We met Katja Pantzar in 2014 when we visited the Porvoo Archipelago on our first trip to Finland. She was there writing an article for Blue Wings, and we were going crazy about the beauty of that place.
We talked, and we kept in touch. She even did a short interview about what we thought about the islands around Porvoo.
But this article here is not about how we met Katja Pantzar. This is about her book, Helsinki by Light, a journey through the Finnish capital with an eye towards the Light. The books show how Helsinki is shaped by Light, seasons of Light.
During the summer months, Helsinki is flooded with a never-ending light. There is no night anymore, and this changes the city entirely. The parks are filled with the sound of people doing barbecues and playing. There is music everywhere until late at night.
Then, winter comes, and there are just a few hours of natural Light. We visited Helsinki in January, and it felt like a different place. Even though Helsinki is not a dark city, it sure looks and feels different.
Because of that lack of Light, a strong culture of Light mixed with the roots of Finnish design created innovative lighting that can brighten up this beautiful city at the top of the world.
Below is a short interview with Katja Pantzar about living in Helsinki, writing Helsinki by Light, and her favorite places in the Finnish capital.
In the book’s introduction, you mention that you were raised in Canada, lived in the UK and New Zealand, and finally got to Finland ten years ago. How did you feel about Finland when you got there, and why Finland?
Although I was born in Finland, my family left Helsinki when I was 3, and we spent some time traveling the world before moving to Vancouver, Canada, where I grew up. I was always interested in travel and exploring my Finnish roots. A few years after attending grad school in London, England, I moved to Toronto, Canada, where I worked in book publishing for many years.
When I saw a job advert for a Helsinki-based magazine that sounded perfect — “English-language editor and writer needed for the inflight magazine must be willing to travel” — I applied, was offered the job, and moved to Helsinki in 2002. Although I’ve been a freelancer for many years, I still contribute to that publication.
What has changed? The most significant change is that the Finnish capital was a well-kept secret ten years ago, whereas today, it’s very much on the international travel radar.
What was the idea behind the book?
The idea behind Helsinki by Light initially came from my obsession with Light, which developed after I moved to Finland. For several years, I’ve been photographing (about 60 percent of the book’s photos are my own) and observing illumination in all its forms, from natural Light (the sharp contrasts of summer with 24 hours of daylight to winter with just a few hours of the day) to artificial Light (design lamps, art installations, and wellbeing applications, for example).
I was itching to do a visual design book with a good story about Helsinki, as there wasn’t anything like this on the market. There are either bulky coffee table books or traditional guidebooks with endless listings that tend to become outdated quite quickly.
As a journalist, I saw Light as a unique angle —it isn’t a cliché that’s been done to death.
The book is also intended to be a souvenir (how many photos people take are printed out?) and, hopefully, a classic: I tried to select places and stories that will remain relevant in 5 years.
What is your favorite season to be in Helsinki, and why?
My favorite season – this is a tough one as there are elements of each that I love very much. Pushed for an answer, I’d say: fall — warm days paired with crisp nights, the splendor of autumn leaves, and the promise of new beginnings.
Can you say three places everyone should visit when visiting Helsinki?
1. Ateljee Bar atop Hotel Torni in the city center — few people realize how compact Helsinki is and that it’s surrounded by water until they see the view from this rooftop bar.
2. Silo 468 — a massive repurposed oil storage container that doubles as a fantastic work of light art and a public gallery