Dystopia - Petri Damstén

Award winning series Dystopia is a creation of Petri Damstén, a talented self taught photographer, artist and computer engineer, who creates images as a therapy after his retirement. Based in Finland, he put his feelings into photography when he started a different life after his daily work. 

"When making this series I went through my mental journey in the past years by picturing it as a dystopian society. Little human facing a faceless society was an easy role to play. I have taken a lot of self portraits so it was obvious that I play the role of a human in these pictures myself. Looking at the world now, the pictures also work on a larger scale and not just as one man’s battle inside his head."


You started taking this kind of photographs as a therapy after your retirement as an engineer. How did you learn photography?

As a photographer I'm a self-taught. I bought my first DSLR in 2010 and started learning. Before that my photography was mainly snapshots. I have read magazines, books and watched countless youtube videos. I also follow some photography sites daily to get inspiration and to see what kind of photos and styles others are doing.


What kind of gear –talking about camera and post processing– do you use and how is your workflow?

Currently I have Nikon D800 and various lenses. 70-200 f/2.8 seems to be my favorite at the moment. Usually my pictures start from my ideas folder or from my notebook where I draw and write down my ideas. Sometimes it takes quite a long time from idea to picture, sometimes not. Before starting to photograph I have to gather all the props for the image. Sometimes I already have those and sometimes it takes some time in flee markets and online auctions to get everything. I mainly shoot in studio and for bigger projects I use local camera club studio and for smaller things I have a small home studio. I start to organize my photos in Lightroom usually on the next day, since I like to do things more slowly. I do basic adjustments in Lightroom and final post processing in Photoshop. In Photoshop I use some plugins, mostly Nik Color Efex Pro.


What did you want to tell with Dystopia and why?

Dystopia series started from one character and from one image. But soon after that more ideas started filling my head and I realized that these ideas are my feelings from the past years during the retirement process. When you are down the pressure from the outside world, it feel quite overwhelming and the things that were meant to help you sometimes felt like a punishment.

These images are, at some point, self-portraits.


Why did you want to tell this story from your vision of yourself? And how that could be connected with the entire society?

I have done lot of self portraits. Since this was so personal project it felt quite natural to play the part of a small human myself. When you look at the news there are still countries where these kind of behavior is a reality and not just feelings. Handling of people with mental illness can be really cruel in some parts of the world. I was lucky enough to live in a country where I could get help to my depression and I could continue my life.


Why do you find conceptual photography as a therapeutic tool?

I think it helps me in two ways. These more personal pictures help me to purge my brains from the things that are or have been problematic. I feel it's much like a therapy session where you talk about things. I just put those words in a picture form which is actually more natural to me.

I also do a lot not so personal pictures which includes totally crazy humor. Image creation as whole helps me in giving me meaningful content to my days and a feeling that I'm still good at something. This boosts my mentality and keeps me going.


Why do you enjoy more creating surreal images?

I think for me the feelings that the picture wakes in you are more important than the reality. I guess I also make images more like a painter. Image starts from an idea in my head and those ideas are not always very realistic but more on a surreal side. Images are the ones that are important to me, not photography in itself. At the end camera and computer are just tools that seem to suit me best.


Which one, from your work, is your favorite and why? And from other’s work?

I'm really happy how this Dystopia series worked out so it is currently my favorite work. I like the dark mood that I managed to get to those images and also it's so personal. There are also some humor images that I still like and I will be making more of those too. As an opposite to more serious things it's good to have a good laugh once in a while. Hopefully the best images are still to come.

There are so many great image makers out there but since I have so spot for darker tones I especially have enjoyed works of Karina Marandjian, Erlend Mørk and Juha Arvid Helminen.


Photographer: Petri Damstén  |  Website  |  Facebook  |  Instagram  |  Twitter

Assistant: Jan Peter Palmunen