In my work as marketing coordinator at Ruka-Kuusamo Tourist Association, I usually spend my time on a laptop producing content for Ruka’s website and social media, but today I have a different type of work day ahead of me. I am a research subject in a project which aims to create constructive dialogue between people with various forest relations by means of nature photography.
As a nature model at Oulanka
Differend kind of day at the outdoor office
Researchers Janette Backman and Kalle Immonen in the Nature Photography as a Bridge Builder - Forest Relations in Koillismaa Project have dug in to my forest relations through interviews. There is a total of 11 people involved in the project, and as the project progresses, we will be able to discover each other's forest views by means of photographs and discuss about our forest relations with each other.
Today we are going in to the forest to take nature photographs in forest views of my choice. During my free time, I spend a lot of time in the nature with our dogs, particularly in the framework of rescue dog activities. The researchers are also very interested in my experience of extinguishing forest fires as part of voluntary fire brigade activities, but in the end I decide to present Oulanka’s river views with its different forest and high embankments to the researchers. The researchers ask about the reason for choosing this photography site and I tell them about the various species of Oulanka National Park, the river views that change each year and during different seasons, and the surprising variation of the winding river's views. In the end, I end up stating: Oulanka cannot be described, it must be experienced.
One morning in early-June, the thermometer has just about reach above three degrees, when we begin packing our photography equipment and hiking equipment in the car. It is a windy day at Ruka. It was raining in the morning, but it is forecasted to be fair for the rest of the day. On the other hand, I know from experience that the weather at Oulanka can be very different to the weather in Ruka, and the winding river is mainly sheltered from wind.
The researchers are slightly nervous; neither of them has baddled on canoe before. My family’s two dogs join us on our trip, they are partially why I enjoy spending time in the forests every day. Packing expensive photography equipment, unexperienced paddlers and a three-month-old puppy in the same canoe is not my idea of a relaxing canoe trip, so my husband Teemu has kindly promised to come and help me at the river. We are both experienced kayakers, and we split the photographers, dogs and equipment evenly in to two canoes. The photographers can focus on photography, and Teemu and I will take care of the paddling.
I have agreed on hiring the canoes and transport to the Oulanka National Park camping area with Ari Seppänen in advance. At the camping area in the vicinity of the river, it is easy for Ari to come and collect us once the photography session is over; art does not ask for time so we are unable to determine a certain pick-up time. A canoe trip from Kiutaköngäs to the pick-up point below Nurmisaarenniemi usually takes 2-3 hours including breaks, but I initially tell Ari that our trip will take at least 4 hours. Before leaving, Ari tells us about the river’s water situation; the water is low and right at the beginning of our canoe trip, we should be aware of the underwater rocks immediately below the surface.
The slipway for the canoes is located below the stunning Kiutaköngäs waterfall. We unload our equipment from the car and transport the canoes along the “gutters” that have been made for them to the river shore. The dogs happily run around on the beach, and to begin with we dress them in life jackets; our puppy, Mopo, has not been swimming before. Despite me trying to prevent him, our older dog Camo goes for a swim, so to start with, Teemu and Janette have a wet and sandy dog in their canoe. The sun begins to peek from behind the clouds and the photographers eagerly focus on the lower rapids of Kiutaköngäs in admiration.
I am asked to paddle as close to the rapids as possible with the dog and asked to try and keep the canoe still at the rapids. The photographers stay at shore as they set up their tripods and attach their long-focuses to their cameras. Camo jumps in to the canoe with me and we paddle towards the rapids. At the same time, I get to personally experience the accuracy of Ari’s low water warning, as the unevenly loaded canoe momentarily gets stuck at underwater rocks, where you could easily paddle through on a normal summer day.
I manage to free the canoe and we move on to the agreed location. The combination of the water flow and the wind cause the canoe to slowly move towards the shore despite my steering. I return to the photographers and I am greeted with an excited request to go back to the same location again. Camo calmly sits in the canoe - as if he understood that we are now being filmed. At some point I check my watch and laugh: It has already been an hour and the other canoe has not even left the shore! I feel like sending Ari a message, but I am being photographed so I can’t pull my mobile phone out of a vacuum-sealed bag.
Finally, both photographers have achieved a photograph they are happy with, and we can continue down the stream. Teemu and Janette find a good route and quickly proceed from the bay to the flows. Mopo tries to climb to the edge from the bottom of the canoe, but I nail the puppy between my legs and concentrate on steering the canoe between the rocks and rapids to the river bed. Kalle is paddling at the front, he is skilled for a first-timer. At Janette's request, Teemu has already turned their canoe against the flow and paddled close to the rapids again; Janette’s camera is flashing, Kalle and I park our canoe at the river shore. We both feel like laughing - by now we have proceeded around one hundred metres, but the speed is definitely not exhilarating. We will probably not be back until in the evening...
