The First Hundred Years
From the book: AFK 1889-1989, published by Amatörfotografklubben i Helsingfors r.f., Helsinki, 1989
"Amateur photographers" club.
Ladies and Gentlemen who wish to become members of a proposed Club for Amateur Photographers in Helsingfors will be pleased to hold a Preliminary Meeting on Saturday the 23rd of February at 6 p.m. at Kleineh´s Hotel."
(Hufvudstadsbladet 22 February 1889)
Attracted by the advertisement quoted above twenty-six persons assembled at Kleineh´s Hotel by the Market Square in Helsinki. The meeting was convened by a well-known personality on the cultural scene, Baron Hugo af Schultén, editor of the newspaper Nya Pressen, secretary of the Finnish Arts Society and a member of the Board of Swedish Theatre, and also an enthusiastic amateur photographer specialising in surreptitious photography.
The meeting at Kleineh´s Hotel, chaired by Hugo af Schultén, agreed that it was desirable to found an amateur photographers´ club on the lines of Svenska Fotografiamatörföreningen, later Fotografiska Föreningen, recently established in Stockholm. A committee was appointed to draft the by-laws, which were adopted by the inaugural meeting on 6 March when the suggested name of Fotografiamatörklubben i Helsingfors was also adopted. The members of the first Committee were Hugo af Schultén, chairman, J.J. Sederholm, MA, secretary, Th. Waenerberg, curator and artist, treasurer and Teodor Holmberg, city treasurer and Daniel Nyblin, photographer, ordinary members.
Hugo af Schultén submitted an application to the Imperial Senate for permission to form an amateur photographer´s club in Helsinki with a view to awaken an interest in the art of photography and to promote it nationwide.
On 11 April 1889 the following resolution was given:
The Imperial Senate has caused this humble Application and the Documents pertaining thereto to be presented, and it is the pleasure of the Imperial Senate not only to permit the establishment of said Club, but also to approve and for guidance and observation confirm the By-laws quoted above. To be humbly observed by all concerned.
In the Name of His Imperial Majesty,
His Senate for Finland.
A Club for Gentlemen at the Kämp
"After the meeting an animated supper was served in the most agreeable of atmospheres. The gathering continued into early hours, speech following speech."
(Account of a meeting, 1899)
At the first ordinary meeting of Fotografiamatörklubben on 16 May 1889, Daniel Nyblin gave a much praised talk on the development of photography. Fifty years had passed since the invention of Daguerre and Niepce daguerrotypy was demonstrated to the Académies des Sciences et des Beaux-Arts in Paris. This happened on 19 August 1839, the official birthday of photography, when the invention was made available for universal use.
In the 1850s portrait photographers appeared preparing their wet-plates themselves. Only twenty years later when knowledge of Maddox´s invention of the fifty times more light sensitive dry-plate reached our country did amateurs go in for photography.
In the 1880s negatives became even more sensitive to light and cameras easier to operate. In 1888 the snapshot takers were born. Kodak introduced the first box camera under the well-known slogan "You press the button - we do the rest!"
This development was not at all appreciated by the artistically oriented amateur photographers: "Has this magic formula added to the improvement of photography, to its enhancement as science and handicraft, or to its popularisation as a means of developing the powers of observation and the promotion of artistic sensitivity? No, most certainly not! It has not fostered amateur photographers, but it has created "snapshotters" whose numbers are legion. Snapshotters who push the button taking their snapshots without discrimination, hardly reasoning why. Worse than the Sunday sportsmen who let loose on anything that moves, these snapshotters have pointed their cameras at all and everything, and with surprise and serene pride found that they really have taken pictures, mostly bad, but in their own eyes always excellent, since they have been holding the camera." (Daniel Nyblin) The ambitious amateurs thus had good reason for forming an association for business as well as pleasure.
The meetings were held at the Kämp Hotel, at Restaurant Catani, at the Opera Café or the assembly rooms of the voluntary fire brigade. Then as now, talks, shows of pictures, competitions and technical demonstrations were the order of the day. At the very first meeting as many as 300 amateur photographers were exhibited, and at the annual meeting on 30 October 1889 a Laterna Magica and an enlargement method using magnesia light were demonstrated. The Laterna Magica - a projector for 9x9 cm slides - which Daniel Nyblin had sent for from America, used electric light. It made showing photos and judging competitions much easier. The slides which remained with the club form the backbone of its unique picture archives.
