“Eesti”: a new book of Estonian photo stories

Estonian photographer Tõnu Runnel has published “Eesti”, a book of Estonian photo stories; an album of everyday life in Estonia, the book is published in both Estonian and English.

Tõnu Runnel is a photographer who debuted on the pages of this very magazine in 2017. His contribution included photo stories such as Eesti blues, Eesti noir, Eesti mist, Eesti home and Eesti autumn. Runnel has now published “Eesti”, a full book of Estonian photo stories, covering landscapes, houses, streets and people in four seasons. The book is a bilingual edition, in both English and Estonian.

“Estonia is a good place to live. That’s the key message in Tõnu Runnel’s book,” Mart Kalm, the rector of the Estonian Academy of Arts, writes in the foreword. “These pages present an outlook on Estonia that I haven’t seen in print before. It’s effortless and true to life, picking up on deep inner beauty in the ordinary and mundane. Sure, you’ll find some glossy shots, like a symmetrical photo of a symmetrical house. But instead of a palace, it’s a former STD clinic.” 

“The author is a designer, and his aesthetically sensitive eye finds beauty even in decay,” Kalm adds. “There is poetry both on the facade and in the backyard, in fog and floodwater, on an IT guy’s desk, and in a tethered goat.”

A page from the book “Eesti” by Tõnu Runnel.

Many of the photos are taken in locations that are rapidly modernising, other scenes are almost eternal. Sometimes a picture consists of both – such as the case of a 150-year-old house with layers of modifications added over time.

Or as Mart Kalm puts it, “Runnel is not ashamed of the past. Remnants of the Soviet era should not be removed; they’re a natural part of our environment, like castle ruins or former suburbs. A Soviet grain dryer meets modern agrotech, and a new apartment building can be spotted between old tenement houses. This book values the past but believes in the future just as much. As if reminding the overachieving modern Estonia that life hasn’t always been this good.”

Ten stories accompanying Runnel’s photos are from co-authors Keiti Vilms, Mart Kase, Mari Kalkun, Villu Arak, Mele Pesti, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Karin Bachmann, Hando Runnel, Anna Hints and Mika Keränen.

Runnel’s book is a work of art in itself.

When you want an album of everyday life Estonia, this is the book to get. It’s on sale in Estonian book stores and can be ordered internationally from Krisostomus.

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