Early this morning, when I was still in bed, a swallow flew in, circled the room, saw its error and flew out through the window to alight on the telephone wire. I relate this small incident because it seems to me to have something to do with Pentii Sammallahti’s photographs. They too, like the swallow, are aberrant.
I have had some of his photographs in the house now for two years. I often take them out of their folder to show to friends who pass. They usually gasp at first, and then peer closer, smiling. They look at the places shown for a longer time than is usual with a photograph. Perhaps they ask whether I know the photographer, Pentii Sammallahti, personally? Or they ask what part of Russia were they taken in? In what year? They never try to put their evident pleasure into words, for it is a secret one. They simply look closer and remember. What?
In each of these pictures [the ones in Berger’s house], there is at least one dog. That’s clear and it might be no more than a gimmick. Yet in fact the dogs offer a key for opening a door. No, a gate — for here everything is outside, outside and beyond.
I notice also in each photograph the special light, the light determined by the time of day or the season of the year. It is, inevitably, the light in which figures hunt — for animals, forgotten names, a path leading home, a new day, sleep, the next lorry, spring. A light in which there is no permanence, a light of nothing longer than a glimpse. This too is a key to opening the gate.
The photos were taken with a panoramic camera, such as is normally used for making wide-section geological surveys. Here the wide-section is important, not, I think, for aesthetic reasons, but, once again, for scientific, observational ones. A lens with a narrower focus would not have found what I now see, and so it would have remained ivisible. What do I see now?
We live our daily lives in a constant exchange with the set of daily appearances surrounding us — often they are very familiar, sometimes they are unexpected and new, but always they confirm us in our lives. They do so even when they are threatening: the sight of a house burning, for example, or a man approaching us with a knife between his teeth, still reminds us (urgently) of our life and its importance. What we habitually see confirms us.
Yet it can happen, suddenly, unexpectedly, and most frequently in the half-light-of-glimpses, that we catch sight of another visible order which intersects with ours and has nothing to do with it.