One Photo Explores Timeless Themes of Solitude and Curiosity in an Iconic Helsinki Roofscape

Venla Rautajoki’s photograph offers a unique perspective on the architecture of the Amos Rex Art Museum, meditating on timeless, human themes.

Hannah Feniak Hannah Feniak

The 2021 One Photo Challenge winners have been announced, concluding an incredible competition that celebrated one of the pillars of architecture: photography. The top winner in the non-student category was “The Roofscape of the Obscure” by Venla Rautajoki. Architizer is delighted to present her with a grand prize of $2,500 and a Fujifilm Instax Wide camera.

Her photograph, taken in Helsinki, offers a unique perspective on the Amos Rex Art Museum, whose annex is the brainchild of JKMM Architects circa 2018. The museum expands from its 1930’s functionalist home into the subterranean space beneath the Lasipalatsi Square.

Iconic windowed and hill-like domes rise into the public space, creating an urban landscape and providing visitors with carefully framed views of the buildings outside and connecting the art museum with the city. As Venla’s photograph reveals, they also serve as large-scale peepholes. On the open space above, the rolling tiled terrain serves as an urban landscape for children, such as the little boy in the image.

Venla Rautajoki Helsinki Roofscape

Venla Rautajoki’s winning entry, “The Roofscape of the Obscure.” Camera used: Canon

The monochrome palette further emphasizes the powerful beauty of the image’s light and shadow, imbuing the photo with a timeless quality. Yet, the boy’s figure and the shadow that he casts, framed as it is by the oculus, also bring to mind the image of a clock. Despite this ageless aesthetic, Venla also explains the currency of her photograph in our contemporary world: “Currently, many of us are battling with feelings of ceased time and solitude. When looking at this boy, you may relate to similar emotions but simultaneously feel the freedom of exploration and curiosity.”

We caught up with Venla to learn more about her inspiration, process and feelings behind this One Photo Challenge-winning photograph.

The One Photo winner was taken as part of a series

Hannah Feniak: Congratulations on your success with the One Photo Challenge! What sparked your interest in entering the competition, and what does winning mean to you?

Venla Rautajoki: Thank you so much! It feels incredible. I was blown away when I heard I had won the competition, but now my feelings have transformed into absolute happiness and gratitude!

I became highly interested in the One Photo Challenge when I spotted it online the first time and viewed the beautiful and impressive entries last year. These images gave me the courage to participate in the competition myself as well. At the same time, I considered this a personal challenge as a photographer to see what my photos are capable of. To be able to win such an influential and internationally recognized competition is, by no doubt, the most important and memorable achievement during my career as a photographer so far.

What drew you to your subject matter that ultimately culminated in the winning photo?

Architectural photography allows me to capture and examine the relationship between a human, space and architecture. I have always been fascinated by cultural buildings, especially museums, and I find them as excellent places to explore this interaction between architecture and people.

Amos Rex was inaugurated in 2018 and was quite new at the time that I photographed the series Roofscape of the Obscure. Even though the museum itself is underground, the outside square with its large and hill-like domes has become an urban environment for various activities, ranging from snowboarding to hanging out with friends. When I was taking pictures outside, I saw this little boy climbing on top of the windowed dome, and I immediately wanted to see what it might look like when seen from the underground.

Venla Rautajoki Helsinki Roofscape

Venla Rautajoki Helsinki Roofscape

More images from the Amos Rex series

What significance does this image have to you personally and your experience as a photographer?

This image has a rather personal meaning because it has given me a lot of confidence as a photographer. In addition, this image will definitely be among my most valuable photographs with exceptional and remarkable memories.

What do you find to be the most significant challenges in compellingly photographing architecture?

I believe capturing a moment where various elements — including lighting, ambiance, detailing and human interaction — fall into place together with the building is rather challenging. Moreover, to express architecture’s role and practice in a clear but aesthetic way is itself a challenge in architectural photography. Also, to me, it is always important to strengthen the emotions experienced in the photograph.

Venla Rautajoki Helsinki Roofscape

Detail of Venla Rautajoki’s winning entry, “The Roofscape of the Obscure”

How big a role did post-production play in conveying the story of your photograph, and how do you approach that process?

Editing photographs to black and white is quite a dominant way to modify an image. To increase the contrast and power of light and shadow, I decided to go with the monochrome settings. It further allowed me to give a small trompe-l’œil when the naturally blue and bright sky is pictured light grey, the dark silhouette of the boy seems to float in the middle of the glass dome, and the depth of the interior fades. The grayscale also evokes and enhances a sense of timelessness, even though simultaneously the boy’s body figuratively resembles a clock — background as a dial and body as clock hands. In addition, I wanted to highlight the contrast between solitude and exploration and curiosity.

What one tip would you give to someone looking to win next year’s One Photo Challenge?

Go for it! Do not hesitate to take part and trust your instincts – photograph what makes you inspired and capture a special moment in one frame!

You can see more of Venla’s photography on her website, or find her on Instagram. Thank you to all participants for sharing these amazing photographs and telling such fascinating stories about architecture. If you are interested in entering next year’s One Photo Challenge, be sure to sign up for updates by clicking the blue button below.

Register for Updates About the One Photo Challenge

Hannah Feniak Author: Hannah Feniak
Hannah Feniak is Architizer’s Managing Editor. When she’s not leading our talented team of writers and interviewing the industry’s most innovative designers, Hannah is likely to be found exploring the latest exhibition openings. A trained art historian and educator with a focus on architecture and urbanism, Hannah holds degrees from McGill University in Montreal and NYU.
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