There is a piece of wall in my coffee

Although I am not a fervent user of smart phones, the good thing about them is that they can remind you of things from the past. The other day this photo jumped on my phone screen from a cloud storage to remind me that quite some time ago I was running a coffee house that looked like this. What you see is a medieval wall, refurbished school chairs, tables covered with old Ethiopian newspapers and a Congolese fabric on the wall. What you don’t see in the picture is that the medieval wall sometimes dropped pieces of old bricks straight into your drinks. ”Waiter! There is a piece of wall in my coffee!” would give you a new free drink of course.

These days I roast coffee once or twice a week on the rooftop. The advantage of doing this is that while your one-man-motored roaster is in full swing, you can watch the surrounding nature in action: kites, young small birds learning to be independent and still making a hell of a noise when their mothers would be around, baby geckos that had imagined they would like to live in the roaster when it was not in operation and would now run for their lives, or bats landing on the big tree that grows next to our house. The entire coffee roasting process is a very rewarding one, because in the end you have a batch of hand-roasted coffee that you produced without computerized programs, trusting solely on your experience and senses. Even with some minor work accidents like burns or pieces of coffee bean skin flying into your eye it’s still fun!

I don’t know if it is the beginning of a new year or what but this photo really got me day dreaming… I also just read that these days you can subscribe to ambient sound of being in a coffee shop. Maybe there really is a need for such a thing, particularly in these strange times when you spend most of your time between your desk – or sofa or whatever – and your coffee machine. Should I give it a try?

Afropolis expo: a teaser

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A first milestone in my Afropolis photo project: a work-in-progress exhibition. I framed twelve prints last night to show what I am working on. This small show is combining some sleek-looking photos and rough handmade and “unfinished” frames made out of old windows that are very easy to come by here in Saint-Louis. Doing this show has helped me a lot in both choosing the photos that I want to include in later exhibitions and defining the theme or themes that this project will bring forward. These twelve photos were taken in Addis Ababa and once I will have more material from the other cities – Dakar, Nouakchott and Bamako – these themes will certainly develop more in the process. For now I can say that visually I hope to capture some of the contrasts of neighborhoods that are human in size and “organic” against the modern construction boom with glass and steel buildings reaching up in the skies, and human activity characterized by informality that takes place in between these two dynamics. More of that later with more photos!

Ndar Ndar Music & Café, Saint-Louis: A work-in-progress photo exhibition “Afropolis 2020” with a focus on African urban space: Addis Ababa. The final exhibition material will be made in platinum prints in summer 2020.

Texture diary

I found some old photos floating in one folder that I had named “miscellaneous”. You know the type of dumping folder that serves for a long term graveyard for those shots you do not  know what to do with and yet you don’t want to toss them in the bin either. These ones have something in common: they are all close ups of surfaces. Not very typical of me as I have always been more inclined to take photos of people.

These were made without any particular series or project in mind. For some reason these surfaces and textures and colors had a strong appeal me and now it’s clearly another form of “long term diary” of places that I read when I watch them. The interesting thing here is how just about any image, even the most abstract one – has the power to develop into a story – whether imagined afterwards or something that really happened and had a wider connection to your life at the time when the photo was taken. To open up those contexts with these photos, please read on. I named these photos by their locations.

Saint-Louis I

Inspired by an exhibition where I saw one visually stunning screening of a video set up on a large mosquito net, I once attempted to photograph something through a net but did not really put my mind to it properly and abandoned the whole thing, too soon. I thought it just didn’t work out. Yet. I might try some tricks later on so better keep the photo as a reminder…

The Dogon Country

I don’t remember where exactly I took this photo, except that it was on one of my trips in Mali when we were going around the country meeting people who work in crafts cooperatives. This is the ceiling of a place where we had a short break for a tea. Buildings in mud are fantastic, they make me feel I am an earthling. And Mali is simply a pearl!

