By Henri Antikainen

I had been photographing landscapes for several years when I suddenly noticed their emptiness. The emptiness in landscape photography is, of course, a given; it is what defines the genre. To most, landscape photography probably evokes vistas of the natural world. Their emptiness is the lack of our interference, a sort of fullness, something we couldn’t have in our living rooms without buying a big print of one such photograph, something we long for.

My photography was about the built environment. The emptiness was our absence in that environment. It was, of course, manufactured: I would sometimes wait until the occasional person on the street would walk out of the frame. I wanted to ask what we choose to present to others—our front yards and facades—or the things we leave behind–litter, boarded up houses, crumbling facades—tell about us, but ultimately it started to feel like trying to read an indecipherable text, while the authors were right there and could have been able to answer some of those questions if asked.

So, I turned to them. I came up with a project that would balance my interests: portraits of people in their environments of comfort where they feel at ease and like themselves. I figured that this would allow me to see the landscapes anew, through someone else’s eyes, while still allowing the viewpoint to be mine, looking at them in their landscape. Instead of redeeming the landscape by attempting a sort of revenge on it, as I had often done, trying to place order into something disordered by framing it, I would let someone show me their landscape of redemption, thus redeeming it and giving it meaning.

Here, I present a selection of the resulting photographs. I am also in the process of writing fuller (though fictionalized) accounts of each photo session, which I publish in my newsletter. It may be read here.

I came across K. when walking around. He had set up this scene for reading a book in the summer afternoon, which of course I had to ask to photograph.
Immediately after K., I came across W., watering his plants. He also agreed to be photographed. Slowly, the concept for the project was coming together, even if I wasn’t yet consciously making a project or knew what it would be about.
This family was spending time on their porch when I passed by on my bike, and agreed to a photograph. I liked how their kid was the only one looking at me as I was taking the photograph (with no instruction to the subjects, as is typical of me).
In several of my stranger portraits, the subjects were basically just hanging out at some semi-unusual, semi-public space, bringing life to a scene that often otherwise is simply where life passes us by.
S. was the subject of my first formal portrait session. We toured the small local town where she grew up in NJ. Some of the photos were silly, S. in front of a corner store where she’d bought a lottery ticket that won $10, but I soon realized the project might sometimes become something weightier, and if so, I shouldn’t shy away from that either. Here S. sits with bricks that were left as they are now when his father, who had planned a construction project in the yard, passed away. I decided to write individual descriptions of each photo shoot because of realizing no single photograph could convey the experience of spending even that furtive time with someone else that I had with my subjects.
I photographed B. on his balcony during torrential remnants of hurricane rain. The greenery and “overgrown” trees in the yard below gave the environment a Ghibliesque-feel of a retreat in the middle of Astoria, Queens. This session was full of tea drinking calm, which I tried to express in the writing and the main portrait.
M. had wanted me to photograph him on a remote beach in Staten Island where he likes to take his loved ones, which I did, but I am featuring a photo I took of him, with some instruction on my part, this time (“stand there”), as we were walking away from the beach towards a residential area he thought I might enjoy because he’d seen my photography–I did, and it is featured in the full write-up in my newsletter.
J. I photographed in rainy Queens as well. We walked in his favorite area in Flushing, a mixture of cultures and residential and industrial areas. This photograph was also one of my sudden ideas, where elements of stationary and furtive nature blend along with shadows and light.
I photographed D. in his home in a room where he took care of his young son. This session we spent fully inside the house, but compared to my previous photography of front yards and facades, it felt like exploring a world.
With W., we walked around the block from their house in still COVID-19 affected Brooklyn. I wanted to convey something about the experience of confinement but also the hopeful breaking through from it that I felt like we were already sensing in the expedition.
I took a photo of G. at his studio, where he’s done illustrations that have helped to shape the vibe and look of Newark for years. The building is about to be cleared up, due to the owners planning other uses for it than art center and studio space.
M. was also photographed at home, the same home as D., her husband. While the interiors produced several photographs I found beautiful, I wanted to convey the idea of neighborhood in this last featured photo, of being neighbors, with the continuity of the porches, the stages of life.

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Featured image by Henri Antikainen