Only searchlights on the forehead light the terrain when photographer Miina Savolainen and her squad proceed in the snowdrifts at the Laplands arctic night. The women have strolled hundreds of kilometers first with a car and then on foot to a well chosen spot. They have to rush so that the lighting and costumes can be prepared before the northern morning sun will light the forest just as planned.
This situation is a special one to a teenage model Paula who was raised in the orphanage. Family portraits and holiday photo albums don´t belong to her childhood memories. The filming situation itself is unprecedented, but kind instructions and encouragement from behind the camera makes her eventually relax. Young woman adopts a strong yet a sensitive look. In her embroidered flowery dress she for a while is the sweetest girl in the world.
Miina Savolainen has had to return to this same story again and again; a discovery of courage and unification of souls. The project with the orphanage girls has become an international phenomenon and for Ms. Savolainen a main project, business and way of life.
Pictures of young girls with harsh life behind have touched tens of thousands of viewers at the exhibitions around Finland and Europe. What is more, a book based on the photography project has become an all-time bestselling Finnish arts book. ´The Sweetest Girl in the World´ have fan blogs and an own Facebook site set up by their fans.
Ms. Savolainen started her North American conquest from Ottawa. The exhibition in Sussex Gallery is a highly refined concept that travels from gallery to gallery and country to country under a close surveillance by the artist. Registered trade mark is also Savolainen´s feel of empowerment photo method based on the same orphan girl project. She uses these examples with her teaching while training people in the caretaking and educational fields.
The orphanage project turning into a lifelong career wasn´t a big surprise for the artist. After the initial shots she already felt something important was in the air.
- The photo shoot was such a powerful event that I immediately knew I had discovered something big. Earlier while at the child protection agency I already realized that often only the words were not good enough to handle emotional issues. Many orphan youth have lost their trust in a verbal interaction.
She often mentions about a correcting image; a picture´s ability to make them discover their self easier and more accepting way. Many of the photographed girls had become invisible in their youth and now under the peoples eyes they felt it intimidating. They carry on the idea what regular people think of them.
In the carefully planned pictures the girls become visible the first time as the prettiest fairies among the snowy trees, mines and forest lakes. Perhaps a viewer sees them as princesses, while most of the girls felt their deep shelf was exposed in the film, an own image only they can see.
- People will discover in their own portraits just what they want to see and feel, ghosts and the pains of the past. Our model Paula, for example, said she sees in her photos a little and inexperienced girl who actually has experienced so much.
The Sweetest Girl in the World has toured exhibitions almost incessantly since 2003. An unimaginable publicity and encouraging rebate have, according to Savolainen, been a big factor in girls´ own growing process. They have learned to see themselves in a more positive light. Some of them who have grown into adults and even into mothers have felt it to be important that the pictures have impacted people to change their attitudes toward orphanage kids.
In Finland the tour has always received plenty of comments and the same has continued in Ottawa also.
- Looks like the Canadians show their emotions more openly than people in Finland. Some Finns have even stated that if they only could exit through a back door so that they don´t have to show their tears to the others, Savolainen says.
The Canadians have been especially touched by the contrast, the mighty nature meeting fragile girls. The Finnish nature, snow and trees offer the wounded girls like a lap to stick to.
The bringing of the exhibition to Canada aided by the Finnish embassy has been the biggest cultural export event ever. It had claimed plenty of work to bring the whole setting across the Atlantic. A climbing rose hugging the burgundy coloured walls, the room lit with dimlights and the handmade princess costumes on display also shape the atmosphere.
- We have tried to create a state of chaotic beauty, where a viewer can merge with the sensuality that the pictures convey, the artist explains while touring the exhibition at the Ottawa-s old City Hall.
The Sweetest Girl in the World is a part of an international Women´s World conference and Ms. Savolainen has been invited to lecture about her project and the power of picture during the conference week. A therapeutic use of pictures would have lots of potential internationally, but Savolainen is still a little reserved.
- I want to do more research and development and prepare English material before going abroad. Actually so far I have been too busy in Finland to carry on this side of the project.
This year she has got some relief for the first time in years. In April there graduated the first class of therapeuts specializing in the healing power of the photography.