The tireless Daniel Nyblin led the training of both schoolboys and advanced amateurs. He "opened the doors of his laboratory, demonstrated development methods and sometimes shook his inquiring audience by offering measures of liquid which on tasting turned out to be madeira". (1902)
The meetings were often concluded with a light supper. When Kämp restaurant closed, the members moved on to Handelsgillet, where they could sit on into the early hours paying for the extended time by the hour.
By Sleigh and Steamer
"When all had arrived, and coffee had been drunk and a game of billiards played at the Arkadien, the tour started. The weather was excellent, a bit cold perhaps, but all stiffness was avoided as the participants chose to run after the conveyances from time to time. The Tram Company had also provided the sleighs with dozens of rugs." (24 November 1904)
In the first annual report of Fotografiamatörklubben the secretary states that "the Committee is of the opinion that next year´s programme should contain excursions by land and sea, which, while being a form of recreation, are likewise particularly calculated to make the members more closely acquainted with each other."
These photographic excursions became and still are among the most appreciated activities of the society, as shown by a host of lively pictures and eloquent minutes. Excursions were made in autumn, winter and spring, but Ascension Day was to become the special excursion day of the club. As long as it was allowed to be a Thursday, that is.
But let us return to the days when Mr Jäderholm made a steamer available to the club and Mr Lindenvall presented the assembled members with a cask of good old ale. The secretary, K.A. Aschan describes an excursion which took place on 25 May 1902: "The 25th of May dawned sunny and clear, promising a good turnout. These hopes were not mistaken. At 9 o´clock on Sunday morning when the departure was scheduled some twenty participants had collected at the departure quay of the steamer Uranus in the South Harbour. After a short discussion it was decided to steam eastward to the beautiful Sibbo Bay. --- At a good speed we steamed through Hästnäs sound and south of Willinge. When we were some distance past that island the industrious "Lasse" Wiik had arranged for a splendid breakfast in the salon where schnapps was duly and eagerly consumed: the sea air certainly gives one an appetite, and the good things of the table were much appreciated. In the middle of this merry meal a slight intermezzo took place. The Uranus touched bottom, but the careful skipper was going slowly, no harm was done, and the trip could continue without further mishaps.
Here we wish to make note of a proposal offered by Mr Otto Johansson that a competition should be held among the participants of the excursion, each submitting three pictures taken during the trip at the autumn meeting in September. Those present acclaimed the proposal which was unanimously adopted after which O. Johansson, A. Rosenbröijer and A. Aschan were appointed to judge the competition. --- After much photographing the goal of the trip was approached, and about half past twelve in the afternoon the Kallbäck landing-stage at the mouth of the Sibbo river was reached. The arrival was naturally recorded, this being done by Mr Schohin according to the rules.
Armed to the teeth with everything required for photography, the company proceeded on foot in smaller groups to the Söderkulla Farming School, some kilometres upriver. The participants were well equipped with cameras, indeed many had both tripod and hand cameras, and there were plates en masse (approximately five to six hundred). The photographic yield should thus have been considerable in the quantitative sense - about the quality nothing is known yet, but we express the hope that it will turn out well.
After a couple of hours of walking in field and forest where things beautiful and ugly were fixed onto the photographic plates, the company returned to Kallbäck where the lovely sight of a meal spread out in the open gladdened our hungry selves promising rich returns for the hardships endured. A helpful local inhabitant, who had already come to our assistance, was now photographing the groups at the various tables.
--- There is not much to tell about the return journey. --- At half past eight in the evening we disembarked safe and sound, well pleased with our day."
The Art of Light
"The art season of the year was opened today an interesting an laudable way by Fotografiamatörklubben i Helsingfors with an exhibition held in the exhibition hall of Ateneum.
The vernissage, or the "fixage", as the opening ceremony should more properly be called among photographers, was held yesterday at noon, celebrated by a number of invited guest; photographers and amateurs of various kinds and both sexes. The sun, mostly absent on our opening days, was wonderfully present yesterday and gave the event the desired tone and "fixage", such as should, by the way, rightly be enjoyed by this art of light above all others."
