Claude Cahun, Vivian Maier, and Any Warhol, photographers throughout history have captured their essences in some pretty eccentric self-portraits – but the weather camera self-portrait project by Finnish photographer Tatu Gustafsson has re-invented this genre in an eerie new way. Gustafsson has traveled across Finland posing in front of roadside cameras for over four years in a photography project that is unlike any other. Each image shows an almost ghostly image of the photographer in varying scenes around the country from desolate highways to roundabouts.
In a unique portraiture project, Tatu Gustafsson takes self-portraits on roadside weather-cameras across Finland
The artist told Bored Panda the concept was born out of his insecurities with traditional portraiture, “I was just graduated from Turku Arts Academy in 2012 and I was in a situation where I had to look back what I had done and decide if I wanted to continue to the same direction or start something different. I never felt like I was the one who has the ability to make well composed and beautiful pictures so I thought that I want to do something that is more conceptual. I had seen one of the weather camera pictures somewhere and I thought that those are really interesting but maybe I could add something into them.”
Little planning went into the ghostly portraits for the series said Gustafsson, “One day I just went to the web page where you can see all the cameras and found out there are a couple of them quite near where I live. I spend the day driving around and made something like five pictures.” The photographer was able to retrieve the photos thanks to the Finnish Transport Agency, who captures photos every 12 minutes on over 700 roadside cameras around the country, which are then uploaded to their website for 24 hours.
Following his initial photo experiment, it took almost a year before he did more of them – and the project was born. “We were on a road trip with my friend and I made two or three self-portraits. This was in 2013 if I remember correctly. In 2014 I applied grant for the project and got one. After that the project got more serious. I started spending days on the road just doing these photos.”
With a grant from the Kone Foundation: “an independent non-profit organisation with a mission to make the world a better place by advancing bold initiatives in research and the arts” Gustafsson was able to continue his exploration into this new form of self-portraiture.
It may not have taken much planning for the initial, idea but as Gustafsson explains each shot does require research to set-up. “First I have to find a camera. So I go to this web site (https://liikennetilanne.tmfg.fi/) and look for one. When I arrive to the spot I have to decide where to stand so that I am visible in the picture and won’t get run over by cars. Another thing is timing. You can estimate when the photo is taken by looking when the previous photos were taken from the web page,” he explained, “Usually the there is 12 minutes cap between the pictures. There is no way telling from the camera that the picture has been taken so the best way is just to stand there few extra minutes to make sure you are in the picture. After that I go to my laptop and find the picture from the web page and save it.”
For a project, he described as “just something that I’ve been doing when I don’t have anything better to do,” the innovative series was not without challenges. “Even though I said it’s been fun to do this project, there were times when it was not so funny. For me, six days on the road sleeping in a car, eating unhealthy, showering in public swimming halls or lakes and standing in front of the weather cameras is all I can take. I mean it’s mentally pretty rough. Then there’s been a couple of situations where somebody has seen me right next to a busy road and stop to ask me if everything is OK. I mean in those situations you are glad that people care but same time it makes you think what you are doing and how you are making people worried about you. Like once I was standing between highway and intersection and this young man stopped his car and asked me if everything is okay and if I needed any help. I told him that I’m doing an art project and everything is ok but same time I was pretty sure that my face is telling otherwise. It was a bit overwhelming the combination of meeting this nice caring person and trying to convince him that everything is okay. I almost started crying.”
When asked what makes a great portrait Gustafsson said he can’t really say. This answer makes perfect sense after looking at his weather camera images, as the message is up for interpretation depending on the viewer. “I never thought Weather camera self-portraits that way. I try to find different ways of doing art and hope that it leads to something that people can reflect their own ideas and memories. If they think it’s funny that’s great! If they see it melancholic it’s great too! If somebody sees it funny and somebody sees it melancholic I now that I have succeeded in something.”
An ongoing creative endeavor, this artist is not finished with weather camera photography just yet, “I had no idea that this would be something that I would still do. Somebody once asked that if I would like to do this until I’ve been in front of every camera in Finland but I really hope that I never end up doing that!”
For people who are interested to know more about what went behind creating these shots Gustafsson said he’s working on a book about the project, “If everything goes as planned it should be out in 2020 or 2021. ”
As delightful as this journey has been the artist has more projects in store for viewers, “Right now I’m working on an exhibition that’s in August. It’s totally different body of work.” So keep your eyes open!