Helsinki: Then and now is a photography exhibition on how the Helsinki cityscape has changed over time held in the Helsinki Central Library Oodi. The exhibition opened on November 15th, 2019 and will be on display until April 6th, 2020. The physical space Brygga used in the exhibition is run by the Helsinki Urban Environment Division. The implementation was a collaboration between Wikimedia Finland and the Estonian historical photo group Ajapaik.
Materials used in the exhibition are collected from Wiki Loves Monuments, Helsinki Rephotography’s photo walks, and openly licensed content from GLAMs. The old photos are mainly from the Helsinki City Museum and maps from the City Archive. In addition to the photos, we implemented tablet interfaces for annotating and browsing the photos. We have a video display that displays the best photos of Wiki Loves Monuments Finland 2019 and a wall display connected to social media that projects photographs posted to Twitter and Instagram. At the beginning of February, we also had projector time for a then-and-now slideshow in Oodi’s entrance hall.
Centrally located Oodi is next to the main train station in downtown Helsinki. Oodi is the most popular library in Finland and recently won the 2019 Public Library of the Year award. We have used space also for some events. So far there have been 15,000 visitors.
Planning the exhibition
We proposed the exhibition at the beginning of August to the Helsinki Urban Environment Division’s Brygga team. They were interested in the idea. However, our original idea was to use Helsinki-related content from Wiki Loves Monuments and rephotography was a secondary idea. In discussions with the Brygga team, it was clear that they were more interested in the idea of showing how the city has changed. They were also very interested in ideas on how to engage people. Another thing we realized only after discussions with the Brygga team was that there were also hard limitations because of the character of the space.
As space is an open, unstaffed balcony, it needed to be safe for library users all the time. It meant that the physical installation should be vandal-proof. For example, props needed to be selected so that they could not be easily dropped from the balcony. Everything also needed to be kid-safe. Things needed to be mounted so that they could not tip over if climbed on or so light so they would not hurt anyone if they hit them. What we had was video displays, tablets, and a lot of surfaces that we could cover with stickers or boards with pictures. The proposed synopsis of the exhibition was submitted at the end of August and we received an answer in September.
In August and the beginning of September, we asked for approval from the Wikimedia Foundation and from the City of the Helsinki so we could use money from the Helsinki rephotography project for the exhibition. We also needed to confirm that we could use the money after the end of October if needed as it was the end of Helsinki Rephotography's first year’s term. The budget for the exhibition was 8265€ for building the physical content and 8000€ for the work.
We had a team of five people: Zache, Eteil, and Kulttuurinavigaattori in Finland and Vahur Puik and Märt Häkkinen in Estonia. Zache coordinated the exhibition as project leader of Helsinki Rephotography. Eteil was our graphic designer. Kulttuurinavigaattori was the main person for curating and preparing the rephotography content until he traveled to Benin in mid-October. While not part of the team itself, Yupik translated the name of the exhibition into quite a few languages and crowdsourced the rest, resulting in 40 languages ranging from Riffian Berber to the Saami languages that could be used to advertise the exhibition.
Vahur and Märt created our content for the tablets. We had a big television for geotagged then-and-now pairs of photos which was controlled by a tablet. We also had two smaller tablets where users could browse photos and enrich the information of the photos. Vahur and Märt were also doing their exhibition for Ajapaik in the Museum of Photography in Tallinn and we shared the technology and ideas with them.
For content, we used photos from Wiki Loves Monuments and our photo walks. Some of the walks concentrated on photography while some were more focused on history such as a walk on an old military island outside Helsinki and getting to know Signe Brander’s life. There were about 120 participants altogether and 300-400 photos were published in Commons and Ajapaik.
For old photos, we concentrated on photos by Signe Brander from the 1900s to the 1920s. We used photos by other photographers too, but the photos from Signe Brander were clearly one of our main sources of inspiration. In addition, we used old maps and aerial photos of Helsinki.
The balcony space is also divided into two areas where we were in the larger one and the smaller one had to change mini-exhibitions like biking in the city and the plans by the architecture students of Aalto University. The Brygga space has employees from the Helsinki Urban Environment Division who are staffing the balcony during office hours. They were also presenting the city, but also the exhibitions and other content that was in the balcony.
As for events we had an event for kids on Oodi’s birthday December 5thm 2020 and then a second time when we visited the exhibition as part of our autumn meeting. On Open Data Day on March 7, 2020, we are using the space for our programs together with OKFI.
What we learned?
As the timing was mainly defined by when Brygga was free and by available funding on the Helsinki rephotography project. However, this meant also that we need to do it in parallel with Wiki Loves Monuments, organizing walks as part of Helsinki Rephotography, and preparing our SAPG. It was also done by the people who haven't done exhibitions before and pretty much everything would have benefitted from more time. So there would have been room for a proper try, fail, refactor loop. However, we got great help from the city of Helsinki’s Brygga team.
The electrical interfaces of the tablets were translated to Swedish, Estonian, and English. However, due to a limited amount of time and space, the printed exhibition texts on the walls were only in Finnish. Considering also that Oodi is visited by not only people living in the Helsinki Metropolitan Region but also by lots of tourists, it would have been a good idea for us to have had the exhibition material in other languages besides Finnish since there are plenty of people who do not understand Finnish visiting Oodi and the exhibition. For example, we had a lot of Russian era content in the tablets and Russian translations for description texts were asked.
Partially also for timing reasons, we did not plan beforehand what we would do when the exhibition was actually running. With the exhibition, we had a multipurpose space that could be used a lot more versatilely for public events than what we have done to date. Continuous running events would have required people who would be generating ideas just for this. Another issue related to this was that as the place is visible it needs a lot of Wikimedia materials for sharing. Basically we only have a Wiki Loves Monuments postcards and some Creative Commons copyright leaflets left. As a result, we made a new set of postcards from WLM2019 photos. We learned that the content for sharing should be prepared beforehand so we could just print them when we need them.
Helsinki Then and Now exhibition presentation slides in Oodi, view from the hall.
Parliamentary house seen through the window and the same building on the photo on the handrail.
Children's drawings of the future of the Helsinki.
Photos in the handrail and building the Helsinki Then and Now exhibition in Oodi.
Deoldified Signe Brander photos from Finna.fi by Väri-Signe bot
Crowdsourcing tablets and map tablet with television
Big tv monitor, tablet kiosk for rephotographs and aerial photos and old maps of Helsinki Finland
Sift-pics annotation tablet where the user selected if the context of the photo was indoor, outdoor, urban ...
Face-tagging annotation tablet where the user selected if the person in the photo was young or old, male or female
People exploring the exhibition
The old city map of Helsinki 1909 by Helsingin Kaupunginkanslia / kaupunginarkisto
The old city map of Helsinki 1909 by Helsingin Kaupunginkanslia / kaupunginarkisto
Then and Now exhibition in Oodi guestbook and info material
Leaflet table and door panel with photos
Doors with send rephotos to us and we will show them text.
The other side of the Brygga space with architecture examples by Aalto University Students.
Leaflet totem with crowdsourced translations of the exhibition.