(Hufvudstadsbladet, 1 September 1907)
The above quotation describes the atmosphere at the opening of the second general exhibition of photography at the Art Museum of the Ateneum in 1907, but the first photo exhibition was organised by Fotografiamatörklubben as early as 3 December 1892 in a shop in the newly built Wrede Arcade. After 200 photographs had been discarded, as many as 375 by 24 club members were included in the show.
In his opening address the chairman, Mr C.E. Holmberg, pointed out that the exhibition "was not arranged solely to encourage the members, but also to spread knowledge among the general public of what exactly was considered good photography". During three days the exhibition was seen by 700 visitors.
The first general photographic exhibition open to club members and other photographers alike was held at the Ateneum in 1903. The exhibition committee consisted of Daniel Nyblin, Otto Johansson and Wladimir Schohin. Prizes awarded to members included first prizes to Thorvald Nyblin, Alfred Nybom, Wladimir Schohin, Axel Tammelander and Carl Jahn, and second prizes to Walter Jakobsson, Lars Wiik and Ivan Timiriasev, among others.
The exhibition was a popular success, since it was seen by 3000 visitors. But it was also the cause of displeasure, mainly among professional photographers who did not approve of so many prize winners being amateurs. This displeasure was mostly heaped on Daniel Nyblin, even though he was not on the jury. In spite of this, the club was prepared to repeat the performance three years later. It turned out that most professionals did not in the end consider participation worth their while. "It´s not worth it for a poor devil", one of them said. Daniel Nyblin puts the blame for the meager participation on "the underground work of those who have written the backward movement of photography on their shield". "But", he says, "the exhibition is there, and it´s a good one!"
In Hufvudstadsbladet the signature "Amatör" described the exhibitions as follows: "A look around the room on the work exhibited is sufficient to show that the art of photography is advancing rapidly. The modest and dilettantish "talking of pictures" is a stage long passed by the exhibitors. Artistic ambition has come to the fore with new means, paths and aspects. Photography aspires to a seat among the arts and will no longer be satisfied with the rank ascribed to the old taking of pictures. At this exhibition there are a good many "photographs" which are surprisingly near the line which has been and is, and probably always will be drawn between photography and art, between the impression made on the photographic plate and the human mind, these photographs having all conceivable lucidity in their rendering of nature combined with a striking sensitivity in their grasp of atmosphere and the life-giving artistic impression. There are photographic studies of nature as well as portraits which might almost be taken for hand- painted water-colours, pastels or black crayon drawings by some eminent impressionist artist; and this should always be a criterion for the artistry in the general as well as the applied sense."
The signature "Amatör" is referring to photographs produced by special printing methods by i.a. Wladimir Schohin, Walter Jakobsson and Fritz Englund - bromoil, carbon and gum prints. But the exhibition also showed a sensational achievement in photo technique, the first colour slides taken by Walter Jakobsson, Nicolai Leibowitsch and Harald Rosenberg on Lumière´s Autochrome plates which had been introduced that year. "The novelty among all the beauty offered by the exhibition."
Bromoil and Dyes
"In their striving for nature and atmosphere, for truth and character, many of the apostles of the modern trend are going too far. The effort to create soft lines and whole values has led to a diffuseness which can only be called fuzzy. But at times of transition people first tend to go too far, only to retrace their step to the true and right mean."
(Daniel Nyblin, 1903)
The photographers of the 19th century were mainly concerned with the technical development of photography. They were fascinated by the "typically photographic" - the unbelievable clearness and the reproduction of detail, the absolutely correct and detailed representation of reality. Since painting in those days also embraced precision in execution, many artists, from portrait painters to cutters of silhouettes, considered that they were fighting a losing battle and took up photography as a means of earning their livelihood.
It is hard to estimate to what extent impressionism may have been a reaction against photographic precision, but it certainly influenced the artistically-minded photographers. In their opinion the camera as such was convenient for technical and scientific documentation but hardly a means of artistic expression. How would they be able to fight free of the stereotyped handicraft of photography, and instead depict their subjects with artistic feeling and atmosphere?
