Photographer Kati Leinonen (1974–) started her riding hobby at the Äimärautio stables in Oulu when she was seven. After student years spent in the United Kingdom, Leinonen returned to her beloved hobby a little more than ten years ago, and today rides her own horse almost daily. In her adult years, she has focused especially on dressage.
The Äimärautio horse sports centre is located 3 kilometres south from downtown Oulu. The area is also home to Finland’s oldest horse racing track still operating in its original location, established in 1908, and Northern Finland’s biggest and most traditional riding club, Oulun Ratsastajat. All events counted, the area welcomes approximately 100,000 visitors each year.
Äimärautio is also the title of Leinonen’s first long-term documentary photographic project, shot in 2015–2017. A book of photographs with the same title was published in autumn 2018. Photographs from the Äimärautio series have been exhibited previously in venues including the Finnish Museum of Photography, but the largest selection, which also features a new video installation that explores the essence and the aesthetics of the horse, is displayed now in the Oulu Museum of Art.
Having grown up at the stables, Leinonen is part of a community where horses are objects of total devotion and passion – they are a way of life. In the Äimärautio series she focuses on today’s horse culture and the coexistence of human and horse, and reflects on her own affection to horses. ”My photographs reflect the atmosphere that horses spread around them. Everyday things done with horses carry great meaning. It is a very full experience that makes something beyond words happen inside me, something that would not take place without the horses. The horses are both comforters and bringers of joy."
In Leinonen’s photographs, Äimärautio comes to life as a scenery of rough-hewn beauty, but also as the background of portraits of humans and horses and close-ups of small details. “For me the portrait is a place where I meet someone. The camera makes the meeting more natural, and therefore easier. The portrait incorporates the rituals of looking and being looked at.” One of the portraits featured in the exhibition, a self-portrait named After Mood, competed for the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize last year, and has been exhibited at the prestigious National Portrait Gallery in London. Leinonen studies the essence of the portrait also in her upcoming doctoral dissertation at the University of Lapland’s Faculty of Arts.
The exhibition is accompanied by a separate action room with hobby horses, an obstacle course, horse books and magazines and horse-related handicrafts for children and the childlike. The hobby room is designed by museum educator Laura Lampinen and deputy curator Mirka Kortesoja. Welcome to our summery world of horses!
Photo above: Kati Leinonen, Fenced, pigment print, detail, 2016.
Photo in banner: Kati Leinonen, Always With Me I, pigment print, 2016.
Kati Leinonen, Convalescent, pigment print, 2016.
Kati Leinonen, Defeat on A Lovely Day, pigment print, 2016.
Kati Leinonen, After Mood (self-portrait), pigment print, 2017.