Dire Dawa

A close up of a pan that is called Mankeshikesha in Amharic. I bought it on the Kefira market in Dire Dawa so that I would be able to roast coffee in Saint-Louis on the rooftop (because roasting produces a lot of smoke). I did it a few times with this pan but abandoned it and started to use another, more practical one. I forgot the pan under a bougainvillea for many months in the merciless tropics and the next time I saw it, it had turned beautiful yellow and orange. I was so happy to see this that I made another art work out of painted metal sheets that I left exposed to the sun for a long time. I sprinkled them every now and then with all sorts of media and abracadabra! They ended up first in an exhibition and after that somewhere in Sweden. I still have this pan!

Saint-Louis II

More metal. This shot is from one of the local metal workshop round the corner. I admire all kinds of workshops where people make things by their hands. Welding and noisy stuff happens there day in, day out. The wonderful thing is that there is almost no work that they cannot do! Here’s a perspective: the so called developed countries have abandoned to large degree the knowledge of crafts. Everything related to manual work these days is overpriced, outsourced to distant poorer countries with cheaper labor, or it is practically non-existent. It’s painfully hard to find a handyman in a throw-away culture. Here i.e. in Saint-Louis of Senegal, on the other hand, whenever you need something you can start by designing it yourself and someone will make it for you out of the materials available. We have had a spiral staircase made out of metal, as well as a gas roaster for coffee. And so many other smaller projects. How neat is that?


You are looking at the skin of a swordfish that was caught by one of the local restaurants running a fishing club and dragged ashore one day in Ngor in Dakar. It had a fantastic shiny deep blue color that unfortunately does not show in this photo. I may have post edited the photo anyway for some purposes. Fish is good, and their skin makes beautiful sandals. It’s a pity that their skin is not exploited here to their full potential. Yet. Though unfortunately fish meal factories and industrial fishing is killing the local artisanal fishing!

Saint-Louis III

The process itself becomes the art work. This piece of plywood was covered in old indigo that had lost most of its blue power. It so happened that I forgot the dye on the wood for too long before rinsing it out – must have been because of someone at the door interrupting my creative process – so eventually I left it as it is. The thing I like about natural indigo is that it is very blue and yes, it’s natural! And here I was completely taken by surprise with the “tired indigo” color. It has lead me to experiment with other organic surfaces and dyes too.




Ahmed Ela

ahmed ela 2_4jan2019
© Jarmo Pikkujämsä

Some photographs stay with you always. I am not talking about actual prints in a shoe box but photos that you stored in some laptop, external memory or cloud and you forgot all about it up until it starts to pop back into your memory and you need to dig it up again and have a look. I took this photo in Ahmed Ela in Northern Ethiopia many years ago while sitting in a moving car and coming from or going to Dallol, I don’t even remember. But there are two things I do remember when I look at it. I remember what it felt like to be in that open space where there is nothing but distant horizon opening in all directions. It’s that fantastic feeling that takes over every time I am in a desert when you realize what a tiny little ant-like your life actually is on this planet. You may be going to places back and forth, you’re being dragged into social whatever drama, you climb some ladder you think you must climb, you want things that you have been taught to want… and so on and then you come to a place like this and everything starts to make sense again. I just love open wide space and the fact that you can look and see far away.

The other thing is that mysterious “highway” in the photo. It looks like a mirage, inviting you to take that road to.. where? Nowhere? Most likely somewhere north towards Eritrea. We left that chance to some other trip though. Oh and there’s also a third memory: it’s that sound when you walk in the heat of the day on that crispy salt, as this soil is nothing but salt that the Afar collect and bring back to urban environment on the backs of camels. If you have seen the Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara’s song Nterini you get the idea of what this place looks like. If you ever wanted to shoot a science fiction film, this is the place! A side note: this clip, quite typically to music videos, has a wee bit too many fancy juggles and fast paced cuts in it, this location would do the trick in a few long shots alone since it’s such a stunning scenery.

Ethiopia has been on my mind lately since we are in the planning mode for a future art residency in Ethiopia. The Dallol desert and the Danakil Depression might prove to be rather challenging environments so we’ll stick to the opposite and run the programme in buzzing Addis Ababa and in the magical town of Harar. Stay tuned!