The photographic series Atlas of Emotions by Jari Silomäki (b. 1975) is a record of 21st century events: the rapid rise in prosperity and inequality in developing countries, the shared server-run home country that is the Internet, the public presentation of personal histories and privacy protection, and the effects of European political populism on the lives of individuals.
The focal point of Silomäki’s work has for two decades been the positioning of the individual within the societal narrative of the times. Through subtle and private stories, he shows us the true faces of grand geopolitical twists and turns using narrative documentary photography, intimately coupled with textual expression.
Silomäki’s series are born through years of observation, investigation, construction, and artistic portrayals. He draws themes and inspiration from his own life and the lives of those he encounters, embracing the life stories of strangers he meets on the street or online. One of the series in the exhibition, My Weather Diary, was begun in the early 2000s and is still expanding to this day. Atlas of Emotions is Silomäki’s broadest solo exhibition to date, most of the works in which will now see their world debut.
The affectionate Kalpana – my story of class mobility
Swift and total wealth accumulation is a 21st century phenomenon in the developing world. Jari Silomäki says that people who have experienced upward class mobility have been underrepresented in the documentary arts. As a result, he says, the way such people are depicted in popular culture is often very one-sided: saturated with capitalism and the worship of money. The story of Anita from Russia inspired Silomäki to tackle the subject, and he became acquainted with the experiences of upwardly mobile people from seven different countries between 2017-2020. What he discovered was a treasure trove of life stories, each one totally unique.
Anita escaped from her mafioso husband, fleeing from a little Siberian village to Moscow, where she started a successful beauty business. The casteless Sojor was forced into marriage in a Bombay slum at age twelve, but became fabulously rich after many twists and turns. Later in life she has focused on helping women and jobless youths through her charity organization.
The series of artworks comprises the stories of twenty individuals or families. They were photographed in their own homes using artificial light, after sunset. The people’s histories are written over the images as if as a signature, in each person’s own handwriting and their own native language.
Atlas of Emotions
In Atlas of emotions, Jari Silomäki investigates the turning points in the lives of people who post on internet discussion forums from behind their alter-ego screen names. Silomäki went deep into the archives of the internet, spending hundreds of hours searching for the writings of anonymous people from around the world.
Silomäki strives to present some central strain in each writer’s life, and to repeat the feelings and events of the original post as accurately as possible. Silomäki edited the internet posts together into a manuscript and staged the authors’ homes in his studio, based on clues in the texts themselves. Actors then interpreted the reimagined scenes.
The writings on the surface of the work are extracts from the lives of anonymous people, in their own native languages. Sílomäki has blurred, altered, and edited some details to protect the identities of the writers. The work transports the viewer from the general to the specific and private: people’s fears, desires, and dreams. It is important to Silomäki to expand the concept of a documentary and to globally record events and emotions of our times.
My Weather Diary
Jari Silomäki followed a set of personally developed rules when photographing weather diaries: no tripods, no lighting tricks, not even any conscious arrangement. The picture has to come about along with the rest of daily life, as mechanically as possible. The goal is to refrain from conscious content creation and to let the meaning of the images develop freely in time. The significance lies in the image’s relationship with time, if it is to manifest at all.
For years, Silomäki took one photograph per day for this series, and the weather diary is still filling up regularly. The photographs are accompanied by writings on subjects ranging from contemporary global news to intimate, inner experiences. As the news cycle and his personal life intertwine, geographical distances lose their meaning. When the project began almost 20 years ago, the weather was not a politically charged issue. In our time, every atmospheric change is seen through the lens of the climate crisis.
Miklos’ invisible home
In his film, Jari Silomäki tells the story of a man whose home is invisible in the eyes of society. The protagonist, a man named Miklos living on Budapest’s Hármashatár-hegy mountain, appears to exist outside of the social order, even though he also has strong ties to the political history of Hungary. Prime minister Orbán’s government criminalized homelessness in 2018. A constitutional amendment prohibited sleeping in parks and sanctioned penalties against offenders of the new law. Miklos became an outlaw.
Miklos had lived a quiet life in his tarp-covered home since 2009. He sold the homeless people’s magazine Fedel Nelkul on the street, collected firewood for his outdoor stove, and followed the news on the radio. His relationship with his millionaire neighbors in the Buda Hills was amiable. After the prohibition, peace was replaced with insecurity.
Silomäki met Miklos in 2017 and followed his life for the next year and a half. The film emphasizes the home as a safe haven, even if it is a hovel built from spare wood with no lock on the door.