Antti Viitala On Character Defining Portraits

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All images by Antti Viitala. Used with permission.

Photographer Antti Viitala not only creates incredible photos of the Aurora Borealis, but he also is able to capture and create portraits that are telling of the person he is photographing. He finds inspiration of great painters and believes that making a subject comfortable is the best way for them to help you create better photos. Essentially, he’s all about having the subject forget that the camera is there.

To that end, some of his portraits have incredible stories behind them.

Phoblographer:  What do you love about portraiture?

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Antti: It is a perfect way of studying the expression, personality and the mood of the person being photographed. I have also always been a big fan of portraits done by the old master painters: Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Vermeer, Caravaggio etc.

Phoblographer: Much of your work is done in high contrast black and white, septa, etc. What’s the reason for this creative choice?

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Antti: My roots are in the film and darkroom. Many years ago I started collaborating with few BW printers I had a lot of respect for. Most notably, Mr. Mike Spry from Downtown Darkroom, London, UK. He is the man behind the famous Lith Prints for Anton Corbijn and most likely the best Lith printer around.

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Phoblographer: Walk us through a typical portrait session with you, what happens?

Antti: Each session ends up being different. The main goal for me is to achieve a situation where the person being photographed forgets about the posing part for a split second and reveals something real about his/her personality.

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Phoblographer: Lots of your images are very tight and focused on the face. Why do you feel this is more effective vs adding in more body language from the hands, etc?

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Antti: I do not see any particular reason for that. Maybe it is unintentional…

Phoblographer: Portrait sessions usually involve lots of photos being taken. To you, what makes an image quality of being portfolio worthy or not?Port13 copy

Antti: If a photograph I have taken somehow inspires me time after time when I look at it, it might be worth printing for the folio purposes. Happens very rarely though. I am very critical towards my own work.

Phoblographer: What the most memorable portrait session that you’ve ever done?

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Antti: I was on a fashion editorial assignment in Tanzania for Marie Claire magazine. We were staying somewhere 100 Kilometers outside of a town called Arusha in chalets built up in a Baobab tree. I found out that the local driver of the crew was a member of Maasai tribe. I asked him if I could visit his village. Next day he said he has talked with the oldest woman in the village who said we are welcome if we bring 200 liters of fresh water. Later on I found out that no one knows the age of the village elder including herself.

Day after, the driver took me and my friends through a bush fire to the village and I spent an unforgettable evening with the Maasai people who were happy to have their portraits taken. I was shooting with a film camera and I was able to give Polaroids to the people I photographed. They treasured the BW polaroids very much.

What a beautiful day. I still get emotional remembering about it. Here is the portrait of the Village Oldest;

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