Focus Finland – 3 x Aho & Soldan
Liljevalchs’ summer exhibition presents Finnish photography from the 1920s to the 1960s, featuring three pioneers of photography and documentary film from the same cultural family: Heikki Aho, Björn Soldan and Heikki’s daughter Claire Aho.
Heikki Aho (1895–1961) and Björn Soldan (1902–1953) were half brothers. Heikki was the son of artist Venny Soldan-Brofeldt and writer Juhani Aho. Björn Soldan was the fruit of Juhani’s relationship with Venny’s sister Tilly and was later fostered by the family. Venny Soldan-Brofeldt was a strong educator and cultural personality, who encouraged her sons to pursue advanced studies in Germany and passed on her interest in photography to them. Her granddaughter Claire Aho (1925-2015) has also testified to her grandmother’s importance and inspiration in her choice of career.
Pioneers of documentary film making, Heikki Aho and Björn Soldan founded the film production company Aho & Soldan in 1924. Aho was originally an engineer and a specialist in post-processing images, Soldan was a camera virtuoso educated at the University of Television and Film in Munich and their photographic style was based on advanced image technology.
Aho and Soldan began their work in a nation that had been independent for only a few years and was still searching for its own way forward. They produced impressionistic films of nature, oceans and forests and later went on to depict the industrialisation and the emergence of a new society, creating images of farming that still relied more on people than machines, of hydropower that would be tamed, of factory workers operating heavy machinery. And culture: the national composer Sibelius disliked being photographed, however, Heikki Aho and Björn Soldan were entrusted with making documentaries with and about him in 1927 and 1945.
Brought up in Helsinki, the photographers produced images that tell the story of the city’s transformation, in a time before urbanisation and motorism, a time that became increasingly dark, culminating in the Soviet bombing of the Finnish capital in November 1939 and the onset of the Winter War.
In their endeavour of depicting Finland, Aho & Soldan produced more than 400 documentary films and became two of the most influential creators of the image of modern Finland.
As Björn Soldan died in 1953, the pictures from the 1950s were primarily taken by Heikki Aho and his daughter Claire who worked together to develop the technology of colour photography. The 1950s was a time of reconstruction and innocence. Helsinki was a growing city that still retained a rustic touch. The houses were small and outdated, the trams were packed and the schools were crowded with the baby boom cohorts of the post-war years.
Claire Aho, who joined the production company in the late 1940s, was the only female cinematographer to document the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki. A pioneer of colour photography, she founded her own photography studio and in the 1950s and 1960s she was in high demand as a fashion and advertising photographer and was often commissioned to shoot magazine covers. Her images comprise bright colours and ingenious forms, humour and imaginative details; gleaming refrigerators and chubby television sets shine with confidence and optimism.
Claire Aho liked to photograph her hometown and in 1968 she was invited to represent Finland in an exhibition in Kiel featuring the Nordic capitals. These images do not contain so much of the mythical year of protest 1968; rather Aho evokes the everyday aromas from the Market Square and the sound of new houses being built. The elderly still remember the burden of the war years, while the younger generation looks to the future.
The exhibition runs from 10 June till 10 September. Open 10 am–5 pm every day (except Midsummer holidays 23–25 June). Admission free.