Juha Arvid Helminen’s Shadow People


Finnish photographer Juha Arvid Helminen has created a black on black series that has me all aflutter. It’s the same mix of fear and attraction as the first time I read The Invisible Man or watched The Headless Horseman at the age of six. And a more recent instance–a shameful tickle in my pants upon discovering Pyramid Head in Silent Hill.


Besides the fetish appeal of complete coverage, tight-lacing, and uniforms, for me the mystery factor is the most potent reason for such a strong visceral response. Masking to create apprehension and giving the imagination freedom to explore its limits is such a common literary and artistic instrument that it’s almost surprising to feel just how effective it is. I’m sipping a cup of tea in the middle of afternoon–far from a spooky ambiance–yet every time I look at these images another infinite, matte black dimension of anxiety unfolds.








26 Responses to “Juha Arvid Helminen’s Shadow People”

  1. Courtney Riot Says:

    These images are absolutely incredible.

  2. Evv Says:

    These photos are gorgeous.
    I kind of want to do the face-wrapping bit, complete with pointy headpiece and black bandages, for Hallowe’en now.

  3. Jon Munger Says:


  4. Celine Says:

    Somehow I figured coilhouse would be gay for Pyramid Head the way I am.

    These photos are incredible, and belong in a sex manual titled “everything you wanted to know about Celine’s Sexuality but were afraid to ask.”

    I could go on and on, this series really has it all.

    At this point, the only thing that really startles me is why this is still considered a deviant interest for girls and women. I am almost sure that on some level, these images contain something nearly universally appealing and sexual for females (even my most vanilla friends inexplicably find themselves excited by photos like these). There is nothing too edgy here—subtle bdsm, uniforms and anonymity are passe compared to most of what we’re used to seeing on the internet. This is no more deviant than a love of masked superheros. Why not embrace this as the blank face of female sexuality?

  5. trampledshadows Says:

    these photos seem to grab hold of your retinas and keep you for a while..thanks for the post

  6. Elise Wilson Says:

    To me, these evoke an execution scene. these pictures make me uncomfortable, so kudos to juha for making pictures that really evoke something, in an era when so many horror-themed images just fall flat.

    Like most people commenting, I think there’s something appealing about uniforms & full coverage. That said, I also realized, looking at these pictures, that I’ve developed an aversion to nazi uniforms in art and photography. Basically, I feel like unless you’re doing something really interesting and unusual with it, it is kind of uncool these days to include the nazi aesthetic in a picture – I’m not saying that this particular artist is guilty of this, but looking at these photos made me think of this point, which I’ve wanted to articulate somewhere for a while. It’s not enough to make me dislike some artist, but it does bring them down a notch in my eyes. I feel like a lot of very interesting, powerful work has been created using nazi aesthetics in the last century, from John Heartfield’s montages to the imagery of the Night Porter to Genesis P-Orridge’s performances in the 70’s. But that’s the thing: it has all be done, with great care. And now, it’s 2009, and most of the work that still uses nazi imagery doesn’t appear to have the same level of thought behind it. I feel like a lot of people use it to create pointless controversy, or to make themselves look like dark “controversial artists,” when really they don’t have much to say.

    My opinion may be considered quaint for my generation (I’m 22) and in the alt scene, where swastikas and pop up in everything from John John Jesse to Chad Ward to Eugenio Recuenco to Trevor Brown’s work. And I’m not going to deny the fetishistic aspect of the Nazi uniform – everyone knows they’re hot, duh. I guess I just don’t consider their use, without GOOD REASON, to be serious or great art. Again, this isn’t necessarily a critique of this artist in particular (I haven’t made up my mind yet). Just something I’ve always wanted to get off my chest! Carry on. :)

  7. Tequila Says:

    I had the opposite reaction it seems. None of this hit me in a way of coldness or even sexual. Yes it has an undeniably strong atmosphere and I get the fetish angle but there is a strong level of comfort here that overpowers it. You’re faceless and featureless. You can be anyone and anyone can be you. It’s the most literal interpretation of being part of a whole, a group, a brotherhood, a family, etc.

    The individual suffers here but the idea is a positive one in many respects. Championed in many circles and while the woman in the image seems mostly isolated it makes sense if one reads the prior image as essentially her giving up her son/husband/lover/whatever to the group. Really in such a hyper idealized way even the imageless picture frames make sense. There would be no need for such vanity since all around one could see the same thing one misses. It’s as comforting an idea as it is sad.

    As far as the Nazi thing goes. I wouldn’t really apply it here. It makes a nod to a lot of military uniforms and while yeah it has a distinct Nazi vibe it feels much more Hollywood influenced than historical. To be honest most people have only seen the inaccurate uniforms of the silver screen and stylized fetishistic interpretations more than the real deal. At this point the Nazi uniform is so much a part of pop culture that it’s pretty amazing that even a striped down version of it can still have an impact. The older I get the sillier they look personally but I appreciate they can still be used for heavy symbolism even if many seem to fear going beyond them. Though it should be noted that the image with the couple is a pretty standard design. When I first saw it I was reminded of the WWI era British uniforms quite a bit. That one feels the most emotion filled as you can almost see a faint smile in the man.

