Flora of Finland

Hello! Who are you?

My name is Anna-Mari Lämsä, I’m 29 years-old. I am the CCO of Flora of Finland.

What did you do before FoF?

After studying Communications at the University of Applied Sciences in Lapland I worked in the film and TV industry mostly as a story producer, assistant director, or script supervisor. I still work in production as a hobby, mainly. Last weekend I was in Savonlinna, working on a reality TV show about a wedding. I was the story producer, chasing the protagonists around.

How was the switch from film and TV to botany?

I have always loved Finnish nature, always had a close relationship with it because I come from the North, where there’s massive forests around my home village. And botanics… because of my grandma. She’s passed away now, but I spent a lot of time in the woods, while she was telling me about nature and plants, berries, mushrooms, all kinds of stuff.

That tells a lot about your character. Many people grow up close to nature, but when they get the chance they choose to run away to the city.

I always miss the North (I’m originally from Oulu). I mean, I love Helsinki, I’m comfy here, this is home. But not so home. (laughs) When I go back I feel I am where I belong, where I am more… myself.

How did you come up with the concept of FoF?

Around February 2016, my previous colleague and I had this idea of creating a herbarium (a collection of preserved plant specimens—ed). We have a long tradition of herbaria here in Finland, generally done in books. But we were thinking “Nature plays such a big role in the Finnish character; wouldn’t it be cool and interesting to do a herbarium of Finnish nature with photographs, and put it up on Instagram? A traditional book would be sitting in a bookshelf waiting to be picked up by just one person, while an online herbarium could be seen and enjoyed by everybody in the world!”

Our first photograph was a Wood Anemone (valkovuokko) that we posted on Mother’s Day 2016. Immediately we got lots of followers and likes, we could tell right away people liked it a lot. So we went and shot some more! (laughs)

What’s the process like? It looks studio-made, because the shots are so clean and controlled.

Thank you! It’s all done right there in the forest. It’s important for me to show what the plants look like in their habitat, and in order to accomplish that they must be photographed right after pick up. We’ve got only a few minutes before they collapse and die.

They must die in order to become immortalized?

(laughs) Not always. Whenever possible I try to replant them. But often it’s not viable to photograph them with their roots, so I have to cut them off. But I like to bring the plants home with me and enjoy them a bit longer. I never feel like I’m just using the plants to discard them once I have the photos.

How many people work on the photos?

It takes two or three people to do the job, because you have to be so fast. And it’s not easy. The plant is not just there looking great, I have to do certain things to it so it looks the way it does on the photos.

Sounds like you’re shooting super-models.

Yeah! After I pick the plant, I build a sort of casting around it and then “animate” the plant while the photographer takes the shots. It’s like magic!

Aesthetically-wise, the whole concept looks carefully designed and implemented. Where’s this direction coming from?

We’ve had some creative people like graphic designers helping out, but it’s been my responsibility—and my pleasure—to design and supervise all the visuals and the creative stuff.

Did you know from the start FoF would end up as a commercial venture?

No. At first it was a hobby, a fun thing to do. But when the IG account had been out for a while, people were asking “Hey! Where can I buy prints of these?” So we kinda had the brand before the products! (laughs) It was a great start, so we said “okay, we’ll give goods to you!”

What products do you offer at the moment?

High quality art prints. Glass prints…

What’s a glass print?

It’s a square panel made out of glass, 25 cm on the side, and the picture is printed in the glass, and serial-numbered. We have also offered linen products, like kitchen towels with plant patterns. Then last April we started a brand cooperation with Konto, a company that makes acoustic panels out of Finnish peat moss, which is a genius idea. We designed four different kinds of patterns for them, and it seems they’re starting to sell pretty well (I just sent some to Tel-Aviv). All made in Finland.

You’re printing everything here? Sounds expensive.

There’s a handful of Finnish companies that can handle the level of quality I want, and the costs are very high, but I think it’s important to support Finnish work. Since we’re promoting Finnish nature, I don’t think it’s cool to print our products somewhere else.

How do you decide what specimens to shoot?

It depends. We get a lot of suggestions from the followers, like “What about this and this and this? Why don’t you photograph it?” so we’re always considering those requests. But some days I just go into the forest, scan the landscape, and let it guide me. I can go to Vihti or somewhere north of Helsinki, or somewhere in Ostrobotnia, Pohjanmaa… I haven’t been to Lapland yet, and I really want to go, perhaps in the fall. But yeah, intuition plays a big role.

Is it like looking for mushrooms?

Something like that. It’s like being a truffle pig! (laughs)

Are you an expert on botanics?

My grandma taught me a lot about plants, but I’m not an expert, I’m always learning. Also, for me this is not a detached, clinical “these are the leaves, this is the flower…” scientific approach. I want to bring the best out of them, but I also want to show something… human. Like “it seems to be dancing now… And these two are embracing each other, like they are in love…” I want to display… emotion.

It does come through. I think FoF is so original because it achieves a unique balance between the scientific and the artistic, emotional side you mention.

Yes! And I love the fact that people can recognize the plants, that they can learn from what we do. We’ve received comments in IG like “because of you, my kids now notice such-and-such plants in our yard!” That feels so good and helps us to go on. We are contributing to our cultural history and heritage.

Do you ever seek help from academic people?

Not really. They sometimes send messages like “continue with your work, it’s really important”. People help us a lot. If we’re looking for a particular plant or berry, they guide us to where we can find it.

Do people ever complain?

Surprisingly, no! In general, Finnish people always find something negative to complain about, but with this it’s really weird, because they don’t! (laughs) We thought they would say, for example, “why are you going around killing plants like that!” because we’re very straightforward about how we do it. We try to replant them if possible, and it’s only one or two specimens we photograph. We have learned to do it so well that we don’t need to use a thousand plants.

What will happen if you ever run out of flora? Will we have Fauna of Finland?

(laughs) I get that a lot, everybody asks that. Well, never say never. Luckily there’s still lots of plants to find and photograph, no idea what happens after we catch the last one. We will see when we get there!

What’s in the future for FoF? Books would be cool.

Perhaps there will be books at some point, not yet. After the brand is bigger, maybe in five years or so. We have hundreds of images. But for plans, I want FoF to be the biggest design brand in Finland at some point, bigger that Marimekko. But no hurry! (laughs)

Patterns out of Finnish flora. Clever.

I’m trying to arrange collaborations, just like with the acoustic panels. Brand collaborations, to create pattern designs, textiles that kind of stuff. Finnish brands are really interested in what we are doing. They follow us, and if I call someone, they all want to meet and talk, so it’s looking good for us.

All of this thanks to your grandma.

She and her parents, nature-loving people. I like to think grandma would be proud of what we’re doing, what I am doing. I believe the good luck that blesses this project comes from her watching over me, and helping me out.

The Flora of Finland website is here, and this is their Instagram.