Photographer Sami Kero’s photo series Avanto – Ice Hole will be exhibited in London in July. He told us what it’s all about.
How did you get the idea of taking aerial shots of ice swimmers?
“I wanted to take a fresh approach to a Finland-photo-cliché for the centenary of independent Finland. Ice swimming is one of the most typical subjects, when Finland is depicted abroad. I wanted to find a fresh angle to it and thought of drones, which I use a lot in my work as a photojournalist. Usually it takes a while to develop an idea for a photo series, during which I get to know my subject and people and take test shots. Real photos come along later, if ever. This series was exceptional because it worked immediately. As soon as I saw it I knew this will become something extraordinary. ”
What does the series say about the relationship Finns have with nature?
“The frame of the series is ice swimming, but I didn’t document is as a hobby but the Finnish approach to nature through ice swimmers. Pictures are landscape photos shot from above with a small person or people in it. If there is one thing that defines Finnishness, I would say it’s our relationship with nature. That is what I wanted to explore and show in my photos. Some of the pictures are shamelessly postcard-like, beautiful and poetic, but I also show a harsher city landscape.”
You started taking these photos a couple of years ago. Has your thinking about the series changed after that?
“By the time the series has started to resonate with discussion on climate change, even if this was not originally the idea. It is clear that if we want to keep enjoying winter and winter hobbies, we need to fight climate change. Majority of the photos are from Southern Finland. If development continues and models are correct, winters in Southern Finland especially will as soon as coming decades resemble a grey, rainy day in London.”
What has surprised you during the project?
“Ice swimmers are incredibly relaxed, cheerful and lovely subjects. They always had time for me and they talk about their sport with pleasure. If I ever stayed nearby, planning the photo shoot, one of them would appear to declare the gospel of ice swimming like proper evangelists: ‘Do you want to hear about the health benefits of ice swimming? Wouldn’t it be great if you never caught a cold again’?
Is there anything else you would like to tell about the project?
“While shooting the series I had to think a lot about the safety of my subjects. Water, a lawn mower-type of flying object and working in close to people is not a great combination as a starting point. I flew two drones with double batteries designed for below zero temperatures, and took it straight from a warm car. I kept the flights short and tried to avoid flying above people. I don’t recommend anyone to try this at home unless they really know what they’re doing. And there is one more, a bit embarrassing thing: I don’t really like the cold. I’m a bad Finn in a sense that I’m most at home in the sun and temperatures over 20 C. I promised the ice swimmers that I would start ice swimming regularly when I’m done with the project. This is likely to take a while.”
Sami Kero: Avanto – Ice Hole, 12 Star Gallery, Europe House, 32 Smith Square, SW1P 3EU London 2.–12.7. https://ec.europa.eu/unitedkingdom/events/12-star-gallery_en
Text: Jenni Ahtiainen Photo: Sami Kero