Tell me a bit about yourself. Where are you from? How did your upbringing help shape your creative vision?
I was born and grew up in Pori, on the west coast of Finland. My socio-economic background is quite poor, so I was lucky to attend a school for exceptionally talented children where we did lots of arts and music. In 3rd grade I was encouraged to join a choir by my music teacher (who was also the director) and I’m happy I did so because through that hobby, I was able to travel around Europe from a very young age; I was exposed to different cultures and art. Growing up, my music teacher was my artistic hero because of her fearless attitude towards the patriarchal arts society. I felt inspired by the way she believed that art belongs to everyone. She loved all art forms, not just classical music. We’re still really good friends and she’s one of my biggest artistic supporters.
You define yourself as many things: “poet & prophet, social media superstar, philanthropist”, what is the essence of Mikko Rasila?
Hahahahaha isn’t it funny! Through my artistic work I’m trying to change how we view masculinity, sexuality, gender, emotional intimacy, and vulnerability. Basically add as many stories to masculinity as I can. In my free time I’ve done pro bono work with Pride campaigns, HIV foundations and other non-profit organizations. I personally love social media, especially Instagram, where I’ve recently started sharing these mini-stories about myself and my life: my thoughts and experiences alongside my photography. I wanted to create a place where there would be no pressure, judgment, or shame. A place where people could see eye to eye with others, sharing life experiences with acceptance and love. I‘m starting to think that the essence of me is to run free and fly high.
Were you always interested in photography?
No. That happened by accident. After high school I wanted to do a million things, like art history and theoretical philosophy. I did a year of theology at Helsinki open university and after that I was like, fuck it I want to be surrounded by fashion and fantasy. So I called this one photographer I knew from my childhood summer camps and applied to be her assistant. Luckily she accepted me and I started work the following week. I loved assisting and I immediately knew this was going to be my career.
What did you learn in your studies at London College of Fashion? How has that applied to your career as a fashion and beauty photographer?
I loved my time in college! Absolutely loved it! My course was their first photography course leading up to a degree, so there was a special kind of feel to it, everything was new and exciting to all of us. By the time I started my studies I had been assisting different photographers in Finland for more than three years, and I already had a few editorials out. It wasn’t my first time in the studio, so I didn’t feel pressured by the technical side of photography. In this regard, I was super lucky because I had more time to invest into the academic side of our studies. I had never studied abroad before so it was a big thing for me to start thinking, reading and writing in English. I think the biggest gain from my London years was the fact that I became such good friends with so many amazing and talented people and teachers. I learned to use my creativity in a professional way, which allowed me to build myself a life in a completely new country.
What is it like to live and create in Helsinki?
Compared to its small size, Helsinki is actually quite an international and vibrant city to work in. More and more international productions are being shot in Helsinki or done by Helsinki based companies and being shot in other parts of Finland. I’ve shot my entire series of male nudes in Helsinki at my studio in downtown with an amazing international cast; my models are from different nationalities and from different walks of life.
Do you have strong feelings about Tom of Finland? Has he been part of your artistic journey?
Yes. I think growing up in Finland as a queer teenager in the 90s it was impossible not to be heavily influenced by his work. Seeing his work was the first erotic gay art I came across and it was fantastic. In my hometown I felt like a complete outsider and his art was fabulous! It was international and beautiful and his models were these amazing perfect sex gods.
Who are the three artists who inspire you the most?
Mark Rothko, Nan Goldin and Arvo Pärt.
You shot still photography for two films, BULLETS (2018), and LAPLAND ODYSSEY 3 (2017). What was that experience like?
Bullets was actually a TV series but I’ve shot still photography for The Lapland Odyssey and the Tom of Finland biopic and it was fantastic. I love being on film and movie sets and I love working with different directors. Film and TV work is different from what I normally do and it’s so thrilling. It’s such a learning curve following how to introduce characters and build them and how the narrative unfolds. I really do love it. I would love to be involved in Hollywood productions as well if the right one came along.
Have you ever considered shooting motion pictures?
Not yet, but I’d love to shoot and direct short films. I’ve been developing ideas and storyboards for fashion and dance themed short films and I’d love to try what it would be like to shoot some male nudes on film.
You’ve photographed everything from fashion, to ballet, to the city of Helsinki, what is your current focus?
Yes I’ve been lucky to have a beautiful seventeen-year-career in commercial photography, and as you said, I’ve shot everything from fashion to ballet to advertising. I came to know the Tom of Finland Store during an amazing four day shoot in Helsinki a couple of years ago. For now I want to concentrate on my artist career and the male nudes I’ve been working on for the past ten years.
What images are you most passionate about?
I’m putting all my time and effort on my series of black and white male nudes I’ve been shooting since 2009. Some of the images have been on display in a museum exhibition in St Petersburg, Russia. They have also been featured in Vogue Italia Photovogue. The series was shortlisted at the 2021 Hyères photography festival and they are currently showing at Finnish Consul General’s Residence in Los Angeles. I think this is the time to come out in full swing with the whole series.
Your personal work is dynamic. I love the black and white photographs of figures in motion. What was your process creating those images?
Thank you so much! I wanted to create an intimate space around male nudes that would be lingering and inviting. I also wanted to explore themes of emotional intimacy, physical closeness, fragility and vulnerability. I’ve used many of my (and my models’) personal experiences of love, lust and heartbreak to create the images. I always have a certain feeling I’m after. I’m glad if that comes across in my work.
Is there anything new coming up that you’d like to share with us? What can we watch out for?
I’m currently looking for an exhibition space in Los Angeles to show my work in public later this year, and working on a book on the male nudes. I recently opened a little online shop for my work on my website where I sell some of my favorite images so that’s exciting. I’m also hoping to relocate permanently to Los Angeles as soon as possible.