Felicia Honkasalo’s debut photo book, Grey Cobalt, combines images of her late grandfather’s possessions and striking Finnish landscapes
Loose Joints is a publisher championing a progressive approach to image-making, with books fit to grace any Scandi coffee table. The artist-run design studio’s portfolio includes fashion photographer Harley Weir’s powerful photographs of Calais’ refugee camps set out in Homes, as well as Robin Friend’s Bastard Countryside. Loose Joints’ New Year offering is equally worthy of being pored over: photographer Felicia Honkasalo’s Nordic-inspired Grey Cobalt, released as a compliment to her debut exhibition. Finland’s minerals, mines, and mountains are the organic and industrial protagonists which fill Grey Cobalt’s pages. Skilfully weaved together to show a distant past, the series of images are a time capsule from a lost world.
“I wanted to create something that I have no memory of, who he had been,” the Finnish photographer recalls. Having never known her late grandfather, the process of ‘remembering’ actually required the use of imagination. This lead her to question the way memory itself works: “If I had no grounded memories of the person who had passed away, did he really exist? Could I find the memories somewhere else? Could I create them?” philosophical questions which Grey Cobalt forms an answer to.
The idea behind Grey Cobalt developed after Honkasalo inherited unconventional family heirlooms: instead of brooches or pearls, boxes of rocks and mining books were passed down to her. “Specific artefacts seemed to hold inside them a hidden narrative, as if they were silent about the story I wanted to discover,” the University of the Arts London graduate explains. Determined to unlock the rocks’ secrets, she enrolled in a geology course, visited factories and mines, and started photographing her late grandfather’s belongings firstly to catalogue them, and then as “an investigation into the things he had lived with”.
The artist’s fascination with how memories are locked inside natural artefacts explains why her native, mysterious Finnish landscape is constantly revisited in her photographs. Existing through centuries of passed time, “I like to think that the geographical landscape keeps within it layers and layers of history, a silent witness to the history,” Honkasalo says. Her depiction of Finland’s snow-covered, misty, or mars-like ground as conscious rather than “passive, non-living, non-thinking”, echoes Karen Barad’s idea of “intra-activity”, where humans and nature are interconnected.
It was a visit to a furnace in the Northern Finnish town of Tornio which allowed Honkasalo to follow in her metal scientist grandfather’s footsteps. There, she was inspired by the molten metal’s connection to human history, as “it is precisely in this state that the earth once was, and how the core of the earth still is”. She explains, “in a furnace, we fast track through all that history, back to the start of our time.”
The pages of Grey Cobalt act as a cabinet of curiosities. The multimedia mish-mash – which includes an epilogue of notes written by her grandfather – comes together to blur fact and fiction, past and present. In Honkasalo’s own words, Grey Cobalt “is in the end only a game of hide and seek” with the past, her grandfather, and memory.