The means available was offered by special printing methods - bormoil, carbon and gum printing. These were trying and time-consuming, but they gave the photographers artistic freedom. The most simple and popular process was bromoil printing. Exposure could be made normally on sensitised silver bromide paper which was then bleached and treated with chemicals for colour sensitive dyes. The dyes were applied to the light-sensitive layer with brushes or rolls after exposure. The pigmented picture was often transferred from the original paper to water-colour or lithographic paper. Since the picture was formed by permanent dyes instead of silver, they kept excellently. Using brushes and dyes the photographers where thus able to manipulate the pictures as it suited them; unnecessary sharpness in outline and superfluous details could be suppressed, and the photographer was able to achieve picturesque results incorporating all the characteristics of the accepted photographic art.
The photo courses organized at the turn of the century by Fotografiamatörklubben and led by Daniel Nyblin were attended by schoolboys of artistic ability, who were to make their mark in Finnish photography. One such was Alfred Nybom who also became a well-known businessman in the photographic trade. Alfed Nybom continued his photographic training in Germany where he developed into a masterly portrait photographer of the highest international standing. He was an employee of Kunst Atelier Werheim in Berlin and Photographische Kunstanstalt Lövyn in Vienna, until he returned to Finland in 1908 to take over the photographic business of the Danish born P.J. Bögelund in the Esplanade in Helsinki. The business was later carried on by his son Harlad Nybom. Alfred Nybom was at some time also managing director of the well-known portrait studio Atelier Apollo in Helsinki. He founded Finska Biograf Ab and the successful company Polyfoto Ab, which he was still managing at the age of 70.
Gunnar Lönnqvist was employed by Ab Finska fotografiska magasinet, formerly Daniel Nyblin, where he worked for 32 years and advanced to the post of managing director. In 1933 he started the Kodak agency Oy Valovarjo Ab which he headed to the age of 75.
From the point of view of photography it is to be regretted that business commitments allowed neither Gunnar Lönnqvist nor Alfred Nybom much time for artistic photography of their own in their later years. But work of their youth gives them an indisputable place in the history of Finnish photography.
"In addition photography is his his hobby and he has been for many years chairman of Amatörfotografklubben." With these words Hufvudstadsbladet end their introduction of Walter Jakobsson who celebrated his 60th birthday in 1942. By then he could look back on a long career as an artistically prominent amateur photographer, but it is only natural that this was overshadowed by his other merits: three-time world champion and an Olympic gold and silver medal winner in figure skating. In many of the pictures taken at the excursions of the club in the early years of the century a merry youth is often seen wearing a student´s cap and carrying a tin camera. This young engineering student mastered the photographic techniques to perfection, doing his most valuable artistic work using special printing methods. In the work of Walter Jakobsson dark tones dominate. He chose sparingly and dramatically lighted subjects. His city views are photographed in rainy weather with gleaming wet asphalt and outlines softened by drizzle and mist. The processing enhanced the character and air of his subjects to comply with his artistic views and aims.
Another of the undisputed masters of the club was Wladimir Schohin, a shopkeeper by trade. He owned a Russian general store in Helsinki. When the market place closed for the day, the farmers tied their horses in his yard and made their purchases of anything from felt boots to vodka and Russian tobacco. In 1900 he was among the winners of the annual competition of Fotografiamatörklubben for the first time, and three years later he received a first prize at the general photographic exhibition at Ateneum for photographs which were "first-class in all respects". At the 1907 exhibition Daniel Nyblin was hard put to find enough superlatives: "He has a collection of the most delicious small pictures to be imagined, some in gum prints, some in carbon print. What lines, what tones! All is perfection, harmony, completeness. The first prize awarded Mr Schohin is not enough, he should be given an extra something!"
It was at this exhibition that the club showed the first colour slides photographed using the new Lumière plates. In spite of his lively close-ups of situations, sensitive portraits and poetic landscapes, it is as a colour photographer that Wladimir Schohin gained international attention. In spite of the technically primitive plates he created exquisite still lifes with his phenomenally skilful use of light and his assured feeling for form and materials.
After Schohin´s death in 1934 Amatörfotografklubben bought some hundred of his colour slides which have since been shown i.a. at the big exhibitions of Nordic photography in the US "The Frozen Image".
Reporters with Tripods
"Sometime it will perhaps be plain that he, the foreigner, was the one to save in pictures much of the Helsingfors that would otherwise have been forgotten and destroyed, that his camera has given us valuable material which illustrates the rapid development of our capital."
