Kosti Ruohomaa, Finnish/American (1913 - 1961)

Kosti Ruohomaa, Finnish/American (1913 - 1961)

Kosti Ruohomaa was born in Quincy, Massachusetts in 1913, the son of Finnish immigrants Selim and Sophia Ruohomaa. In 1926, the family moved to Rockland, Maine, where Kosti graduated from high school. He studied painting and drawing at the Boston School of Practical Art and upon graduation worked as a commercial artist with the Forbes Lithographic Company (also in Boston). In 1937, he was hired as an animator for the Walt Disney Studios and moved to Los Angeles. It was there that he began to develop a serious interest in photography and his first works were published.

Finnish-American photographer. After studying at the Boston School of Practical Art he worked as a commercial artist, then as a Disney animator. In 1944, after turning to photography, he began a successful career as a photojournalist with the Black Star agency. But his most celebrated photographs were of the people and landscapes of Maine, a selection of which, with texts by Lew Dietz, were published in Night Train at Wiscasset Station (1977; repr. 1998).

In New York in 1944, Kosti signed a contract with the Black Star Publishing Company, where he worked as a free-lance photographer for the rest of his life. Over the years, his work appeared in numerous leading magazines, including LIFE, Fortune, Holiday, Ladies Home Journal and National Geographic. Among his most passionate missions was photographing the people and landscapes of Maine in all their varied seasons and moods. It is from this body of work that the images in the exhibition have been selected.

The Legend of Kosti Ruohomaa, like most artists who die young, has grown to mythic proportions since his sudden death in 1961.

One story paints the picture of a raw Maine morning. A stranger wanders about at the edge of the sea, two cameras slung over his shoulder. Seeing he is soaked to the bone, a local woman asks him in for coffee and questions what he is up to. His answer is simple. "I'm looking at the fog." And with that, the stranger - Kosti - disappears back into the mist.

Though his life was haunted, there is a soothing calm in his photographs. "Kosti found peace in rural life," remembers a Life editor, "The train coming into the station, the farmer leaving the barn."

Howard Chapnick called Kosti a true artist: "The word is thrown around with gay abandon in photography - this picture looks like a Rembrandt, that one like a Renoir. Kosti's photographs do not have to be compared to the work of painters. A Ruohamaa picture looks like a Ruohamaa!"

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