In Leaps and Bounds - Press photographs of President Urho Kekkonen by photographer Jussi Pohjakallio
6 May 2022–31 December 2023. The exhibition displays Jussi Pohjakallio’s (1930–1990) press photos of President Kekkonen’s public life during his first term of office, as well as occasional moments of his free time. The young photographer, who was specialised in sports photography, and the president were connected by their joint passion for sports. The exhibition displays photos in which President Kekkonen exercises in the courtyard area of Tamminiemi and practices his famous leap on the stone steps in Seurasaari.
The exhibition photos are from 1957–1961. After President J.K. Paasikivi died, the 40-year-old Finland got a new president, who opened his doors to the press in an unparalleled way. The presidential couple can be seen frolicking with their grandchildren, and Kekkonen even took the press photographer with him on a morning jog. Mrs Sylvi Kekkonen’s important role and support by her husband’s side is also conveyed in Pohjakallio’s photos.
The photos also relate how he handled Soviet relations. The president prepares himself to address the citizens on New Year’s Day 1959, when the relationship between Finland and the Soviet Union has become colder: the Night Frost Crisis is underway. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev raises his glass at the president’s 60th birthday party, and the presidential couple admire the foals of the Orlov mares received from the Soviet Union.
Jussi Pohjakallio’s years as a press photographer for periodicals took place in the golden age of black-and-white photojournalism from the 1950s to the mid-1960s. Light cameras, flashlights and more sensitive film allowed press photographers to take a new, mobile role. Press photographers became more and more witnesses to events. This also shows in Pohjakallio’s photos.
Jussi Pohjakallio graduated and became a gym teacher in 1953, but he didn’t enjoy being a teacher and, instead, took on a career as a press photographer. Pohjakallio photographed for several periodicals, including Urheilun Kuva-Aitta, Käytännön Maamies, Suomen Kuvalehti, Seura, and KUVA-POSTI. In 1964, Pohjakallio founded his own photographic studio, and he became as well known and established as an advertising and children’s photographer as he had been as a press photographer.
The photos in the exhibition are from the collections of the Press Photo Archive (JOKA) of the Finnish Heritage Agency, as well as the Finnish Museum of Photography. President and Mrs Kekkonen’s evening dresses and items are from the collections of the National Museum.
“The KUVA-POSTI photographer got to follow the morning jog of the President of the Republic last week in sunny Seurasaari. Photographer Jussi Pohjakallio, who is also a certified gym teacher, took second place this time. The president’s pace was so high that most of the photos were taken from behind,” writes KUVA-POSTI on 18 June 1959. After an hour of brisk jogging, only a few drops of sweat could be spotted on the fit president’s face. In fifteen minutes he will already be starting his day’s work, tells the magazine. President Kekkonen’s 59th birthday is approaching.
Over the course of his whole presidential term, President Kekkonen tried to jump up the stone steps in Seurasaari in one leap, but he never succeeded. He did, however, reach the second highest step when he was 74.