Juha Metso has held dozens of photographic exhibitions and participated in numerous joint exhibitions all over the world. In September 2015 he was invited to participate in the Creative Climate Awards in New York. Metso's series of black-and-white photographs named Ice–Stay (Jää–Jää in Finnish) speak of the chilling apocalyptic consequences of climate change. In Finland, Juha Metso received an honourable mention in the nationally significant Fotofinlandia* competition three times in the 1990s. He also received the award for reportage photograph of the year in 2000 and 2004, the 2000 photojournalist award and the 2010 Kymenlaakso photographic art prize.
Juha Metso has taken photographs in around sixty countries. His photo reportages have been printed in several newspapers and magazines over the years. Finland's largest national daily newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, has published Metso's photographs on subjects including the crisis zones in Afghanistan and Kosovo. He has photographed life in Africa and everyday activities e.g. in Ethiopia, and in Benin along the coast of the Gulf of Guinea. Several books have been published on the subject of Metso's photographic trips to Russia. The focus is on people in their own environments, whether old or young, beautiful or ugly, celebrity or nobody.
It all started with birds – representatives of unlimited freedom – Metso’s first photographic subjects. This was back in the 1970s. Nature and freedom are the elements that connect Juha Metso's work – freedom to photograph, freedom of movement, freedom to feel, laugh, go crazy and leave himself at the mercy of chance in various situations. Juha Metso is a photographer who describes his subjects, people and events through emotional states. Inadvertent humour also plays a part in the result. The element of surprise is fascinating.
Following his photographs of nature, Metso's interest shifted to the world of sound – especially music. His photographs began featuring stars of Finnish rock and pop culture. Metso photographed bands, rockers in basements, at clubs, at gigs, in rehearsals, while living along with them. Metso observes, waits and snaps at precisely the right moment. It is as if the subject of the photograph were completely naked and vulnerable. Despite this, the subject has a strong presence
in the photograph.
"I'm an emotion freak – I study people's expressions. Even the smallest ones. I'm constantly looking to find out what people emit whenever we meet. Photography is interaction. It doesn't matter who is being photographed. In a sense, I'm photographing myself. The important thing is finding trust. After all, we don't really know anyone..." said Juha Metso to Hannu Vanhanen in an interview on 3 October 2015. (Kaikki tai ei mitään – Juha Metso valokuvaajana. Hannu Vanhanen, 2015)
Hannu Vanhanen, a photojournalism researcher, describes Metso's working method as
follows: "Metso has an amazing ability to navigate himself into the right place. He has developed a unique method of approaching his subjects. He wanders around the margins, making himself unobtrusive. Occasionally, he disappears and returns at just the right moment to take a series of photographs to the staccato sound of the camera’s shutter. The key moment is reached in an expanded form, invisibility is over. Metso's photographic method is related to the way photojournalist Henri Cartier-Bresson sought out the art of decisive moments in his photographs, where the subject clicks visually and metaphorically into place." (Kaikki tai ei mitään – Juha Metso valokuvaajana. Hannu Vanhanen, 2015)
Metso received his first honourable mention in the Fotofinlandia competition in 1990 for his diploma work, entitled "Totta" ("True"), for the Lahti Institute of Design. The work was a picture installation in which he examined happiness using a group shot of about two hundred people and individual facial images. The gaze is directed upwards, into the distance, towards happiness. "A smile is the world's best medicine", says the photographer.
Juha Metso's photographic subjects have been international celebrities such as rock stars, musicians, actors, artists and politicians: BB King, Aretha Franklin, Depeche Mode, Annie Leibowitz, Tina Turner, Johnny Winter, Vladimir Putin. He has photographed stars of popular Finnish culture for decades. Heartbreakingly truthful, unadulterated series of photographs, featuring Juice Leskinen, Kauko Röyhkä, Kari Peitsamo, Ville Haapasalo, Ismo Alanko and Veikko Lavi are examples of Metso's perceptive expression. Metso is an observer but also an adventurer for whom nothing is foreign – new challenges only increase his enthusiasm.
"Metso is not obsessed with intricate beauty – no way. Instead, he is after wild and rugged reality. His eye is drawn to roughness. Metso does not aestheticise – he simply works, taking photographs. That is why it is confusing and almost mystical to see how Metso's photographs make the hideous seem delicate and the rock-hard seem vulnerable. His photographs make people laugh, but at the same time they generate tears and pull at the heartstrings in a way that feels almost shameful.
"Metso has profiled himself as a storyteller, both in his journalistic reportages and in his broader photographic essays. He is a narrator of places and cultures, and Metso assumes the same authority when his subjects are famous people and collectives. The results of his work often end up being presented alongside the written word.” (Riitta Raatikainen, Mustanvalkoista, heltanpunaista, 2015)
Juha Metso's extensive body of photographic work has been published in several books, accompanied by texts and images to constitute thematic entities. Books combining text by rock musician and writer Kauko Röyhkä with Metso's images have sold well in Finland. Work produced by Röyhkä and Metso includes Suursaari, Rajantakainen Karjala, Et kuitenkaan usko – Ville Haapasalon varhaisvuodet Venäjällä and Et kuitenkaan usko – Ville Haapasalon 2000-luku Venäjällä. The dialogue between Röyhkä and Haapasalo reveals everyday Russia as seen and experienced by Haapasalo. The subjects include Yeltsin's era, change, bad boys and the national character. The same familiar line recurs: nothing works in Russia but everything works out fine. Juha Metso's photographs stand alongside the text, telling their own story.