While the rest of the members were engrossed in artistic processing methods, there were some members of Fotografiamatörklubben who appreciated the value of true documentary picture. Best known among them was doubtlessly Ivan Timiriasev, the aide-de-champ of the Russian Governor General, honoured with the above words in an obituary notice in Hufvudstadsbladet. The favourite subject of Ivan Timiriasev was Helsinki - its streets, parks and quays with strollers, playing children, workers, market places and picturesque sailing boats. His main interest was man, whom he depicted with all the attributes of the documentary picture: sincerity, life and feeling.
He came to Helsinki in 1890 at the age of thirty, a cavalry officer appointed aide to the Governor General, Count Heyden. The Governors General came and went, but Timiriasev stayed on. As time went by he came to be a well-known character in the capital, especially as he went out a lot, being a confirmed admirer of the variety show at Brunnshuset, and had his regular table at the Catani.
But photography was his grand passion, a hobby he developed to perfection. He was a faithful attendant of the club´s meetings, which in these unsettled times sometimes turned into violent disputes. But "the Timir´s" neutrality was not to be shaken and he talked only of phototechnical matters. He sometimes sold his pictures to the periodical Veckans Krönika, mostly to see his photos and name in print. But when he chose Finland as his new country in 1917, he was able to add to his pension by adopting press photography as a full-time profession.
The first photographer of Veckans Krönika, Harald Rosenberg, had left the periodical to become a police photographer. Harald Rosenberg, too, had received his photographic training at the courses of Fotografiamatörklubben. He became interested in photography in his early teens. When as a youth of 17 he made a bicycle tour across the "waist" of Finland - from Oulu to Suomussalmi - he already was a skilful amateur photographer and took excellent documentary pictures in spite of his primitive equipment. After finishing school he earned his livelihood mostly as a photographer for periodicals, and it is thus right to give him his place in Finnish photographic history as the first press photographer of the country. On his business card he called himself "Special Photographer for Weckans Krönika and Helsingin Kaiku".
In 1909 he was employed as the first police photographer by the criminal investigation police in Helsinki, a job which did not deter him from providing the press with news pictures. On the contrary, he had the ideal position for a press photographer: always the first on the spot when something happened! These were dramatic times - the last decade of the Czar with strikes, demonstrations and assassinations. Then came national independence and civil war, to be followed by the roaring twenties with prohibition and smuggling of liquor. And all was faithfully recorded by Harald Rosenberg´s camera.
In the latter half of the 1910s one more of the members of Fotografiamatörklubben proved himself to be a talented documentary and press photographer. This was Nicolai Leibowitsch, "a man with strong thumbs and the artist´s eye, a sense of humour and culinary appreciation", as he was described in Veckans Krönika in 1919 on his 50th birthday. He worked as a masseur before turning to press photography. Thence the strong thumbs. Otherwise, the periodical states, he was always found with a steadily clicking camera and full of energy. He was "ever present, able to cope with any difficult situation where a man of the camera might find himself, prepared to rush out at any time, in short, an excellent member of the staff".
In 1921 the club adopted its present name of Amatörfotografklubben i Helsingfors, AFK for short.
Romanticism and Rosenlund
"The old romantic subjects have been rejected - a new beauty has taken their place. The eye of the camera is aimed at everyday things from a new angle - these everyday things are suddenly expressive, poetic, even mystical."
The new matter-of-fact approach of the Bauhaus school, with Raoul af Hällström is referring to in the above quotation, did not gain ground with Amatörfotografklubben. In the 30s it was primarily represented by the Abiss Group in Finland. Two members of the group, Heinrich Iffland and Björn Soldan, were active in AFK, but did not influence the views of the other members to any noticeable extent. Pictorialism had strong roots, partly due to the still active old masters, such as Wladimir Schohin, Walter Jakobsson and Fritz Englund, and partly because new members, too, adopted the romantic conception of the image. Although a writer in the periodical Valokuvaus in 1927 praises the old printing methods saying that "they will always beat the silver bromide enlargements, whatever softening methods the latter will use", the picturesque bromoil prints had to give way to simpler enlargement methods. But the concept of the image remained unchanged: aesthetic and romantic, soft lines and beautiful values.
