Virpi Koskela in Yli-li village, said, “Maybe it's because my ancestors have lived here, so this feels like home. Perhaps.” (Janne Korkko)

Dam and rainbow. “It was a big and sudden change when the salmon disappeared. What good has it brought? What is its price?” asks Janne Korkko. (Janne Korkko)

Life ebbs and flows, changing constantly. We see that in so many ways, whether it be the creaks and strains our bodies feel as they grow older or our memories fading and faltering. The forward charge of time is manifested in many ways. Even the land beneath our feet serves as a constant reminder. Things appear and then disappear. The block you grew up on changes; cities grow or shrink; and traditions are held on to or vanish. It is all part of being alive. It is universal.

In central Finland, there is a small village, Yli-li, nestled against a river called Iijoki that is succumbing to the realities of life, like so many other places. It is a place that captured the interest of Finnish photographer Janne Korkko, who took pictures of the village and the river, compiling a lyrical and wistful portrait of a place trying to resist life’s inevitable entropy. Korkko was accompanied by academic Alise Virpi Koskela, who gathered interviews with people.

As he worked on his project, Korkko found that although the village has started to disappear, people are trying to keep its memory alive. And the river is still going strong. So, yes, life changes, but there is also resilience. Somehow, some way, we keep mustering along.

Korkko told In Sight a little more about his project, “The Song of the Riverside”:

“Rivers have river rights as well as humans have human rights. People, communities, environments, and nature have deep interrelated connections. A connection that is more complex than ownership of land, a fishing permit, a cottage on the riverside, or a beautiful sundown on the opposite shore of the river. The name of the river in these photos is Iijoki. The name comes from an ancient word of Sami (iddja, ijje), which means night. So, the name of this river is Night. Night river flows through Yli-Ii, a village that has become part of Oulu, a bigger city. This means there are no public services any more in Yli-li. The village is disappearing.

“Night river is full of songs of memories, and its riverbanks are full of people with these memories. Some of them are sacred, silenced or even untold. Usually it seems that nobody wants to remember the song of the unforgotten village. … But some of the songs are still alive or they are waking up through the people, who are starting to remember the song of the wild, free-flowing river.

“The landscape of the village, and the diversity and ecology of nature changed totally during the 1960s, when the river was dammed — and many hydroelectric power plants were built in it.

“The damming of the river was one of the biggest eco catastrophes in the area of north Finland. But it was also catastrophic for the whole society of the village and its families in many, maybe still unidentified and unconscious, ways. Nowadays the eco catastrophe is still happening through clear cutting and swamp ditching.

“But the second longest river in Finland — with its 150 rapids — is still alive under all the construction, destruction of riverbeds and hydroelectric dams. It lives also in peoples’ minds and bodies, in their eyes and destinies and maybe in their most hidden memories. It is singing its unique song.”


(Janne Korkko)

Mats Pahkala told Alise Virpi Koskela, “The homeland, the roots, they are somewhere there in the muscle memory. The best moments are to fish when the evening comes and the sun sets — and to be free.” (Janne Korkko)

(Janne Korkko)

Arja and a rooster. (Janne Korkko)

“Time is passing and shadows roll by,” says Janne Korkko. (Janne Korkko)

An unidentified man reading a newspaper told Alise Virpi Koskela, “I do not like the landscape now, it does not arouse any emotions, but it was necessary to modify it …” (Janne Korkko)

(Janne Korkko)

Ritva Korkko, the photographer's mother. (Janne Korkko)

Sakari Heinikoski spent 10 years taking care of his mother. He could not bear the thought of abandoning her. (Janne Korkko)

“In the 1970s, I heard that my classmate at the village school went to the religious delegation to break the family television with an ax. I never dared to ask if it was true. But television was considered a sin,” said Janne Korkko. (Janne Korkko)

Hannu Tunturi, with an owl, told Alise Virpi Koskela, “I often wonder about the meaning of the whole ringing of birds, because the destruction of biodiversity is seen daily. I'm thinking … that the destruction of the human species could be a good thing. And it would be easy if there was someone to blame.” (Janne Korkko)

“Dams are just structures, they are not eternal. At an Iijoki rowing event in 2019, we learned that in central Europe, the demolition of power stations has already begun at an accelerating pace. And now it's happening in Finland, little by little. Maybe Iijoki will flow free in the future,” says Janne Korkko. (Janne Korkko)

“Some nights, in my dreams, I am still traveling through the riverside. It cannot get me from its grip. It has decided to take me home. I am almost there. When I raise my eyes to see the whole view, I may see where I am, who I am,” said Janne Korkko. (Janne Korkko)

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.

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