The State Museum and Exhibition Centre ROSPHOTO presents an exhibition of Ismo Hölttö, a master of Finnish photography. The exhibited works include his most famous works created in the 1960s, a period of rapid social transition in Finland. An impressive record of a nation’s recent past captured by a prominent portraitist Ismo Hölttö is a unique material that allows to get acquainted with the touching life stories of the subjects of his photographs.

Ismo Hölttö (born in 1940), a young goldsmith, became obsessed with photography and dedicated all his spare time to shooting portraits of people. For a period of ten years between 1962 and 1971, he spent virtually all of his lunch breaks and weekends walking around with his Rolleiflex and taking pictures of people of his hometown Helsinki.

Hölttö also travelled extensively in the Finnish countryside in order to capture the life there. In contrast to Helsinki where he acted as a classical flâneur, a tireless stroller who was mesmerized by the gallery of characters that the streets had on offer he travelled to the rural areas with a pronounced social approach. Hölttö wanted to show the real faces of the rural people and the poor conditions in which most of his fellow countrymen lived in to counterbalance the romanticized image that the official marketing apparatus was conveying of the life in more remote areas.

Ismo Hölttö. Laestadian summer services, Oulu, Northern Ostrobothnia, Finland. 1966
For digital presentation only / ROSPHOTO 2016
For digital presentation only / ROSPHOTO 2016
Ismo Hölttö. Pudasjärvi, Northern Ostrobothnia, Finland. 1966
For digital presentation only / ROSPHOTO 2016
For digital presentation only / ROSPHOTO 2016
Ismo Hölttö. Ruoholahti, Helsinki, Finland. 1965

The era during which Hölttö’s portraits were taken gives them added power and depth. People in his images are on the threshold of a new urban era. The faces emit the sadness that comes with the uncertainty of change. This was the time of rapid social transition in Finland that would ultimately lead to a national tragedy. Towards the end of the 1960’s, the post-war optimism was turning into despair when jobs in agriculture and forestry were quickly vanishing and hundreds of thousands of people in the North and East of the country were forced to leave their homes and move to the cities in the South of Finland. Some 400 000 people migrated even further, to neighbouring Sweden in search of work.

For digital presentation only / ROSPHOTO 2016
For digital presentation only / ROSPHOTO 2016
Ismo Hölttö. Myllypuro, Helsinki, Finland. 1967
For digital presentation only / ROSPHOTO 2016
For digital presentation only / ROSPHOTO 2016
Ismo Hölttö. Eno, North Karelia, Finland. 1969
For digital presentation only / ROSPHOTO 2016
For digital presentation only / ROSPHOTO 2016
Ismo Hölttö. Market Square, Helsinki, Finland. 1964

Ismo Hölttö’s photographs are artistically and technically skillfully executed. They have a unique quality that creates a timeless bond between their subject and the public. Fifty years after they were photographed, the people in Hölttö’s images continue to tell their life stories face-to-face to all those who are willing to listen.

In 1970, after contributing with his images to publishing “This too is Finland”, a landmark book on rural people, Hölttö received a six-month government grant for artistic work and quit his job as a goldsmith. With the money Hölttö founded his own commercial photo studio. It is quite a paradox that when he became a professional photographer, he stopped working on what he is best known for – his portraits. Hölttö continued to work in commercial photography until his retirement in 2003. Today Hölttö focuses his creative energy on painting and croquis drawing, a hobby since 1964.

Curator Matti Niemi