/ Joel Karppanen / Photo story

Beyond Pitkäsilta (Metropolis)

Beyond Pitkäsilta (Metropolis) (2021–2023) concludes my Finnish trilogy that has previously included Finnish Pastoral (2016–2017) and Common people songs (2017–2020). The new photography series enfolds together my central themes: work, class and structural change.

I have photographed a transforming Helsinki that is no longer divided by Pitkäsilta but where class divides still exist. The proletarians of our time, food couriers, deliver artisan pizza to brand new skyscrapers. For a year, I documented a Czech food courier Krystof who is my age and a visual artist by his real profession.

Workers of the platform economy and artists share many similarities. The uncertainty of income, lack of social security and difficulty to get organized. What makes the difference is the question of freedom. As Karl Marx has stated, when a human being is abridged to the capitalist system, their humanity is taken away. The platform economy is an image of modern capitalism: couriers work under strict monitoring, their freedom is an illusion. Artists, on the other hand, enjoy rare material freedom that is primary ownership to their work.

I’m a very privileged artist. I have grants, I have sales, while Krystof needs to deliver food in order to survive and work as an artist. So as part of the process, I worked as Krystof’s replacement: I delivered food orders for a month and donated my earnings to him so he could in turn focus on his own art. Nowadays, we are friends.

I photograph to understand myself and others. Finnish Pastoral was born from a need to redefine my relationship to the countryside when my life as an urban vegetarian then newly began to include a beef cattle raising stepfather. In Common People Songs, I reflected on my relationships to leftism and the working class movement. The point of view is affected by the idea of reflective nostalgia: one cannot rebuild the past but an analysis of the passage of time and a certain comfort derived from the memories can foster a sense of potential.

As I was working on the series, I realized I was depicting my grandparents through the food couriers. They moved to Sweden during the postwar mass migration and they found temporary employment as cleaners of Stockholm’s subways among other things. After returning to Finland, they cleaned stairways in Rovaniemi. That is where I also got my first introduction into a working life when I swept the floors as a 12-year-old with my grandma and -pa. Even though I loved my grandparents, I was ashamed of the fact that they were “merely cleaners”. Food couriers are often met with the same type of condescending attitude. Now I will no longer feel shame or condescend.

Joel Karppanen (1993) is an award-winning photographer, visual artist, filmmaker, and writer living in Helsinki. Beyond Pitkäsilta (Metropolis) is Karppanen’s second private exhibition in Galleria Halmetoja. Karppanen’s works have also been exhibited, among other places, in contemporary art museum Kiasma, in Mänttä Art Festival, KunstHausWien, and his works can be found in the collections of The Finnish Museum of Photography, The Finnish State Art Commission and Jenny and Wihuri Foundation.