Featured Photographer: Heikki Leis - Lost in Time
Estonian artist and photographer Heikki Leis has managed to argue the philosophy of time without actually speaking via his surreal series Chronovores. Completed between 2013 and 2016, his images were created not only from his various travels through Brazil, Morocco, Thailand, Cambodia, Uganda, Kyrgyzstan, but also in his native country of Estonia. The scenes captured throughout his series embody the eternal argument that time itself has been created by man, and by association, man has imprisoned itself into a world ruled by hours and minutes. Heikki’s series contains both wild landscapes that have been around for millennia, and concrete man-made structures that have only recently been built; however, both environments suffer from the same fate as we attempt to categorize their existence into the past, present or future.
Leis explores these ideas beautifully by exploring and examining the idea that when men arrive, time unfolds while also asking the viewer important questions: do these places also exist without our presence, and how do these remote locations live when the course of time is not recorded? He shares with us that, “Time is man’s invention, that has turned against its creator. The arranger has become the oppressor, we are prisoners of a system brought to life by ourselves”. The main take-a-way from pondering his images show that we may simply have no idea because none of us exist outside of our construct of time where life flows on its own.
As a whole, society often subconsciously brings our internal routines and schedules with us through the physical world, and apply timestamps to places and individuals that allow us to neatly categorize the world around us into the present. This idea presented by his oddly satisfying digital clock in places devoid of time is reminiscent of the idea of philosophical presentism: the view that neither the future nor the past exists, only the present moment. However, as we realize this moment is the present, it suddenly falls just out of our grasp into the past as we anticipate the future.
This futile effort on our part to reconcile space and time is further explained by the artist: “The crusaders of the doctrine of time are armed with clocks and watches to be planted in invaded spots like a victory flag. His attempts of submission, however, become void after his departure. All that is left is a frame, a fixed event, statement of the moment. What time is now in those places? Is there any time at all? In a battle between culture and nature, man is waging a successful war, but we’ll never be able to totally subdue our greatest enemy, the uncontrollable wilderness. Leis steals for himself (and us) moments that don’t belong to us. Not before, not after”.
Leis’s series could also be seen as a visual representation of the argument and position of Augustine of Hippo, who described our present condition as “…a knife edge placed exactly between the perceived past and the imaginary future”. His point argues that the flow of time is an illusion - that the past, present, and future are equally real, and that time is tenseless. This would mean that temporal becoming is not an objective feature of reality. Though these ideas are complex and take time to digest, the great news for us is that we have Chronovores to assist us with the contemplation of these thoughts, ideas, and philosophies.
About the Artist
Not a stranger to time, Heikki Leis went through multiple steps in his evolution as an artist. Originally picking up a camera in 1981, at the age of 8, Leis developed a passion for the arts which lead him to a life long pursuit of artistic expression. From an early age he knew he wanted to become an artist, but as adolescents do, he moved from medium to medium as his passions and interests changed. When he enrolled at the Tartu Art School as a young adult, he decided to acquire a degree in sculpture and masonry. Though he had shot and developed film during this time period, the majority of his artist career consisted of exploring his vocational training and education. After graduating he eventually became passionate about drawing, in which he drew inspiration from the reality of our world and produced hyper realistic pencil and ink portraits. Each of the portraits from his series Everyday Reflections show a different individual peering into a mirror, awkwardly carrying out morning rituals. His drawings have been published in outlets internationally such as The Daily Mail and The Huffington Post.
As his artist career progressed, Leis realized that there was a severe lacking of photographs that he could replicate with his drawings, and began to re familiarize himself with the world of photography. At this time, digital photography was just starting to take-off, and would give him access to near immediate results. However, he found that, “All the graininess, colors and depth of field charmed me much more than a digital camera's relatively sterile picture. So I ordered a Hasselblad 500, and it is still my favorite camera [to this day]. It’s with this camera that the entire Chronovores series was captured.” Since that point, Leis has completed various projects also related to the idea of time. Though he has not deliberately dedicated himself to this topic, his series continuously explore these ideas. He shared with us that, “Time is, on the one hand, an abstract concept, but at the same time we think about time every day and are constantly involved in it, as it sets the rules that man has often set himself. But time also allows a person to play and create new rules. After all, many philosophers and artists have thought about it, and so have I.”
Apart from his series Chronovores, he has also produced his series Afterlife, which documents the life of mold and the other-worldly macro landscapes it produces over an extended period of time. He has also created his series Post Truth Era that tells the story of a man who recalls old times while working in a boiler house. Today, Leis is an accomplished photographer and artist who continues to produce surreal philisophical photography and drawings. He has become a celebrated artist in Estonia for both his photography and pen and ink drawings, which have been published, reviewed, and exhibited in a wide variety of outlets ranging from The Telegraph, WIRED, and The Scientist, among many others.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael Behlen is a photography enthusiast from Fresno, CA. He works in finance and spends his free time shooting instant film and backpacking in the California wilderness, usually a combination of the two. He is the founder of Analog Forever Magazine. Connect with Michael Behlen on his Website and on Instagram!