Harmaat ('The Grey Ones') started up their workroom in 2008, when the Kaapeli had just begun to rent spaces in Suvilahti and four freelance photographers were looking for a workroom. A fifth photographer, Veikko Somerpuro, joined in 2009 and is still one of the group. Otherwise the line-up has changed completely – nowadays the group comprises the filmmakers Tuomas Onttonen, Iddo Soskolne and Tuomo Hutri plus freelance translator André Järf. The search has been on for new tenants for the Harmaat workroom via friends and acquaintances.
The transformation of the photography section affected the composition of Harmaat
"In the early 2000s all was still going well for photographers, but with digitalisation all that began to change. Indeed many photographers have started to make videos too. On the other hand, there has been an increase marketing photography, even though newspaper journalism has gone down. All organisations and companies simply need more images all the time", Veikko says.
Veikko photographs people mostly elsewhere than in Suvilahti: "At the university, say, I have been photographing there all my career. They need pictures of researchers etc. all the time. If necessary I have rented the Magito studio in Suvilahti. It’s the cheapest studio in the city. We have also borrowed a floor washing machine from there!"
Tuomas does all sorts of film-related work, editing, writing etc. "Film directors have been involved in the editing here. Luckily there’s space round the table. For example, the film Kommunistin tytär ('Daughter of a Communist') was edited here. A further synergy is that Auruaudio is a tenant in the same building. I have rented recording equipment from them."
The Harmaat team are happy about the Suvilahti community: "Sami Kulju has helped us out too."
The Suvilahti concept is a good one
"The Suvilahti concept is a good one. And of course the fact that the rents are affordable. This is probably the only workroom of its type in Suvilahti and back then we were pioneers in the field. Now you find them all over the city, and they’ve become a business", Veikko reflects.
"It’s nice to be able to chat with someone now and again and go for lunch. This is lonely work and everyone is doing their own things. The social aspect is important", André adds.
"We’ve had barbecues and parties in the Suvilahti garden and invited present and former tenants in this building. Last time there was a band too, and JohnnyTotem and VJ Hellstone, who are tenants here, organised a fantastic audiovisual show", Veikko says.
"There are great projects underway", Veikko reflects and adds: "The work done at the gasometer construction site is amazing, I’ve been photographing there. For example there’s a metal arch tens of metres across that was built by hand."
The Harmaat group also have some improvements to suggest: "A café would be great. Café Aaltopelti, which was here in the beginning, was terrific. And if there’s a lot of empty outdoor space in future to, it would be nice to be able to ski in winter. Or do tourskating!"
We moved to Suvilahti in July 2021. We used to have an office on Kalevankatu street, which was the old Helsinki Festival office. It became far too small when the Helsinki Events Foundation, which was founded in early 2019, took over the other events too and staff numbers grew. We managed to fit in by measuring it all out and drawing the desks on the floor plan, but it was a squeeze.
We went to look at premises in various locations in the city, including Kaisaniemi and Hakaniemi. Then we heard about the premises in Suvilahti. As soon as we saw this place we realised it was right for us. It was over a year before we were able to move. We were unable to let go of the old premises as quickly as we would have wanted.
Artists and fishers
We do all of Helsinki’s major events. Ten events in total, including the biennial Musica nova contemporary music festival. It is held at the start of the year, as is the Chinese New Year Festival. Veteran’s Day is in April, Helsinki Day is on 12 June, the Helsinki Festival at the turn of August-September, then it is the turn of the Baltic Herring Market. In December there is the Christmas Market and the Mayor’s Independence Day Reception for fourth-graders. And at the turn of the year there is Helsinki New Year and of course Lux Helsinki.
We have a maximum of around twenty people working in the office in times of normal physical presence, and we also buy in a lot of services. For example, marketing and production have their own partners. The number of partners has increased in recent years. Especially now that we have more events. In the past it was just the Helsinki Festival and Musica nova. Indirectly we employ hundreds of people annually, from website designers to artists and fishers.
Suvilahti feels like home
Our staff think the location is excellent. When we started planning our move, we took a vote on interesting areas where people might want to go. This area was in the top 3 at least. At that point the city centre topped the list since that’s where we were then.
This feels like home. Our staff have different, exciting backgrounds, coming from the performance and theatre world for example. This is a distinctive environment for the foundation. A stone building in the centre feels a slightly dull environment.
The richness of Suvilahti is that there are many different operators here, with both art and businesses. They make up a community where we can inspire each other. This is especially important post-Covid. The operators appear to interact well. As soon as we moved here in the summer, we were able to watch the Suvilahti summer theatre. It’s great we can explore new avenues together. Audiences seem to have discovered this place too.
And it’s good the way people are not afraid of trying new ways of using the existing space. A good example is the Kino GAS movie theatre in the steel gasometer.
This is a wonderful little town. If you go out with the trash, say, you always notice new shapes in the rooflines and the doors. In in the evening thrilling shafts of light appear between the buildings.
One thing we missed in the office in the summer was ice cream. An ice cream van could stop in Suvilahti, then we wouldn’t need to go to Jädelino in the Teurastamo area.
Photo: Teija Maksimainen
I got to know Suvilahti when Circus Helsinki moved here from the Konepaja area in Vallila in 2013. I am primarily a circus artist and dancer. I travelled round Europe with the NoFit State Circus for four years. After a life on the road I wondered what else I could do as well as circus, and I went to massage school.
I think it was 2018 when I ended up as a tenant in Suvilahti, when Cirko's producer Jarkko Lehmus told me there was a space available in the Kojehuone building. I had a massage parlour called Hieromo for business customers and I thought it would be good to have somewhere people could come to if massages couldn’t be arranged in their company’s own premises.
Circus gigs and wellness coaching
I used to do a lot of gigs for companies, especially Chinese pole, where I climb on to a suspended pole and swing there. Now I mostly do massage and also nutritional and physical coaching. I advise how to promote recovery by other means apart from massage.
As well as Hieromo, I have a new company, ArtSport. Here various sub-areas of wellness coaching come together. I also write a blog on the subject on ArtSport’s website. I aim to bring intuitive ways of monitoring yourself from the field of art to coaching. People are often a bit lost when it comes to knowing their limits. For example, they don’t notice before they are overtrained. Or they don’t eat when they are hungry, instead they eat while watching a movie, for example, or when they are stressed.
Suvilahti is easy to get to
I have always liked the area. Even when there was just a hole in the ground where the Redi shopping centre is now! I have walked a lot on the shoreline nearby. It’s great that Mustikkamaa is so close by too. I would like to get Kalasatama residents as my customers.
It's easy to get to Suvilahti from all directions. You can get here by metro from east and west, and it’s easy to get here from the north too. It’s easier to get here than to Jätkäsaari, say.
Festivals are sure to be held here in future too. When the Flow Festival is here, for example, it’s very difficult for customers to get to my premises. But it’s great that I can be here throughout the festival. I could also be marketing my business somehow when the festival is on and there are tens of thousands of people here.
At one point I was operating out of Technopolis, and it felt alien. People would roll their eyes when I said I was a circus artist. I need surroundings where the people are a bit off the wall perhaps and don’t always work from nine to five.
One thing is that there are no open performance areas. This is because the performer inside me always wants to get out on stage, and it would be great if there was an open stage here!
Photo: Anni Sundell