Among the foremost of the new romanticists was Georg Tschernochvostoff. His interest in photography knew no barriers of language, as he was active in both Amatörfotografklubben and the Finnish-speaking Kameraseura. In the 40s he was vice chairman of both societies at the same time. He was also one of the first Finns to be offered membership of the Royal Photographic Society in London.
Tscherno had an exceptionally versatile artistic talent. From painting he turned to photography which combined his technical and artistic abilities. He was also something of a linguistic genius. In his darkroom in an alcove at Mechelininkatu in Helsinki Tscherno studied the techniques of photography and made experiments in the company of AFK members Heinrich Iffland, Ilmari Wasenius and Fred Runeberg. He then shared his experience with the other members of the club. He also introduced the well-known photographer Constantin Grünberg to the mysteries of photography. Tscherno was a perfectionist and his main camera was a Rolleicord which answered to his demands on optical quality and large-sized negatives. He had a 35-mm camera which he used mostly for colour photography since 35-mm slide film by Kodak and Agfa had become available in 1938. The same autumn AFK organised its first colour photo competition, and Tscherno won first prize with both screen plates and multicoated film.
It required a new generation of irreverent young people of the 50s to displace the "Rosenlundians" - so called with reference to a well-known old people´s home in Stockholm - and their "outdated, false, superromantic image conception". Today the pendulum has swung back again. In the 80s traditional aesthetic values, a sensitive rendering of the subject and a full scale of values are appreciated once more. The old Rosenlundians are back again.
Photographics and Photograms
"Subjective photography is experimental, its aims are to extend the limits of photography, to find new means of photographic expression. Such are, for instance, photograms, often abstract images created by projecting objects straight on to the photographic paper without the help of a camera, and photomontage where various cutout image elements are combined to form a new image."
(Jaakko Ylinen, Teekkari, 1956)
There is nothing new under the sun of photography. The post-war generation which revolted against the romantic image conception in the 50s had its roots in the Bauhaus school of the 20s, where the Hungarian László Moholy-Nagy was active in 1923-28. Here the experiments of the Americans Coburn and Man Ray, working in England and France respectively, of photographs without camera, photograms, solarisation and other graphic techniques were were taken further.
The young radicals of Amatörfotografklubben were not very conscious of all this. Their bible was Otto Steinert´s Subjektive Fotografie and the periodicals Foto and Nordisk Tidskrift för Fotografi which reflected the reaction of young Swedish photographers against the Rosenlundians. Subjects should preferably be ugly and repulsive: backyards, broken windows, peeling walls. But it was not the subject that made the picture, it was the execution which was founded on an idea. The subject was degraded to the role of a means for creative activity, the image became an end in itself.
The discussion was heated as can be imagined. The more harsh and uncomprehending the criticism, the more satisfied the photographers who were inspired to produce even more outrageous pictures. Kindred spirits were found in Åbo Fotoklubb and some Finnish-speaking photo societies where these so-called photographics survived much longer than in AFK. At the annual exhibition of the Federation of Finnish Photo Clubs there were even some three-dimensional photo constructions of wood to be seen.
Graphically hard black and white images with no halftones came to be the brand of subjective photography, images which might "equally well have been composed with ink and brush". There were many who doubted that Viking Nyström and Lars von Haartman owned cameras at all when they competed with their photograms produced with the enlarger.
A borderline case was Per Olov Jansson who combined a fundamentally romantic image conception with the perfect technique and liking for experiments of the advertising photographer. He enjoyed the conventional landscape reproduced with a full halftone scale and reverent technique, but he also liked to create an abstraction or an atmosphere by manipulating the perspective, the range of tones and the cropping.
Fredrick Hackman constructed fantastic still lifes and tabletop compositions in his living room while Robin Hackman ruthlessly made sandwich prints in the family bathroom. Nothing was forbidden, all was to be tried.
The pictures may not always have stood up to the test of time, but they share a refreshing feature: a consciously naive craziness, humour and irony. There was nothing like it in the other photo clubs where people took themselves and their photography more seriously.
At the same time AFK had a group of photographers, Caj Bremer, K.G. Roos and Kristian Runeberg among others, who were fighting for the sincere documentary picture. Their time came in the 60s in daily papers and periodicals.
Gold and Glory
Photo judge Kalevi Pekkonen:
- It would be nice to know what the photographer really has intended with this picture.
A voice from the audience:
- Probably to win the competition!
