Finland-based portrait photographer Aki-Pekka Sinikoski has been shooting a series of documentary images of a Finnish young man who has dressed as Michael Jackson for the last four years. I caught up with Aki on the struggles of the project and the truths he discovered in the midst of it all. Enjoy!
Talk a little bit about this project?
As a photographer, I’m interested in identity and change. I have been shooting a series of documentary images of a Finnish young man who has dressed as Michael Jackson for the last four years. Every day.
The first part of this photo series “MJ” is now a published book in Finland. The book is called Side/Bond and it’s published by Musta Taide. The book has gotten a nice response and even Helsingin Sanomat, the biggest newspaper in Finland, has published parts of this photo series as a photo portfolio in Kuukausiliite (monthly published high-quality magazine).
Were there any challenges involved with this project?
Sometimes, you can just jump directly into someone’s life and just start to shoot photos. Sometimes it takes time to earn the trust to come close to someone’s life. With Michael, the process hasn’t been quick at all. Many times we just had long talks with him; which was good as they influenced the end result of this series in a good way. I believe that my series deals with finding one’s own identity and the courage to follow one’s own path. At the same time, the images pose the question of how much can we know about a person based only on their outward appearance. Michael-Jan is not Michael Jackson. The outward identity that seems familiar to everybody sets him apart from the crowd, but at the same time, it hides the person inside. The boundaries of reality are blurred in the grocery store when a Finnish housewife starts to blame Michael-Jan for things related to the life of the pop icon, deceased in 2009. The lady looks at Michael but does not see him. She sees only the reflecting surface which resembles someone else. Who do people see when they look at me? Who do they see in my images?
Did you learn anything through the creation of this series?
I have my roots in the field of art and have worked as an artistic director of Helsinki Biennale since 2006. I’ve noticed that most of the documentary photographers come from a journalistic background and they have this huge longing for truth. For me, this has always felt strange and kind of absurd. Maybe because I don’t see there is one truth. It simply doesn’t exist. When you spin the point of view, you spin the perspective and suddenly the truth you thought was fundamental has vanished and the only thing left is someone’s idea about the truth. This project really confirmed my feelings that reality, facts and truth are just opinions that are relative to our point of view. I was also reminded that what you see is not at all what you get. People are not bound to just physical reality. Their world continues beyond it’s physical boundaries. I think that there’s a glimpse of these blurred lines of reality present in my photos.
Any future plans for this project?
Yep, this is just the first part of this project. The whole photo series is going to be published as an exhibition. My exhibition “MJ – World Tour” will take place in 2015. My dream is to make a really wide exhibition tour that takes place not only in art museums but also in the middle of people’s everyday lives. So if someone is reading this interview with a suitable event/exhibition/venue for “MJ – World Tour” in mind, don’t hesitate to drop me an email.