CNN Photos

Woman photographer in a ‘Mad Men’ world

“They are lively. Alive!” photographer Claire Aho says about her photographs.

Aho is considered a pioneer in Finnish color photography. She started taking photos in 1935 at age 10, following in the footsteps of her father, Heikki Aho, a renowned Finnish filmmaker. She was one of a very few women who were producing color photos in the 1950s in Finland.

“I believe I was the first female photographer who photographed in color,” she tells CNN.

She worked as a photographer during an age when the advertising and photography world was dominated by men, as depicted in the current popular television show, “Man Men.”

“In the 1950s I never thought I did pioneering work. I just worked hard,” she says. “The expression ‘pioneer’ was affixed to me later.”

Aho’s work runs the gamut from magazine and editorial images to advertisements and fashion. This breadth of high-quality color photography put her in high demand, making her one of the most prominent figures in her field at the time.

The elements of movement and color are part of what make her work iconic. She, like her father, began her career as a documentary filmmaker.

“Many of my photographs include an element of movement,” she says.

A daring exploration of color is thematic in Aho’s work, with a preference of contrasting colors side by side, and the hopes of displaying the idea of her “inner eye.” She makes the camera work for her to get the perfect look.

For her photo shoots she often played music to help the models relax and aimed to create a fun and playful environment.

“I look for those expressions which seem to be very characteristic for (the subjects), and try to take the photo at the exactly right moment.”

In her commercial work, she tried to portray women as strong and independent, with models posing in elegant and fashionable clothes. Aho looked to create a humorous and a positive mindset in each photo. The models believed she could take a good photo of them and it shows in her work, she says.

Two of her grandchildren, ages 5 and 7, seem to have creative traits and may follow in her footsteps into photography.

The exhibition of her photos at The Photographers’ Gallery in London will open on April 19.

- Callie Carmichael, CNN

All images courtesy The Photographers' Gallery.

Headshot courtesy Jonathan Rieder Lundqvist.