We met Katja Pantzar back in 2014, when we visit the Porvoo Archipelago on our first trip to Finland. She was there writing an article for Blue Wings and we were going crazy about the beauty of that place. We talked and we kept in touch. She even did a short interview with us about what we thought about the islands around Porvoo.
But this article here is not about how we met Katja Pantzar. This is about her book, Helsinki by Light, a journey through the Finnish capital with an eye towards the light. The books show how Helsinki is shaped by light, seasons of light. During the summer months, Helsinki is flooded with a never ending light. There is no night anymore and this changes the city completely. The parks are filled with the sound of people doing barbecues and playing. There is music everywhere until late at night.
Then, winter comes and there are just a few hours of natural light. We visited Helsinki in january and it felt like a different place. Even thought Helsinki is not a dark city, it sure looks different and feels different. Because of that lack of light, a strong culture of light mixed with the roots of finnish design created innovative lighting that can brighten up this beautiful city in the top of the world.
Below you can read a short interview we did with Katja Pantzar about living in Helsinki, writing Helsinki by Light and her favourite places in the finnish capital.
On the introduction to the book, you mention that you were raised in Canada, lived in the Uk and New Zealand and finally got to Finland ten years ago. How did you feel about Finland when you got there and why Finland?
Although I was born in Finland, my family left Helsinki when I was 3 and we spent some time travelling the world before moving to Vancouver, Canada, where I grew up. I was always interested in travel and exploring my Finnish roots. A few years after attending grad school in London, England, I moved to Toronto, Canada, where I worked in book publishing for many years.
When I saw a job advert for a Helsinki-based magazine that sounded perfect — “English-language editor and writer needed for inflight magazine, must be willing to travel” — I applied, was offered the job and moved to Helsinki in 2002. Although I’ve been a freelancer for many years now, I still contribute to that publication.
What has changed? I think the biggest change is that ten years ago the Finnish capital was a well-kept secret, whereas today it’s very much on the international travel radar.
What was the idea behind the book?
The idea behind Helsinki by Light initially came from my own obsession with light, which developed after I moved to Finland. For several years I’ve been photographing (about 60 percent of the book’s photos are my own) and observing illumination in all its forms from natural light (the sharp contrasts of summer with 24 hours of daylight to winter with just a few hours of daylight) to artificial light (design lamps, art installations and wellbeing applications, for example).
I was itching to do a visual design book with a good story about Helsinki as there really wasn’t anything like this on the market — there’s either bulky coffee table books or a traditional guidebooks with endless listings that tend to become outdated quite quickly.
As a journalist, I saw light as unique angle —it isn’t a cliché that’s been done to death.
The book is also intended to be a souvenir (how many photos that people take are actually printed out?) and hopefully, a classic: I tried to select places and stories that will still be relevant in 5 years.
What is your favorite season to be in Helsinki and why?
My favourite season – this is a tough one as there is elements of each that I love very much. Pushed for an answer, I’d have to say: fall — warm days paired with crisp nights, the splendour of autumn leaves and the promise of new beginnings.
Can you say three places that everyone should go when they visit Helsinki?
1. Ateljee Bar atop Hotel Torni in the city centre — few people realise how compact Helsinki is and that’s surrounded by water until they see the view from this rooftop bar.
2. Silo 468, a massive repurposed oil storage container that doubles as a fantastic work of light art and a public gallery
3. During the summer months, Mattolaituri bar on the shores of Kaivopuisto Park for a seaside drink right next to a traditional rug-washing dock that the bar’s named after
You can buy Helsinki by Light online in english at Stockmann’s Academic Bookstore, Suomalainen Kirjakauppa and Adlibris. Or, you can try your luck with our July mission and get the book at your door. Check out our mission of the month and go grab your camera!