We slowly continue our journey along the windy river. Mergansers fly off and the heat of the sun makes us take off our shell jackets. At some point, Kalle turns to sit and face me, and takes photos of Mopo and I as I paddle slowly with the flow. Janette takes photos of us from the other canoe. Mopo falls asleep in the foot space of the canoe on the blanket I have laid out. We occasionally stop to plan photography angles, and talk about everything related to the national park, tourism and spending time in nature. When a suitable shore is reached, we stop to stretch our legs. Janette, who is excited by the high sandy embankments, takes photos from the shore with the help of a tripod, while I paddle around the river turn and the canoe runs along the sand embankment. We also switch the photographers' places in the canoes; Janette comes with me and Kalle moves to Teemu’s canoe.
Janette mainly takes photos while facing me, and at some point she asks whether it feels awkward to be photographed. It is familiar for me to be a model, since I organise regional shoots in my work, and I often have to pose for these photos too. Although the times for the photography shoots are always agreed well in advance, the exact dates are selected last minute according to the weather. Thus, it is challenging to find suitable models, and we often end up using our own staff as models. Most of the time, I am also responsible for all the photography arrangements and I select the photography angles as well as the atmosphere to be achieved in the photos; fortunately, this time, choosing the photography angles and atmosphere is decided by the nature photographers. They of course ask me to tell them, if them if there is a specific landscape I would like to include in the photos.
Every time the canoes get close to each other, Mopo is interested by Camo in the other canoe, and when my attention is finally somewhere else, the puppy climbs overboard and has his first encounter with water. Luckily the life jacket carries him and the puppy is not at all bothered - I pull him back in to the canoe by his leash and we get to shore to dry off the quivering fur ball. It is only a short distance to Nurmisaarenniemi, and the puppy’s fur quickly dries in the sand. We talk about forest management and the importance of forests for tourism while we enjoy our packed lunch at the camp fire. At the opposite shore of the river, along Karhunkierros Trail at Ansakämppä, there is a lot of hustle and bustle - there are so many people at the camp fire, that some are eating their packed lunch while sitting on the sand. The cold and windy weather indicated by the weather forecast has probably affected the fact that there are no other canoes on the river; we are able to sit in complete peace at the rest location that is preferred by paddlers.
After our lunch break, we complete Kalle’s wish of a photo with a long shutter speed, where the puppy, canoe and I stay still while the water flows past us. In the background is the stunning old forest, which is captured in the photo in a detailed manner. While Kalle buzzes around the tripod with a remote trigger in his hand, the hikers on the opposite shore seem to wonder what we are doing. Mopo behaves surprisingly well for his age; he almost freezes in my lap, until Kalle says he is satisfied with his photographs.
Janette takes some more photos with the tripod and again, Mopo poses like a proper male model. Janette wades around the tripod and Kalle wonders whether the leg length of Janette's wellington boots will be enough. The trip begins to be reaching an end, so at this point wet clothes wouldn’t cause too much trouble.
As the journey continues, Mopo curls up again for a nap on the floor of the canoe. I let Ari know our pick-up time and we briskly paddle towards the collection point. Janette’s camera is of course still clicking, since Oulanka now offers some of its finest sand embankments. No reindeer can be seen this time, only the trails on the steep embankments show that the sandy shores are popular among the reindeer. Bank swallows fly out of their nests. If only the trip wouldn’t end! In my mind, I decide that for our next Oulanka canoe trip, we will go for a couple of days and stay the night in tents at Sirkkapuro’s or Alaniemi’s leans.
The steep embankment at the canoes’ lifting location is the most difficult slipway location on the route. With Kalle’s and Teemu’s help, we safely reach shore and begin to pull the canoe along the gutter towards the road. Ari comes to help us, so Janette and I only have to carry the dry bags to the car. Ari lifts the canoes on the transport trailer’s frame and we climb in to the minibus. Mopo happily lies on his back on his own seat while Janette strokes him, and Camo curls up at Kalle’s feet. All in all, our trip took more than five hours, but the photographers seem satisfied with their photographs. The both say that they now understand, what I meant, when I said that Oulanka has to be personally experienced. Janette is already looking through her calendar and is planning on returning to Oulanka with her friends, and Kalle seems to be so inspired with paddling that he will definitely be climbing back in to a canoe. Despite it being a long day, we return to Ruka feeling refreshed and I look forward to seeing the results of the photography day. (Some of them are visible in this blog and a larger amount was available in the exhibition in Kuusamotalo during autumn 2018.)
Story: Sari Kumpuniemi
Photos: Janette Backman and Kalle Immonen