The Helsinki Bus Station Theory


Pershing Square by Karen Johnson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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“The Helsinki Bus Station Theory” is the advice Arno Rafael Minkkinen made in a commencement speech he gave on May 22, 2011 at the New Hampshire Institute of Art. Minkkinen is a Finnish Photographer who lives and works in the United States. He is currently a Professor of Art at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell. Minkkinen has lectured and taught at MIT, Institute of Industrial Design in Helsinki, and the Philadelphia College of Art. He graduated with a Masters of Fine Art in Photography from the Rhode Island School of Design.

The theory is an analogy of the Helsinki bus station and the photographers journey to find his own style regardless of what others think. In Helsinki there are 5 buses that make the same stops within a kilometer of leaving the station. If you get off the bus after the first kilometer, you’ll never know that each bus eventually diverges away from the other buses and follows its own unique path.  So if you keep getting off the bus after the first kilometer and go back to the station and take another bus for the first kilometer you will  land up at the same stop doing the same thing.  Minkkinen compares this to a photographers artistic journey. If a photographer produces work so people will like it, he/she will never get beyond creating work that has been done before.  According to Minkkinen, to find your own unique style you have to “Stay on the F***ing Bus” because  you will eventually diverge from the pack and develop your own style. To do this you have to not care what others think and do what you love.

This theory resonated with me because I picked up my camera this past January after not shooting for 20 plus years. Why? Because I was asked by two friends if I still took pictures. This may not seem like a “big” question, but for me it made me stop and think why I wasn’t shooting. I realized that I had stopped shooting for three reasons. The first was I didn’t have the time, space or money to work with film anymore. I didn’t have a dark room, I didn’t have the money to pay for processing the way I would want it done and I just didn’t have time. Second, I went to photography school where you had to shoot and produce work within a set of rules. Your work looked like everyone elses. Third, I didn’t have enough confidence in my own work. I didn’t have the courage to not care what others thought. I got off the bus after the first kilometer.

I started shooting again because the technology made it so easy and available. I didn’t need a dark room, just a computer.  A data card instead of film which allows me to shoot to my heart’s content.  I also had an attitude change. I made a promise to myself that I would shoot what I loved regardless of what anyone thought of my pictures. I would shoot for the pure joy of expressing what I saw photographically. No rules or need for others approval.  Just shoot and share what I like.  That is what made the difference. I got back on the “f***ing” bus and I’m staying on it for my life’s journey.

This week’s pictures are a mixture of shots taken with my first digital camera in January, on photo walks with Meetup Groups and during my lunch hour.

The two Tod’s Point pictures were from a set of the first photos I shot after buying my first digital camera in January. It was a little Panasonic Lumix LX5 with an incredible Leica lens.  I was actually chased around Tod’s Point by the Police when I took these. They were closing the park and herding all the cars out so they could close the gates. I would jump out of the car, take the shot, jump back in the car, speed up to the next turn, stop the car, jump out…you get the picture.

Tod's Point Sunset

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Tod’s Point by Karen Johnson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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Guard Shack at Tod's Point

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Tod’s Point Guard Shack by Karen Johnson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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I actually took the next two pictures on a photo walk in the Nolita section of Manhattan.  Again, this was with my LX5.

Liberty

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Liberty by Karen Johnson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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Sea of Rust

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Sea of Rust by Karen Johnson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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The following four  pictures were taken on a photo walk in Harlem.  I really loved the color of the building. I shot this with my DSLR a Pentax K5 which I call the “Big Boy”.  I’ve always shot with Pentax so when I needed a camera that could do more than my little LX5 I knew it would be this one.

Yellow Apartment

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Yellow Apartment by Karen Johnson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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This bridge is really this color.  It goes over 125th Street

Teak Tracks

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Teak Tracks by Karen Johnson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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This pigeon came right up to me when I was sitting in the square at Columbia University.

The Pigeon at Columbia

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The Pigeon at Columbia by Karen Johnson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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This is a statue in the garden at St. John the Divine in Morningside Heights.

Winged Statue

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Winged Statue by Karen Johnson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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This picture I took while sitting in a little area at  Lever House on Park Avenue.  I had the LX5 with me because it is a great little street photography camera.  I got a kick out of this guy expression when he caught me aiming the camera at him.


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At Lever House at Park by Karen Johnson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at karenjohnsonphotography.wordpress.com.
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