"Metso is able to sniff out valuable subjects for photographic books. The Ville Haapasalo books by Metso and Röyhkä had sold more than 120,000 copies by the end of 2015. In Finland, only Hannu Hautala has been able to achieve the same feat. Metso and Hautala have something in common – harsh, unrelenting workers who are not deterred by a snowstorm. Quite the opposite: it just boosts their determination to take photographs. War photographers also derive their energy from fear. There is a macabre energy when death is nearby." (Kaikki tai ei mitään – Juha Metso valokuvaajana. Hannu Vanhanen, 2015)
"Juha Metso has a complex all-or-nothing persona. You can trust his words and pictures. ... Nothing goes unnoticed. ... Metso's photographic expression speaks to the viewer directly. The photographs are cranked up to maximum volume... " (Kaikki tai ei mitään – Juha Metso valokuvaajana. Hannu Vanhanen, 2015)
Through the years, photographer Juha Metso has photographed Karelia on the other side of the border – an area that belonged to Finland until the territorial divisions that took place after World War II. All of Karelia's 406,807 inhabitants were ultimately evacuated from the area in 1944 (about 11% of the Finnish population). Eastern Finland's most important medieval city, Vyborg, was stranded behind the country's new border, along with Ladoga Karelia and the Karelian Isthmus. New ethnic groups moved to the evacuated area under the policy of internal resettlement in the Soviet Union. This Finnish Karelia, shut off by the border, has now been home to Russian residents for decades.
"For a long time, this part of Karelia, surrendered by Finland to the Soviet Union after the Second World War, was a painful wound in our national history. As the decades went by, Karelia – if nowhere else – developed into an "ideal community" in the national imagination: a place of conceptual memories, dreams and aspirations, whose vitality was no longer dependent on its material connection to historic and geographic Karelia. Every Finn pictures Karelia with its own unique character and appearance but one thing is clear: surely nobody dreams of Karelia becoming Finnish again – at least nobody says this aloud. Juha Metso's set of Karelia photographs represents a contribution to this debate from the first decade of the 21st century. It does not speak of the Karelia of the past or of people's dreams – it is about modern north-western Russia." (Riitta Raatikainen, Mustanvalkoista, heltanpunaista, 2015)
Juha Metso is also an active free artist. He has been part of several art groups since the 1990s. Taideahtaajat and Jätkät garnered a great deal of visibility with their performances and exhibitions. Taideahtaajat (Heimo Suntio, Timo Mähönen and Juha Metso) delighted artistic audiences with funny, humorous, opinionated videos, performances and compilations of work in the mid-1990s. Jätkät (Timo Mähönen, Juha Metso) continued on the same themes with their own twist. Juha Metso photographs, edits, plays "punk", continues to put on performances with friends, with a wild, free atmosphere of craziness.
Hannu Vanhanen states: "Metso has put on several performances based on photographs, performing alone and with various art groups, such as Taideahtaajat, Jätkät and Peukaloiset. Photographic performances can be thought of as related to the theatrical arts, applying a variety of performing methods. The performances put on by the Taideahtaajat collective were works of art embellished with dark humour and erotica." (Kaikki tai ei mitään – Juha Metso valokuvaajana. Hannu Vanhanen, 2015)
Juha Metso is an incredibly prolific photographer. He has built up an archive of tens of
thousands of pictures since the 1980s. These include commissioned reportage photos, in which the angles and style of photography – the "fingerprint" – can be easily identified. Strong monochrome and considered use of close crops increase the intensity of subjects. The reality is present in a complex manner.
"... all of Metso's production is bound together by the presence of history. In the photographs, visible reality is filtered to become part of the great fabric of stages in humanity. Nature is the basis of everything, and people and human actions appear in relation to nature. Everyday documentary-maker Juha Metso is an epic storyteller who presents audiences with undisguised and ruggedly beautiful insights into every layer of humanity – the exterior treated with the same passionate curiosity as the layers beneath." (Riitta Raatikainen, Mustanvalkoista, heltanpunaista, 2015)
"... when the sounds and words run out, photography begins." (Juha Metso)
Curator, Collections and Research
Lappeenranta Museum of Art
* The Fotofinlandia prize and honourable mentions are awarded by the Central Association of Finnish Photographic Organizations (Finnfoto ry).
Quotations in the text are taken from articles written by journalist Riitta Raatikainen and non-fiction writer Hannu Vanhanen for this book. Raatikainen has curated several domestic and international photographic exhibitions in Finland. She has also written actively about photography in various publications. Hannu Vanhanen is a long-term friend of Juha Metso and also a photographer, as well as a photography and photojournalism researcher.