As long as there have been photo clubs there have been photo competitions. The club members come roughly in three categories: the Authorities - those who are considered capable of judging the work of others, the Competitors - those who dare to expose their work to criticism, and the Lookers-on - those who are there to applaud the winners.
As long as photo competitions have been held rules have been subject to dispute. To give everyone a chance the competitors are classified and to spur interest various kinds of competitions have been organised for different group of members: Motif competitions, monthly competitions, competitions against other clubs, and competitions for beginners, for amateurs, for masters, for ladies, for different age groups, not to forget competitions in colour, in black and white...
As long as there have been competitions classification has been discussed. Rules have been interpreted, amateur status pondered, and points counted according to mathematical formulas. The composition of the jury and the number of judges have been changed, qualifications have fallen under suspicion, classification criteria reformulated, and so on.
Professional photographers, artists, art critics have been interviewed, the opinion of the audience asked, and always the outcome is: There´s no justice!
Why then this mania for competitions which is unheard of in any other art form? Because competitions are exciting, constructive criticism is instructive, and exhibiting one´s photographs to others is inspiring. The competition adds spice to the hobby. That is why competitions were held in the 1890s, and that is why they are still arranged a hundred years later. Through competitions many famous photographs have become widely known and gained gold and glory nationally and internationally.
The first international success of the club was won as early as 1892 when the first international photographic competition was held in Paris with 150 amateurs from all over the world participating. In keen competition with others Harry Hintze won a fifth prize and a bronze medal.
Since then members of the club have enjoyed many successes at international exhibitions and in particular at the annual competitions of the Federation of Finnish Photo Clubs where the club has been much to the fore ever since the Federation was founded. Especially the 60s and most of the 70s were years of active exhibiting and competition. The 75th anniversary in 1964 was celebrated with an exhibition of the history of photography at Galerie Hörhammer combined with the annual exhibition of the Federation where AFK was relatively speaking the best with 16 photos accepted out of 34 submissions. There was ample co-operation with Kameraseura in Helsinki which at the 80th anniversary was given unique expression in a Swedish-language issue of the photo magazine Kameralehti.
The members also organised photographic exhibitions of their own. Joint photographic projects included "The Amateur looks at Stockmann´s" and "The new Böle" which was part of the anniversary exhibition of the Savings Bank of Helsinki. AFK has arranged a further two photohistorical exhibitions using material in its archives: a presentation of the photography of Harald Rosenberg, and Tidsbilder - Pictures of an Age - a series of photographs from the turn of the century at the Photographic Museum of Finland.
In spite of courses and a new laboratory for members photographic activity went into a regrettable decline. The masters of the 60s grew tired of competing among themselves and new photos were seen but seldom. The fruitful collaboration between professionals and amateurs in the past decades waned. Amatörfotografklubben was once again a purely social club where the members after having seen a pictorial story in colour of travels in some exotic country went to their favourite pub for a few rounds.
Colour competitions alone attracted a larger number of competitors, and the lack of interest in black and white may perhaps be blamed on colour film since it was so convenient to use colour. The only work it involved was to mount the slides in frames. The members liked to listen to instructive talks and to follow demonstrations of new cameras, but preferred to satisfy themselves as to photography in colour. Excursions were well frequented, some members even bringing their cameras loaded with colour film.
But spirits were high.
The Fine Print
"The lab is becoming popular. The new mounting equipment is installed and each week there are more members who have attended the mounting courses and want to start putting their skills to work."
(AFK circular 2/88)
Amatörfotografklubben i Helsingfors is entering its second century with renewed energy. The membership is increasing and there is much activity. The club is organising basic courses, mounting courses, spotting courses, and an extensive advanced course in black and white photographic workmanship with Stig Gustafsson as the competent teacher. And the results have not been long in showing. The black and white image is back again, prepared according to the rules, archival proof, on paper of high silver content, fine-grained with perfect sharpness and gradation and mounted in a trim passe-partout.
At meetings well-known photographers like Ulla-Maija Parikka, Matti Saanio, Pentti Sammallahti, Kristoffer Albrecht, Kristian Runeberg and Vidar Lindqvist are heard. The monthly meetings are not enough. During the season there is also a black and white circle and a colour circle where special problems are aired.
The future is looking bright.
(Translated from swedish by Kristina Mellberg)