Risto Rasa: Five Poems

crow.JPG

Sain viisi senttiä korkean kaktuksen.
Se on lapsi vasta,
sen piikit taipuvat vielä.

I got a two-inch-tall cactus.
It is a mere child.
Its spines still bend.

* * * * *

Kun siivosin,
löysin kirjan,
joka on kuulunut sinulle.
Mietin millaiseksi olet muuttunut,
oletko vielä puheittisi
näköinen.

When I was cleaning
I found a book
that belonged to you.
I wondered how you had changed,
whether you still looked
speechless.

* * * * *

Hän on hyvin yksinäinen,
tilasi lehden
jotta joku kävisi hänen ovellaan.

He is quite lonely.
He ordered the paper
so someone would come to his door.

* * * * *

Maassa varis
raakkuu
sulavan kinoksen soittimiin.

On the ground, a crow
caws,
tickling a melting snowdrift’s ivories.

* * * * *

Vankilan muurin juurella
mustalaiset iloisesti juttelevat.
Kuuluu pienen pojan ääni:
”Hiljaa, nyt se laulaa.”

Gypsies chat happily
at the foot of the prison wall.
A little boy’s voice is audible.
“Quiet, it’s singing now.”

Source: Risto Rasa, Hilja, nyt se laulaa (Helsinki: Otava, 1976), pp. 5–9. Photo and translation by Living in FIN

Eeva Kilpi: Now I Am Old

karhumaki house

28.5.2002 KLO 24
Nuorena minua autettiin enemmän. Nyt kun olen vanha, minua ei auta kukaan. Rahasta on apua, mutta se ei ole ihminen. Eikä se ole voimaa. Se on vain tietynlaista valtaa. Ja helppoutta sillä voi kyllä ostaa.

12:00 a.m., May 28, 2002
When I was young I got more help. No one helps now I am old. Money helps but it is not a person nor is it power. It is only a kind of authority. And you can, indeed, buy an amount of ease with it.

12.6.2002 KLO 7.45
Minä yritän opetella tätä vanhuutta. Minun pitäisi olla vanha, kaikki odottavat minulta sitä, mutta silti minun on tehtävä kaikki itse, hoidettava asiat, tehtävä päätöksiä, jaksettava toteuttaa ne, oltava oma palveluskuntani, emännöitävä, jos haluan tavata jälkeläisiäni, läheisiäni. Muutenhan minä en siedä ihmisiä ympärilläni. Pitäisi osata olla vanha ja silti jaksaa kuin nuori.

7:45 a.m., June 12, 2002
I am trying to get the hang of old age. I am supposed to be old, everyone expects this from me. I still have to do everything myself, though. I have to take care of things, make decisions, and manage to carry them out. I have to be my own staff and hostess if I want to see my offspring and intimates. Otherwise, I cannot stand having people around me. I should have the knack of being old while still feeling like a young person.

29.6.2002 KLO 22.55
Pitää olla valmis siihen, että kuolee äkkiä, mutta myös siihen, että kuolee hiutuen.

10:55 p.m., June 29, 2002
You have to be ready to die suddenly but you also have to be ready to languish to death.

Source: Eeva Kilpa, Sininen muistikirja (Helsinki: WSOY, 2019), pp. 7, 9, 15. Translation and photo by Living in FIN

Relaxation for Men

darja-1Darya Apahonchich is one of the artists exhibited at the 2019 Festival of Political Photography at the Finnish Museum of Photography. Photo by Liisa Takala. Courtesy of Helsingin Sanomat

Relaxation for Men
Darya Apahonchich wanted to make prostitution visible so she photographed men
Jussi Lehmusvesi
Helsingin Sanomat
March 13, 2019

A good three years ago, Petersburg teacher Darya Apahonchich was walking to work when she noticed letters painted on the sidewalk.

ОТДЫХ

Freely translated, the word means “relaxation, rest.” Apahonchich knew it was one of the most common phrases in Russia for advertising prostitution.

Apahonchich was intrigued. On previous walks to work, she had noticed that ads for brothels had spread everywhere, including walls, light poles, and transformer boxes, and now they seemed to have flooded the streets, too. There was also something irritating about the word отдых.

Relaxation.

Or the slightly longer version:

Relaxation for men.

Apahonchich had an idea. She was also a professional artist and had worked in several groups that produced political art. She asked male acquaintances to think about how they really relaxed. Then she took the men to the sex ads and asked them to assume the poses they had chosen for relaxing.

The photographs were produced in the middle of sidewalks as passersby watched.

“I wasn’t trying to take smooth, finished art photos but snapshots,” she said. “People’s reactions were supportive or, more often, indifferent. Petersburg is a big city, after all, and people are not easily surprised.”

After the photoshoot, she posted the photos on social media and waited for a reaction.

Things kicked off after a while.

Apahonchich’s photos attracted attention on social media. The photographer was asked for interviews by more traditional media.

She was more delighted by offers from complete strangers, men who wanted to be involved in the project.

“They said they wanted to relax and asked whether they could help me,” Apahonich says.

Despite what you might imagine, there was nothing suggestive about the men’s requests. They genuinely wanted to be involved in doing something good.

The photographer accepted the offers and new photos were produced.

“It started out just as a fun thing but gradually turned into something more serious,” she says.

darja-2Two young men relaxing. Photo by Darya Apahonchich. Courtesy of Helsingin Sanomat

The success of Apahonchich’s photos could be explained by their skewed perspective. We have seen plenty of pictures of people victimized by prostitution at exhibitions but the gaze in her photos is focused on men.

This also has its own meaning for her.

“When people talk about prostitution, they usually talk about women, but I hope to make something invisible visible in the images I produce,” Apahonchich says.

