Single parents and village elders

Weeks before photographer Miikka Kiminki stepped from Villa Karo's minibus to the gate of the residency, the house's staff received an e-mail asking for a residence room as far away from the kitchen as possible. Prolonged exposure to fish odor could lead to a life-threatening adrenaline spike shock condition for the allergy sufferer. However, he survived the residency in Benin, and had given rise to a highly interesting photographic art that examines the laws of society. The photographer who translates his own adversity through introspection into a study of the world around him, struck his hoe into the fertile soil of Grand-Popo.


Text: Maikki Salmivaara

(translated from Finnish)


Miikka Kiminki was in Villa Karo between 10.10-29.11.2012.

Although malaria messed up Miikka’s schedules, material accumulated tremendously.


“Grand-Popo has 44 villages that are relatively easy to reach. Thanks to this there was no need to waste time moving around, and one could still get to know very different environments. The location of the cultural center was perfect for doing such a project, ”

Miikka glows and expresses the wish to return either to Villa Karo or otherwise to Benin through the contacts that the photographer had accumulated during the travels.


Both in his thesis at the Academy of Arts and in his teaching clip that followed his studies, Miikka focused on identity and self-image in one way or another. As a final project, a book was completed at the Turku Academy of Arts in which the photographer discussed his own masculinity. The development of the male identity of a son who grew up as a child of a single mother was supported by male role models adopted from different sides.


“Even though I grew up with my father, of course I picked up male models from elsewhere for myself. In my thesis, I pondered where I had acquired these models from and photographed people of which I had built myself from." Miikka says.

The handling of male roles has continued in Benin. 


"As a counterbalance to the Finnish catalog, I set out to seek a new, broader perspective here."

The idea is to combine these catalogs later into an exhibition. On the spot, Miikka filmed a series of photos of single parents and the oldest men in the village as well as a video of a dance designed to seduce women.


Gaston, Samuel & Jesoe Noukounon, kuva Miikka Kiminki

About single parenthood

Miikka already had the blank for the first series focusing on single parents in Finland. However, he did not believe he could find such families in Benin.


"I could never have guessed that I would find eighteen families to be filmed here at this time!"

Single parenthood itself turned out to be very different in Benin than in Finland. The community culture seemed to have the effect that even though the children lived with their fathers, in practice there was almost always a woman in the yard or away who took care of the children. For one reason or another, mothers may not have been able to see their children after the divorce. In only three of the four families described did the mother see her children regularly. There was no child ballot from one parent to another in Finland, which did not occur in these families.


“Perhaps later, a smaller group of these families could be chosen to deal with the subject in more depth. However, I still didn’t go deeper into the stories. I focused on filming and I only had a few ready-made questions in French. ”


Alban & Leandre Koffi, kuva Miikka Kiminki

About aging and respect

In addition to the project dealing with single parents, Miikka made a series of pictures of the oldest men in the village.


“Old men have interested me in general. On the one hand, I am interested in the physical traces left by life, on the other hand, there is also a mental change: how in the cycle of life old age returns as if to childhood and we become dependent again. It seems especially difficult for old men to accept their own helplessness in the face of impending death, both in Finland and in Benin. ”

According to Miika, respect for the elderly in Benin is tangible, unlike in Finland, although traditions are deteriorating in both countries.


“For example, for a shooting situation, an elderly person had put on his best and arrived at the shooting location he indicated. When he realized that I had finished my imaging equipment, he clicked his fingers once and waved an alarming herd of twenty children from the scene. Not a word was exchanged in the hall. The children fell silent and left the place immediately, respecting the elderly. ”

On the relationship between the sexes

The third of Miika’s masculinity project is related to a woman’s fear. It is a video in which a man performs a dance performed by a woman to seduce. The dancer demanded a full moon by the time of filming from which he sought strength for his ritual and thus, the making of the video was left to Miika’s last night in Benin. The purpose of the video is to describe the Finnish counterpart: a ritual familiar to most of us. Natural as a capercaillie with a musical instrument but behind these attempts to approach, Miikka sees the uncertainty that various rituals seek to control:


"Men are afraid of women."

In Benin, the position of women in society is weak. The jobs fall on their shoulders, and they are usually financially completely dependent on their men and thus subordinate to them. Within religion, the situation is different: voodoo priestesses are stronger and more respected than male priests because of their beliefs about fertility. In Finland, the situation is reversed: the position of women in society is better than in Benin, although there is still a long way to go for equality. Within the Church by contrast female priesthood is not always accepted.

About photography and authenticity

Benin was Miika's first independent filming trip for her own project.


“On a very practical level, there was a bit of tension, how to get the job done without a common language. The photographic equipment also had to be designed according to the field. ”

The use of fixed focal lengths actually led to a situation where contact with the photographers had to be made. This was beneficial in many ways. Photography situations can't get loose:


“The photographer stays sharp and the subjects can follow what is happening”.

Of course, such a description is more challenging, but in general, approaching and perpetuating people has been much easier in Benin than in Finland.


"Regardless of age, people are not in a constant hurry."

Social interaction situations are placed at the top of everything in order of importance.


“In addition to the physical presence, the subjects are genuinely present here with their thoughts. They don’t need to be guided either, but everything is so much more natural. People are more immediate and don’t pose. Perhaps they are not as accustomed to flirting with their mirror image as in Finland, where it is difficult to find people behind their masks and where authenticity is lost to constant self-observation and control. ”

In Finland today, it is difficult to take a contemporary photo of people on the street, when these people demand reasons for taking a photo.


“After ten minutes of introduction, there’s nothing left of spontaneity and it makes sense to put the camera back in the bag”.

According to Miikka it may happen that the future knees will not be left with such a catalog of our times. People are scared because of the internet, and caution is not in vain - your child’s face can soon be found on Facebook, or you know where else. Controlling the use of the image has also become more difficult than before for the photographer himself.


"With the merger of media houses, the agreements required of photographers and the spread of photographic rights, a picture taken for the people of Satakunta, for example, can be found years later on the cover of a book published by Alma Media."