When you think of Finland, what do you imagine? Snow-capped trees, reindeer and log cabins? Or aliens from outer space? In her latest series, photographer Maria Lax reveals a hidden past, only known by locals.
Maria grew up in a sparsely populated town in northern Finland, surrounded by woodland and renowned for UFO sightings in the 1960s. "Unaware of this history myself, it wasn't until I read my grandfather's book that I learnt of the incredible stories of supernatural events, bravery and struggle against hardship in what is largely barren land," she explains.
"Already suffering from dementia, my grandfather was unable to answer any of the questions I had, so I went looking for answers. I turned to the people who had seen the mysterious lights, to newspaper archives and my family's photo albums from the era."
Calling her series Some Kind of Heavenly Fire, Maria brings her photographs together along with archive and newspaper cuttings for her first monograph – inspired by her grandfather's book. The title, of the same name, weaves together a delicate and ambiguous story about a small town with a big secret.
According to Maria, the UFO sightings coincided with a time of great struggle for Northern Finland. "People flooded from the countryside to the cities in search of jobs, leaving abandoned houses scattered across this beautiful but harsh landscape," she adds.
"It's no wonder that the UFO sightings embodied fear of the future, the unknown and the inexorable shift in lifestyles and livelihoods going on around them. Some reacted to the mysterious lights with fear, some took them as a sign they were not alone."