About the work


   JOUKO LEHTOLA Young Heroes, 1995-96
     Young Heroes, 1995/96
Colour photography
Variable dimensions

Lehtola's extensive photo series Young Heroes portrays young teenagers partying in the Finnish summer. It is early morning, and the night has left its unmistakable marks. The kids are drunk, bruised and dirty; some have found a one-night stand, others have been in fights.

In the midst of this pandemonium of violence, alcohol and sex the 'young heroes' seem innocent, fragile – and much too young. Pensive and introverted they are trying to take in the events and emotions of the night. Some are plainly still under the influence of the night-long drinking session but e.g. the young girl is still able to pose self-consciously for the photographer.

The bright colours, large formats and razor-sharp focus afford the photographs with a forceful and brash nature. However the subjects themselves are even more shocking. The title of the series alludes to the heroism of surviving a night in which the party really transforms into a battleground. In Lehtola's interpretations the kids are modern-day heroes who weekend after weekend struggle for dear life to retain their position in the group.

The subject matter is Scandinavian but in principle could have been shot in most of the Western world where young people lead parallel lives with regards to family, school and other adults. The context for Lehtola's pictures is the particular Finnish tradition of summer parties in the wild but the English title and the looks of the kids demonstrate that this is a far more global phenomenon. They could be German, Dutch or American kids.

Lehtola's art in general
Lehtola's photographs are documentary, almost sociological depictions of a world made for and by the young people. The artist was a photographer for rock bands in Finland before he got the idea of turning the camera on the audience rather than the band. In 1995 he started seeking out discotheques, raves and festivals in the country.

The Young Heroes series focuses on the kids' facial expressions, actions and gestures while enduring a night of love, desire, anger, energy, insecurity and innocence. Several of Lehtola's other photo series have more restraint and sense of arrangement. Here we are not at the crucial moment of action; instead the photographs function as proof of particular experiences and a specific life. Common to Lehtola's pictures is his interest in the people he photographs.

Lehtola is interested in the communities that emerge in various subcultures, e.g. typical youth cultures as in Young Heroes or marginalised groups like junkies or heavily pierced and tattooed men in the series Marked Skin.

In Young Heroes the setting for the teenage binge is the mythic Finnish landscape. Similarly Lehtola employs a marked Finnish thematics of place, stressing the regional starting point. In Marked Skin as well the Finnish landscape with its birches and its sauna interiors provides the backdrop for the documentary portraits. Lehtola challenges and reshapes our expectations of the particularly Nordic, the Nordic soul and the Nordic population.

Lehtola works in an ethnographic and sociological tradition, conducting 'field work' among his subjects with his camera over a period of time. This ensures the confidence and intimacy that he finds necessary for the insistent pictures.

Lehtola emphasises the importance to his job of human contact but also of the correct equipment. It needs to work in the sparsely lit interiors and exteriors where his main characters move about. The youth that he captures in the form of bands, festivals and clubs reflects his interest in the 'honest photograph' and a distinct documentary style.


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