It is a reasonable aspiration in the sense that men are active in the sex trade as middlemen, customers and, sometimes, vendors, too.

“Of course, men see my pictures differently. Some see them only as humorous. In the best case, I make the men looking at the photos reflect on their own position on the matter.”

The artist also has a personal reason for approaching the subject seriously.

Apahonchich walks around the Finnish Museum of Photography at the Cable Factory looking at the works of her colleagues in the Festival of Political Photography, which presents the work of twenty artists from around the world in a show entitled Potentiality.

In Apahonchich’s own images, men relax alongside “Relaxation for men” ads. One reads the newspaper, another plays on the train tracks, a third does yoga, and a fourth plays the balalaika.

A fifth man fishes.

According to the artist, the men who wanted into the project hardly represent the majority opinion regarding prostitution.

“Russia is still a conservative country and we have a different notion of women’s rights than in Scandinavia. It is common for men not to see any problem with prostitution. Many of them think it’s quite acceptable if, say, they have problems with their marriages.”

It is illegal in Russia to advertise sex services but, according to Apahonchich, Russian cities are in no hurry to get rid of the ads. She argues that the economic interests of the powers that be are often linked to human trafficking.

“It’s about money,” she says. “In Russia, the media have written about the links between corruption and prostitution. The police, for example, visit brothels regularly. They even have their own term for their visits. They are called ‘Saturday specials.'”

Her drastic claim is supported by a longitudinal interview study in which researchers mapped the experiences of sex workers with police in Petersburg and Orenburg. The study found that over a third of the sex workers had been abused by police.

The study was done in 2014, but researchers have obtained similar outcomes in more recent studies.

Estimates of the total number of people involved in sex work in Russia are as high as three million.

“I don’t approve of the word ‘sex worker,'” says Apahonchich. “In my opinion, it is not work but exploitation. I am talking about women who are involved in prostitution. Of course, there are differences in how people view the matter. If someone wants to call themselves a sex worker, I accept their choice, of course, but I don’t think of it that way.”

She also finds it misleading to talk about “sex.”

“Many girls go into prostitution at the age of thirteen or even younger. I think it is a question of rape culture more than of sex.”

darja-3Man and pillow. Photo by Darya Apahonchich. Courtesy of Helsingin Sanomat

Apahonchich has a personal reason for regarding prostitution negatively. She earns her daily bready by teaching Russian to women who have come from Syria and Afghanistan, for example. She is painfully aware her students are at high risk of being marginalized and forced into prostitution.

“Since they come to Russia as refugees and immigrants, they are on really shaky ground. They are often undocumented and cannot defend themselves,” Apahonchich says, looking anxious.

She is clearly concerned about her students.

She has not shown her photographs in class.

“I try to keep politics to a minimum,” she says. “A large number of my students are from quite conservative regions and I don’t want to scare them. Also, some of the students’ husbands have a negative attitude to their going to school, so in this sense, too, caution is important.”

“So, I concentrate on teaching the language and I answer their questions.”

There is one subject, however, that Apahonchich plans to raise in class.

She wants to teach the women how to talk to the police.

darja-4A man relaxes by meditating. Photo by Darya Apahonchich. Courtesy of Helsingin Sanomat

Relaxation for men. Although sex advertising has been moving to the Internet in Russia, the letters on the cobblestones still entice men into becoming customers.

Apahonchich’s own attitude to the advertisements has changed as she has photographed them.

“In the past, I would complain about them and think about all the young women they concealed. But after shooting them I saw them as locations and advertisements.  I would think that one was in a good spot for marketing or this one had really different colors, that I had no photos with yellow lettering in them. Or this image was in a good place for setting up and shooting.”

Another thing has changed. The photographer now knows what to say to men who fiercely defend prostitution.

“I ask them whether they would be willing to do the same job themselves or let their children do it. Since they don’t want it for their own children, why would they wish it on others?”

darja-5.JPGThe ads encouraging relaxation are also in English. Photo by Darya Apahonchich. Courtesy of Helsingin Sanomat

Apahonchich recounts how one of the men in the photos heard a child ask his parents what the ad meant as the model sat waiting on the pavement.

It was no easy task for the parents to explain what the words meant.

Nor was it easy to tell the child why a price had been placed under a woman’s name.

Translated by Living in FIN

 

Hannu Salakka, “Airs and Orations”

margin walkers

Puheet, ilmeet
eivät synnytä minussa mitään
nyt, kun kaikkien on ollut pakko
osoittaa kyvyttömyytensä.
Kuollessani haluan kasvaa metsiin.

Airs and orations
leave me untouched
now when it is compulsory for all and sundry
to flaunt their incompetence.
When I die I want to grow into forests.

Source: Hannu Salakka, Kuin unessa viipyen (Otava, 1990), p. 208. Translation and photo by Living in FIN

Pentti Saarikoski, “Birthday”

mushroom

Syntymäpäivä

Kun syksy on syksy ja hatussa on mustetta,
kaksikymmentäkolme vuotta on auki yhtaikaa,
kissa katsoo ja jokaisen vuoden pohjalla on
syksy kun on syksy, syysmetsä, ja metsässä kasvaa
sieni, ja kissa syö sienen ja kuolee äkkiä:
kaksikymmentäkolme vuotta menee yhtaikaa kiinni.

Birthday

When autumn is autumn, and ink is on the brain,
twenty-three years is simultaneously open.
The cat watches, and underlying every year is
autumn when it is autumn, an autumnal forest, and in the forest grows
a mushroom. The cat eats the mushroom and suddenly dies.
Twenty-three years simultaneously come to a close.

1961

Source: Pentti Saarikoski, Runot (Otava, 2004), p. 93. Translation and photo by Living in FIN. For my childhood friend Lyle Enderson on his birthday.