Li-Han Lin is a Taiwanese-German photographer who was born and raised in Hilden, Germany before moving to the States where to study photography at the Art Center College of Design. He has worked in Los Angeles , New York City, Shanghai and Taiwan. His work reflects his unique background, exploring themes of identity, friends and family . He has contributed to Monocle Magazine, Vogue Japan, GQ Japan, Nulon Japan. He has also shown work at the S+S Gallery in Taipei and recently was a winner of the Samsung NX project 2012. Currently based in Berlin where he is working on a stop motion animation short film.
For most of us, he’s that cheerful, rotund guy who drops by for a quick visit on the same night every December. For others, though, he’s a year-round presence. Or so Touko Hujanen found out in the summer of 2011, while working as a photojournalist for a Finnish newspaper. On assignment in Helsinki and looking for quirky stories, he came across a fully-costumed professional Santa named Timo Pakkanen sitting in a park, waiting patiently for tourist cruise ships to dock.
“It’s 140 days to Christmas!” Pakkanen exclaimed as Hujanen approached. Hujanen photographed the red-coated, bearded Pakkanen for his newspaper. The two hit it off pretty quickly, and so began a seven-month documentary relationship between Santa and photographer.
Hujanen hitched a ride as Pakkanen toured Japan, a country where he is popular, and also hung out with him in Finland. The resulting work he calls, simply, Joulupukki — Finnish for “Santa Claus.”
The portraits that came out of the collaboration are as playful as they are unexpected. After all, we’re not used to seeing Santa powdering his eyebrows, taking a dip or enjoying a cigar. This is Christmas at its most elemental, without the tinsel.
That said, Pakkanen is no novelty act: 68 years old, he has been playing the part since 1961 and has an office in downtown Helsinki. What started as a small gig for local Finnish families eventually saw him become the de facto national Father Christmas — a significant honor in a country that, by some accounts, is St Nick’s home.
“My job for me is bigger than life,” Pakkanen told TIME, speaking on the phone from Japan. “It’s much, much more than work.”
In some ways it was an obvious career, he adds. His mother, Kaija Pakkanen, was a prolific children’s author who told him stories as a child; his sister, Outi, is a writer, as well.
“I lived all my childhood in a fairytale world, and that is very good grounds to be a Santa,” he says, laughing.
Pakkanen often works 12-hour days during the holiday season, and for many years has spent Christmas Eve in a Tokyo hotel room, tired but fulfilled after weeks of hearing Christmas lists and visiting kindergartens. He likes to celebrate with a can of Yebisu beer and a cup of warm sake.
The best thing about his job? It allows him to not only see joy on people’s faces, but to experience it himself. He may seem old, but he claims he feels like a kid.
“First we are children, then we get older, and we return to our childhood,” he says. “That’s the circle of life.”
Santa and Timo Pakkanen can be found year-round at santaclausforever.com
Brian Finke’s work is included in several permanent collections including the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Akron Art Museum, the Worcester Art Museum, the Saint Louis Art Museum, the Bibliotheque Nationale de France, and the Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts in Japan. He was nominated for the International Center for Photography’s Infinity Award in 2004 and won a prestigious New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship the same year.
For its latest issue (#71), Source magazine is asking the question, “What is conceptual photography?” To go along with the mag they have produced three short talking-head videos exploring this question with a handful of artists and critics. The importance of the “concept” in contemporary photography has always interested me. In the photo-world, the question regularly pops up about why “straight” photography isn’t taken seriously by the art world. Those in the straight photography corner often appear to see conceptual photography as impure in some way, as if it were not what photography is really about. Without wanting to spark off another one of these debates, it seems to me that concept is indeed considered paramount in Western art photography today (in my experience, this is not at all the case in Japan, where “serious” photography can still very much be about wandering around with a camera and taking pictures). For example, I’m often struck by young photographers struggling to hang an ill-fitting artist statement with some big ideas in it over the shoulders of work that is clearly not conceptual in the slightest… presumably because they have been taught to do so in art school. Wherever you stand on this question (or however delightfully far away you stand from it) these videos provide an interesting look at how photography became so excited about concepts and what the hell “conceptual photography” is even supposed to mean in the first place.