In the Land of Kalevala

Photo Caj Bremer

KARELIA.The ”grand old man” of Finnish photojournalism Caj Bremer (born 1929) visited Soviet-Karelia five times 1979-1982 together with famous reporter Sakari Määttänen. They worked for Helsingin Sanomat, the biggest newspaper in Finland. A photo exhibition of Bremer´s material was recently shown at the Gallen-Kallela museum in Tarvaspää, Espoo, near Helsinki. A fine photo-book,  Takaisin Karjalaan was also published.

Photo Caj Bremer


Most of the photos are from Russian Karelia, where most of the Kalevala poetry were collected, mainly by Elias Lönnrot (1808-1884). There are photos from other parts of Karelia too, as well as some classic photos by I. K. Inha (1869-1930). In the book, Bremer recalls some humorous episodes . It was difficult for foreigners to travel in the Soviet Union, and the men were carefully controlled during their travel. Sometimes the rules were quite absurd: on a five-hour car-journey from Petrozavodsk to Olonets it was forbidden to take any photos, even though there´s nothing but forests, and more forests to see.

Photo I K Inha


Life in the villages of the runo singers hadn´t change much since the first ”karelianists” – including famous painter Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1865-1931) – visited Karelia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Today, a kind of neo-Karelianism has appeared. One can find paths in the places where Inha once took his famous photos, according to professor emeritus Pekka Laaksonen´s informative article in the book. The art of photography does change the world! Juminkeko – an information centre about Kalevala and Karelian culture in Kuhmo, Finland – organizes such trips, or ”pilgrimages” to Karelian villages. (In a way it´s interesting that the Finnish national epic Kalevala is mostly from an area that´s never been part of Finland and where people speak Karelian, not Finnish, and are orthodox, not protestants.)

Photo I K  Inha

Gallen-Kalle museum:

Some of Inha´s photos, and lots of other material:

Juminkeko-homepages in English and Finnish. Photo and recording archives etc:

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