Valtteri Hirvonen is a wilderness photographer, an adventurer who travels around the world most of the year and takes his pictures along the way. His pictures investigate the eternal dialogue between human and nature. His love for the outdoor started at a very young age since he used to spend most of his childhood summers in a boat and winters in a sledge while his parents were skiing in the forests. Nature became his home.
When did you first knew that you wanted to become a photographer?
It just kind of happened… After I finished high school I went to Chamonix, France for a season to learn freeride snowboarding and being in the mountains. I had my graduation gift film camera with me and I took some photos every once in a while. Of course I met with loads of people while being there and someone said that I should send some of my photos to a ski magazine. I couldn’t send my slides so I just telephoned someone at the magazine and described a couple of my photos. He said they could buy those for 150euros each. I was travelling on such a tight budget that this was huge money for me. Then I thought that photography must be the nicest job because you get paid while being in the mountains.
Can you tell us a little bit about your professional background?
After that Chamonix period I thought I should get a photography education. I spent a couple of years studying in different art schools but then realized that the pace was too slow for my taste. I wanted to be active and work. Since work was my goal, why should I waste my time in school? I reached Kuvaamo, which was the best photography production company in Finland at the time and asked for work. I was brought on to assist some photographers and retouch their photos. Then I really saw what’s it like to be a professional photographer in Finland.
How did you end up being an adventure/outdoor/nature photographer?
Nature has always played a huge role in my life. My parents took me everywhere when I was a child. We lived in North-Karelia back then and I spent most of my summers in a boat and most of my winters in a sledge while my parents skied in the forests. I cannot remember what our home looked like back then but I can vividly remember our boat and all those cool places we went to. Nature is my nature. I would go to all these places and do all these things anyway whether I have my camera with me or not.
How would you describe your style as a photographer?
I am an observer. I try not to force things to happen. I’m really intuitive also and I trust my instincts so I try not to overthink my shots. A good friend of mine once said that “Valtteri is like a photo ninja, he is always where you least expect him, getting the shot you never knew you needed.” That actually sums up my style pretty well.
Is there someone who you admire as an image-maker?
Not really an image-maker but I do admire Rauli Virtanen – a freelance journalist who has been covering wars and conflicts all over the world for more than 40 years. But basically I admire everyone who’s doing things their own way.
What is your relationship with nature?
Nature is my normal surroundings; I don’t feel like home in the cities. I am also worried about how we are treating the natural world these days and how our generation has become alienated from it.
Where do you see beauty when you go into the wilderness? Your pictures are very beautiful. Is that how you see the world?
I try to keep my eyes open and trust my intuition. Sometimes it’s hard to show what you are seeing with just couple of photos but that’s also a nice challenge and the beauty of photography – telling only part of the stories and letting people imagine the rest.
At different times people have tried to reshape nature. Power issues and politics are strongly related to the conservation of nature. Do you feel like you can control the landscape by framing it?
I’m really worried about how people are treating nature but I don’t really think about that when I’m taking photos. However, I try to choose my clients and those with whom I cooperate based on their values about nature.
How do you work? Is there a lot of pre/post production or do you work by intuition?
It depends on if I’m shooting just for my own collections or for a client. Assignments require more pre production because it does save time. If it’s just for me I just go for it and see what happens. That way, at least I get a nice adventure.
Does it take a long time to take a picture in the wilderness?
I’m a really fast shooter. Of course sometimes I need to wait for certain kind of light or something like that, but the actual process on taking the photo is really quick for me. I’ve learned that because usually I’m on a snowboard, showshoes or something similar so I need to be fast to be safe while keeping the group moving.
It has become a big trend to travel to isolated places. Do you think of yourself as a modern explorer? Is it meaningful to you to find undiscovered places?
I think that we make our own adventures. If I haven’t seen a place then it is undiscovered for me. I can see some place in a different way than everyone else. Of course I try to find places which are not crowded, but it doesn’t make a big difference for me if a million people have already seen the same mountain as me.
What are your favourite places in the world?
North Karelia and Japan. There’s also some weird connection between those two places…
Can you name one place everyone should experience while we’re here?
Finnish Lapland is one of a kind and so close to us. The majority of Finnish people have only seen the ski resorts but there is so much more when you go off the beaten track. And while you are there, you should also take a peek cross the boarder at northern Norway.
What are your future plans?
I’ll try to keep doing my own thing and enjoying nature. I don’t plan my life too far forward, I’m always up for a next trip, adventure or challenge. That’s what keeps it interesting!