Work ︎︎︎ White Death

White Death is a photographic installation inspired by the life of the Finnish Winter War sniper, Simo Häyhä that examines the relationship between the personal and the political. The work is based firmly around Häyhä; the mythological figure who represents, at once, the traditional landowner subsisting as a hunter and farmer (and the narrative of an idyllic simplicity related thereto), and the brutal and inhumane ultra-violence of modern warfare that he, personally, inflicted on the world around him as a sniper who, with calculating and technologically enhanced precision, personally extinguished the lives of 542 other individuals. This “record”, set in a period of 100 days during the winter of 1939-1940, has yet to be surpassed by any other sniper, and earned Häyhä the nickname White Death.

The resulting work is not a historical document, but, rather, an abstraction of this historical figure that I—with forceful and uninhibited freedom—have created. I have sought to reject the premise of the
patriarchal, nationalistic, homogeneous, political mythology of military history and the reverence implied thereby; using photographs, not as accurate documentations of history, but rather as a means of obsessively pursuing a hyper-personal representation of a Finnish national hero, as processed through my lens, that of a woman artist. The core of the work is made up of a series of framed photographs of landscapes, domestic interiors and still lives. Drawing on traditional photographic modes and intended to situate the viewer in the region that Häyhä inhabited throughout his lifetime (the forests of Karelia), I—a Swedish woman— construct the imagery of the Finnish landscape and still life. I create a version of Häyhä from my own image, placing myself into the work as the would-be sniper/photographer.

White Death was produced with support by Arts Nova Scotia, Canada Council for the Arts, and IASPIS -the Swedish Arts Grants Committee's International Programme for Visual Artists.
© Johanna Heldebro 2009 - 2021