Photographer Interview: Olli Syrjäkari

As an urbex photographer, it’s natural for me to check out other abandoned building photographers. The problem is, most of what I find is HDR garbage.

That’s why I love the work of Olli Syrjäkari of Finland. His abandoned work keeps the shadows and mystery of the places he explores. When I first saw Olli’s work, I felt like I met a fellow traveler. It was great to learn more about his photography.

Who are you, where are you, and what do you do?

My name is Olli Syrjäkari and I live in Tampere, Finland. Pencil pusher by day, photographer by night.

How did you get started in photography?

I’m not sure when it started. Probably when I got my first smartphone with a decent camera. Three years back I left my hometown to find my real home. By that time I bought a small interchangeable-lens camera, and it was then that I got serious about photography. Most of my photos are taken with that 100-euro camera. I did eventually upgrade but I went with the philosophy that the camera quality doesn’t matter until you know how to compose and find the light.

What do you like about your photography?

I love how my photographs raise questions and emotions. You could say my motto is “emotion is everything”. Also I think it’s therapeutic that I get to relive those moments that are already gone. I tend to hate most of my earlier work. I think for me that’s essential in order to become better.

You dabble in abandoned photography, and I love your sense of mystery and exploration. You also have a great eye for light and shadow. Where do you get inspiration for your style/ideas?

Thank you. When I see great photography, it really inspires me to get to that level. It makes me grab the camera and get out of the house, do something great. In all that abandoned photography I do, with the shadows and the light, I love that contrast. How things can make me happy and sad at the same time.

I recently realized something. All those places I explore, urban decay, homes people left behind, they get certain emotions going on in my head. Like I mentioned – happy and sad, also yearning, wishful, at peace. I also mentioned I left my hometown where I lived almost three decades, and I wasn’t happy, just a walking corpse. In my new hometown I have felt rootless, alone, anxious, scared but also very happy and content, at peace and hopeful. Something those families have felt when they left their rural homes and dying smalltowns in search for a better life. Narcistically, I think I have been photographing myself.

What kinds of themes do you explore with your work?

Sorrow, hope, dark thoughts, rural exodus, abandonment. How shadows can exist while there is light present. How the shadows are eventually winning, light is always just temporary. It needs to be maintained while darkness is the default.

In my nature photography, it’s basically empowerment, conservation, how life finds a way. I love to mix these themes, nature and abandonments. How nature reclaims what we have left behind. What comes after us? How we are temporary here, the light. Nature and entropy are the shadows, but they are the good guys here. We are just visiting and we are very bad guests.

Any upcoming projects or shoots you’re working on?

I am having an exhibition next summer, in Tampere, Finland. It will be free of charge but I am hoping to sell some photos to cover the costs. I am also planning to sell prints and licenses to fund my future explorations and exhibitions. Besides that I’m planning to get more into portraiture and people.

See more of Olli’s work at @siderocks, check out his Flickr gallery, and follow along on Instagram.

Urbex Collaboration

To prep for 2016, I did something different on New Year’s Eve: I urbexed with other people.

Jamie and Seth are two of my local photo buddies. We haven’t done a ton together, but we know each others’ work from Facebook and Twitter, and did a Kelby photo walk two years back. Seth has been a good guy to talk to about some artistic goals I have this year, and Jamie is someone I’ve wanted to go exploring with for a long time.

So we picked a place and made it happen on a cold December morning. We had a lot of fun – especially with shooting portraits of each other.

Seth wrote up a little post about our adventure on his photo blog.

More collaboration and adventures – it’s what I hope to do in the new year. Most of my abandoned work is solo: I find something, I explore something. This time, it was fun to explore something with other photographers.