Typologies of Scale

I didn’t know what to expect, what I discovered was great contrast in scale, between mini and macro.


I arrived at Kilpisjärvi for the ArsBioarctica Residency to work on a collaborative project, Sounding Out Spaces. I strove to accept my presence there as though I were a blank canvas.


Reaching the Finnish Arctic Tundra after having lived in Scotland for many years gave me an initial feeling of deceptive comfort. Though there are aesthetic similarities between northern Scotland and northern Finland, the compactness of the Scottish Highlands becomes imminently obvious.


This northern outpost is a pretty incredible destination, and magic to be able to spend time as a resident. Historically it is Saami territory, we were a couple of kilometers south of the Norwegian border, 11km hike from the Norwegian/Swedish/Finnish border trig point, and almost a day’s drive north of the Arctic circle. It’s normal to carry a rigid blade by your side. It’s normal that booze is expensive. It’s normal that a sauna is the first form of doctor you see. Your bins are divided in: recyclable and burnable, the latter referring to a small domestic incinerator near the house. And yet the air quality is one of the purest in the world, at 4mg/m3 of particulates, which contrasts nicely to parts of Beijing at over 400mg/m3. Our water supply was a pipe that poked up in the stream across the road: the most memorable flavour of the Tundra is drinking the water. Sweet and incredibly pure, from any source. Absolutely miraculous!


The two main trees are Birch. Dwarf Birch (Betula Nana) lives above the tree line and is rarely taller than an apple, choosing the lay flat in a bid to survive most of its life under a thick blanket of snow. The tree line itself is made of a hybrid between the Dwarf and Betula Alba, rarely more than a couple of metres high, and with almost no canopy. Their spindly white legs poking out from their hairy, mossy bodies.


Landscapes have always been about first-hand experience for me, and I love them this way. However, landscape has never interested me in photography nor painting; in Kilpisjärvi I became obsessed with constituents of the landscape. Though more of an observation, manifested as diptych typologies of contrasted scale, in the vein of Bernd and Hilla Becher.


Moss, lichens and rocks are both features and constituents. Saanastill littered with WWII installations, huts and observation pointsis covered in ever smaller constituent parts of itself: a human definition of a fractal of nature.

Originally posted HERE

Tobias Feltus:

Piazza Camera, kamra-e-faoree, or that which is kind of Polaroid and kind of darkroom.

A few years ago, my father bought me this curious camera at the street market in Pissignano (TR). He remembered having been photographed on a similar machine when he was a teen, maybe in Naples or Rome, but we were not clear on how they worked. Deduction showed a lightproof storage chamber, a long sleeve, a very crude shutter mechanism, what I thought to be a printing-out window at the top, and two vertical chemical trays in the bottom. What he remembered was that they were used by photographers to take street portraits of people, and hand them a print just minutes later. And hence its vague connection to Polaroid. But the similarity ends there.

My reason for writing this, is that I just stumbled upon this website, which has a wonderfully comprehensive study on the use of these cameras in Afghanistan. The site explains how they work, and also has an extensive collection of photographs taken with them, and of them in use today. It even has an eBook to download, which explains how to build one. It is hardly worth noting, but the authors of the website do specify that the Afghani street cameras have an internal focus mechanism (moving the paper negative to and from the lens), as opposed to having a bellows, like my camera, to focus in a more typical manner.

The use of the kamra-e-faoree is hardly practical – by our modern expectations – but nonetheless wonderful. In principle, a photograph is exposed onto silver-gelatine paper. The paper negative is then developed and fixed within the darkroom of the camera body, and placed on a stand at the front of the camera where it is re-photographed, to produce a positive (again on paper), which is developed, fixed and then rinsed in a bucket or fountain.

Though the Afghani cameras were predominantly used for ID photographs, the process they use is identical to that of the European tourist cameras: a system that I imagine has been in use worldwide, but seems to have slipped past most of our knowledge, and is not mentioned in any book that I have ever read on photography.

Somehow this process seems both more romantic and more practical than those predatory snappers who plague tourist traps with cameras, and hand you a card offering you prints the next day from their studio (though I don’t know if this still happens, as I have not been a tourist since the advent of digital photography).

Tobias Feltus: