Sergey as a man who, having promised his family not to touch the bottle during his two-year absence, drinks from a teapot to stave off the demons of depression, 2007 © Ville Lenkkeri
The Place of No Roads is the visual report the Finnish photographer Ville Lenkkeri (°1972) made during his stay in the ghost town of Pyramiden. This abandoned Russian settlement, situated on the arctic Svalbard archipelago, was of seminal importance during the former Soviet regime because of its large coal mine. Miners and their families were sent to this remote, inhospitable site for a fixed period of two years. Pyramiden had an infrastructure like any other village, – schools, hospitals, libraries, museums, party halls –the only difference being that there were no roads that led to the settlement and that there was no money in circulation. The workers received their pay only upon completion of the contract.
For Lenkkeri, the lost and isolated existence at Pyramiden evokes the dream of a socialist Utopia, which was carried by a close community that set great store by solidarity and equality. It is this social ideal which Lenkkeri sets out to explore through his images. For the photographer, the fact that Pyramiden had no roads becomes a significant metaphor that illustrates how there was no reason to want to leave the village. Lenkkeri did not conceive his series of images as an objective documentary, nor does he intend to create a singular testimony about its past. He approaches the place, the few remaining people, and the objects he encounters in the ghost town in a sensitive and poetic manner. Wavering between idealisation and actual documenting, the photographer creates a panorama of a place that seems to exist outside our reality.
Lenkkeri in this way questions the objectivising possibilities of the photography medium: how can an image capture a reality which no longer exists today? This dilemma is also reflected in the theme of his photo series: in how far does the photographer’s ideal play a part in the description of a place which only still exists in the imagination?
In The Place of No Roads, Lenkkeri explores the fringe area between ideal and reality in a subtle way. His often surreal-like images of empty interiors, frozen portraits, and bleak landscapes try to find a balance between the idealised vision of a young outsider and the actual reality of the life in an isolated community. Through photography, Lenkkeri attempts to discover the relation between the truthful registration of the past and the subjective reliving of a lost, mental place.
Ville Lenkkeri gives a lecture on the openingnight at 20.15 pm.