The London-based Finnish photographer transports us into her timeless visual narratives, halfway between reality, fiction and the supernatural.
“The truth lies elsewhere,” some might say. And that’s no understatement. Maria Lax is interested in identity, beliefs and modern folklore as she explores parallel worlds.
Her series “Some Kind of Heavenly Fire”, which became her first monograph published in 2020 (Setanta Books), plunges us into these phantasmagorical visions, inspired by a book by her grandfather that she discovered late in life. He had compiled a collection of accounts of paranormal sightings in the early 1970s, when he worked as a journalist. “My grandfather, who was suffering from dementia at the time, couldn’t answer any of my questions. So, I went looking for answers,” she explains. “Maria Lax returned to her native region in northern Finland, surrounded by wild, sparsely populated countryside, to investigate and find the people mentioned in the notebook.”
“Most people pass through the town on their way to other places without ever knowing that it was a hot spot for UFO sightings in the 1960s,” she points out. “These phenomena embody a fear of the future, of the unknown and of the inexorable change in lifestyles and livelihoods that is happening around them. Some people reacted with fear to the mysterious lights, others interpreted them as a sign that they were not alone.”
Halos of light, celestial fires, neon flashes, car headlights and nocturnal radiance are all crystallised in his photographs, which resemble cinematic scenarios.
Her images represent these supernatural stories, drawing on ghost stories and the folklore of traditional folktales.
In her practice, Maria Lax uses experimental camera processes, flash and bright colours. “I favour the lighting techniques used in cinema, or light that is already there, in order to create a scene,” she explains, “Together with my designer Jan Hillman, we have sequenced the book so that it unfolds like a film.”
In this way, the photographer weaves a spellbinding story at the heart of this region steeped in secrets. In 2023, she published her second book, based on her “Taken by the Tide” series (Nazraeli Press), this time exploring the notion of memory in the place of her childhood. On her return, years later, she realises that the place she once knew no longer exists, except in her memories.
Her images propel us into a surreal landscape where the familiar becomes foreign, where landmarks are lost in a shifting earth atmosphere that is as melancholy as it is poetic.
England – London