    I really enjoy the mood of the images too much to even feel slightly creeped out by them. I WANT to feel creeped out by them but they are too beautiful in their form and ideas.

  8. Kambriel Says:

    I’m intrigued by the way in the fifth photo, the female figure could be interpreted in so many different ways. Is she about to be executed, or is the leading the men into battle?

    The mysterious stories that reside in shadows and silhouettes…

  9. Sarah Les P Says:

    Thank you.

    The most poignant image for myself was that of the woman with the dunce cap/head turned to the corner. A sort of memorial for silence and darkness. It’s gorgeous.

  10. safetycopy Says:

    “And a more recent instance–a shameful tickle in my pants upon discovering Pyramid Head in Silent Hill.”


    Stunning photos!

  11. Juha Arvid Helminen Says:

    in case of Mark Ryden who undirectly and directely borrows the estetic styles of different cultures from the past and the present we can ask why should he not use the nazi iconografia, for human history has its great moments and i guess we could say failed moments. history is history. In the case of “little boy blue” I think Ryden shows us the essence of national socialism. Little boy with all the attitude and no substance.

    To me there is nothing more ridiculous to shock for sake of shocking, or to offend for the sake of offending. It´s simply childish. I think we are all sick and tired of these teen angst type of images that try to make violence look beautifull. Violence is always ugly ,but these teen angst images rearly have the actual atmosphere of violence. In some of my images, I have been looking for the feeling of violence with out showing the actual act. For we already know what it looks like and the portrail of the act is too often a cliche.

    When it comes for the sexuality that people feel in these images I personaly really don´t see it. Sexuality has lot to do wth control and power and i guess these images have those. We should not see these as fetish images simply because of the uniforms and anonymity. All of the images have one thing in common – the misuse of authority and power.

    To me these images are about controlling things that I can´t control. The thing that might make these series special, is the fact I adore many of the surfaces, shapes, outfits but at the same time despise the ideologies behind them. Religion and militarism have many things in common. They are as well enemies of reason and individuality. In my images like in life individuals drawn too often in the sea of conformity.

  12. ChristopherR055 Says:

    My impression of these amazing images is that they portray the black soul of Great Britain which I see inheriting the mantle of darkness from Nazi Germany.

  13. Jessica Says:

    Absolutely ravishing!!!

  14. Ashley Says:

    This is absolutely amazing. I…. I can’t stop STARING. JUst…… I want to re-do my Hallowe’en costume now.

  15. Natasha Says:

    Any opinion I might have has already been expressed here by other readers. Point being, I love the images in one way or another. I have also always harbored a love of WWII European uniforms. They’re just so elegant, regardless of what is done IN them. So its interesting to see a woman incorporated into a normally all male concept.
    Wonderful. Thanks for sharing.

  16. jennifer jane Says:

    these are absolutely amazing. thank you for sharing them with us.
    I’m a little haunted now.

  17. Vivacious G Says:

    All image-stereotypes and symbolisms aside, I’d love to run around in these threads, just completely covered. Very nice, thank you.

  18. Kevin Says:

    I first saw this series on Deviantart. Instant favorite.

  19. PLANET://DAMAGE » Blog Archive » the hesitation Says:

    […] Hesitation, by Juha Arvid Helminen. This Deviantart find is highly praised by both IO9 and Coilhouse and we are wading six feet deep in our own turbulence to finally get things started and done. At […]

  20. alex Says:

    These look very much inspired by the Polish painter Beksinski (60’s-70’s work), as well as some polish poster designers (I think I’m thinking of Wiktor Sadowski). Somewhere in a book I have a few paintings of faceless nazi’s and also of faces covered in bandages with helmets.

  21. lauraborn Says:

    love it.. reminds me of a dark lady gaga

  22. day one « see no Says:

    […] shadow people […]

  23. cy Says:

    I arrived at this amazing set of photos while researching the history of the Ku Klux Klan in my city. Turns out the ladies’ auxiliary of the KKK was called “Ladies of the Invisible Empire,” or LOTIE for short. Amazing, and shitty that they ruined a perfectly awesome band name for their ridiculous cause. With a name like that, I had to see what came up when i googled it, and this is one of the sites I found. This, like “Guernica,” is yet another of those cases where it might be actually ARTISTICALLY interesting to know the history of a certain combination of words used in the title of the work… if you’re turned on by geeky stuff like i am

  24. The Ninja Says:

    Very dark but very beautiful.

  25. Devin Says:

    To me it seems to be a narrative of religion’s role in Nazi Germany (especially Catholicism and Protestantism). It married with the government enticed the people to follow Hitler’s lead (the soldiers were standing to attention in her presence). The government fell and then it was left exposed and ashamed (sitting in a fetal position). It had betrayed it’s people and now it was exposed as a liar because the bible is in very clear contrast to violence and nationalism. This stance is supported by the hints at Catholicism- bishop, black book and the obvious Nazi war helmets. O and the first picture I would imagine is the people pleading for help in the depression from the woman who symbolizes Catholicism and Protestantism.

  26. Juha Arvid Helminen Says:

    Here you can see more of my art: http://www.facebook.com/ArtOfJuhaArvidHelminen