of this mundane, but at the same time vibrant and colourful institution. They are an attempt to preserve and document these changing environments, while also focusing on the marks and changes left in the spaces by each generation trying to make the spaces their own.
The title refers to the Finnish proverb ”Opin sauna, autuas aina”, which very roughly translates as ”Sauna of education, eternal elation”. When I was a child my father always used to say it with a sigh filled with sarcastic pathos as we drove past his old elementary school on our way to our grandmother’s house. Schools are saturated with our memories, both good and bad. Like a sauna, they tend to carry elements of both bliss and pain.