When Winter Reigns

Exhibition review – When Winter Reigns, Pentti Sammallahti at The Photographer's Gallery for Aesthetica Magazine Issue 93

Dedicated photography for over five decades, Sammallahti (b. 1950) is a much-loved practitioner in Finland and beyond, having gained prestige by winning the Finnish National Photography Award four times, as well as exhibiting at MoMA, New York; the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris; the Moderna Museet, Stockholm and the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin.


Throughout these brisk months, The Photographers’ Gallery, London, presents an exhibition full of simple, wintry scenes from Pentti Sammallahti. Meticulously curated, When Winter Reigns juggles cold terrains of ice and snow with emotions of resilience, sadness and humour from both human and animal subjects spreading into the snow.
Each image evokes a fairytale or fable, bound by a Narnian quality. Hounds bend to mirror tree branches. A curious dog in misty Katanoah peers down a surreal rocketship, a spaceclad human smiles at the viewer. Hitchcockian birds chatter. A lonely horse laments under the night sky in Pyhajarvi. In Ristisaari, a frog swims in a trail of full lunar light, jovial and mischievous. In the White Sea, Russia, a pack of canines is inexplicably poised, rigidly sat around a motorbike in a hierarchical, Orwellian fashion. It's undoubtedly compelling. The landscapes are ashen – often rejoining in the brightness of white morning sun or the mystery of the dark nocturnal skies. They are shot in areas spanning Siberia, Africa and Asia, as well as in Sammallahti’s birthplace Finland.
The delicate, hand-painted and toned silver gelatin prints are soft, striking and visually poetic. There is a clear commitment to the importance of timing, sublime structure and love for both the bleak and beautiful in this exhibition. A little like Sammallahti, When Winter Reigns is quiet and humble at first glance, though without a doubt it leaves a lasting impression.
Robyn Sian Cusworth for Aesthetica Magazine
The Photographers’ Gallery, London 22 November - 2 February
thephotographers gallery.org.uk
Images © Pentti Sammallahti

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