Philosophy City vs City

mike3996

Hall of Famer
Location
Finland

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1.1 Setup​

After planning the move for years, some 18 months ago I moved to Helsinki, the capital of Finland. I traded my idyllic rural cabin in the woods (Sätös, Outokumpu) and my car for a nice urban apartment which offers the absolute dream of mine: great central location; quiet on the inside; busy on the outside.

This move was largely (but of course, not alone) motivated by the immense number of photo opportunities that would arise from being in the heart of a 1.5-million people metropolitan area.

I had my good-sized honey moon period with the city but of course things cooled down come first winter, and now Corona has kept things down-low.

Now, I don't know. I visited family in Iisalmi and I was quite nostalgic about "rural" living again.

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1.2 Cost of Living​

The gap in CoL and real estate between the capital region and Northern Savo is vast.

In Helsinki real estate, the price of a square meter (around 10.8 sqft), in those neighborhoods I'd prefer to live in, is approaching €10k. In Kuopio the prime spots command something like €2.5k a square meter.

In Helsinki I live on rent because of flexibility and financial situation. I hit quite a jackpot with my current apartment but of course in one sense you are always throwing money away when you rent from somebody.

This difference, on a yearly basis, could fund quite a bunch of camera gear or something else altogether.

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1.3 The old joy of street photography​

In my Sätös days street photography was something for which I had to travel 30 or 70 miles to get to a nearest larger town. This system was kind of nice in a way. I'd pack my Billingham a bit more full, bandaids, whatnot. Make a day out of it. Have burgers and coffee on the go.

These days the city begins from my doorstep, I don't buy coffee or have burgers. I eat and drink before I leave, or after I come back. My Billingham is not as packed – even though old habits die hard, and there's a box of band-aids and some ibuprofen packed in even though my typical walk is hardly more than 90 minutes on the average.

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1.4 An interesting factoid​

While the greater Kuopio only populates some 120 thousand people as opposed to the Capital region's 1.5 million, Kuopio's comparatively small center is peculiarly active and alive and dense.

Due to urban planning and zoning restrictions, the population density in Kuopio matches that of Helsinki!

There are other factors in play as well. For example Helsinki has several market squares and their activity thus is scattered around. Kuopio has a clear distinct winner for a market square.

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1.5 What is my real calling?​

Indeed, didn't I move to Helsinki to pursue greener street photography pastures? So what's this new situation then?

Corona or no, for supposedly being a street photographer wannabe I haven't spent exactly too much time on the streets. If I lack the passion to try, wasn't it more productive for my time for me to admit this and pursue these other styles that I enjoy doing, and often post on these forums.

If street photography was not the focus of my style, suddenly it would make sense for me to relocate so that my resources (time and money) were best utilized towards these goals.

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1.6 The fourth season!​

Southern Finland doesn't see a proper, snow-clad winter landscapes every year.

Kuopio does.

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1.7 The dream and the reality​

Helsinki offers, like any big urban city does, culture, people, activities, night life, fine dining, happenings. Do I partake to any of this? Not really. It's like I bought a big V8 and then just let it run idling.

What I do enjoy are the numerous cityscapes and seascapes and easily-accessible nature reserves in all directions around me. But I have to wonder if it's worth the small premium I pay.

1.8 Vehicular lifestyle again?​

Introducing a car with all the taxes and maintenance and gas to the cycle would most definitely bring Kuopio and Helsinki very close together. Very close!

After all, a big piece of rationale for me was to calculate what it cost me to operate a car in a cheap environment, compared to just going car-less in Helsinki. It goes almost even.

But then again, I'm not thinking about a house in the woods, I'm thinking a small apartment in a city. The costs are lower overall. And to balance that, the costs of car ownership have gone up.

There's a lot to dislike about cars in general – taxes and expensive gas was not the only thing I was glad to get rid of. Unreliability (surprise bills from the shop), inflexibility in urban situations, having to find free parking.

In rural situations cars are of course invaluable and most wonderful. Lately I've seen cars romanticized by landscape-shooting Youtubers, who pretty much represent the car as a part of the toolkit you can use to take ace photographs.

Say, why don't I just rent one when I think I could do a week of driving. In general car rentals in Helsinki are about 100 € (per week) cheaper than in Kuopio.

Especially when considering that wintertime means it'll be pitch black outside before I get out of work so what use will that thing be for me for half of the year?

One alternative would be to locate not in the center but nearby. This way the nostalgia of driving to shoot streets would be back. But at the same time, it's a hassle. It's unwanted factors and complications.

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1.9 Financial considerations​

The rent I currently pay would pay off a decent apartment in Kuopio center in 10, 15 years. In Helsinki my financials would not allow a reasonably large loan to buy an apartment here.

At the same time, I don't exactly live at a loss currently either. I'm able to save up pretty nicely. My absurdly cheap lifestyle allows for Leica cameras and decent-sized savings off of a mediocre income.

Just can't help thinking that instead of saving X money each month I could be saving X plus rent money minus loan interest minus "condo fees". That is, I could be saving considerably more than I do now.

Mortgage interest rates are super low currently, to boot.

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1.10 The financial corollary​

A low-expense domicile allows more frequent domestic trips, or foreign trips for that matter. Experiencing or revisiting an old place is more fun this way anyhow.

1.11 Any place is good​

I tend to subscribe to the idea that every scene, no matter how mundane or boring, will contain a good photograph in it.
With this in mind, Kuopio or something similar will have a life's work in it for a shooter who sees it.

1.12 Conclusion​

This is like GAS but this time with relocation woes.

Like with any decision, it should be carefully considered and then left for further consideration. But each passing month is like throwing money away, living on rent like that.

I'll sprinkle a selection of shots I've taken in Kuopio over the years. I haven't even been there that many times. My filing suggests 6 or 7 trips since 2016 when I started photography.
 
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mike3996

Hall of Famer
Location
Finland
I picked a piece of wisdom from a David E Kelley show* yesterday after writing this post. I'm paraphrasing here:

"If you have two options to choose from,
which would lead to less regret down the line?"


*Yeah, imagine what I could learn if I picked up a book once in my life. 👀
 

wee-pics

All-Pro
Location
Germany
Real Name
Walter
You have to find out clearly whether you are more a city or a country man. I grew up in a small village (1.700 inhabitants), have lived in bigger cities (Edinburgh, Paris). I could never go back to village life. My choice has been long ago small-town life (30.000 inhabitants). Half an hour from "real" culture (Stuttgart with its 650.000 inhabitants, theatre, concert halls and ballet), but all shoppings done walking and vineyards and forests in quarter an hour reach which means quick escape from the buzz. I can sleep with all windows and balcony doors open from spring to autumn, no noise disturbing me.

Buying a house or a flat is only sensible in my eyes if you work to live and not live to work.
 

mike3996

Hall of Famer
Location
Finland
You have to find out clearly whether you are more a city or a country man.

I grew up in a satellite town of 12k, the city that it satellited itself wasn't large, just some 50k inhabitants there. My first apartment I rented in a small (ex) mining town of 5k and then moved to the first city in question (50k). Then I bought my cabin in rural surroundings 6 km from the mining town. The cabin life, I did like. But it's expensive and slightly limiting.

I don't mind city living or apartments; suburbia would be the last thing I want to live in. Give me a cabin where I can roam naked around with nobody calling the cops. Or give me a cozy flat on the top floor of a building in the centrum. The big benefit of living in centrum is the cheap expenses.

Buying a house or a flat is only sensible in my eyes if you work to live and not live to work.
Can you elaborate?
 

wee-pics

All-Pro
Location
Germany
Real Name
Walter
This saying is usually quoted to show the difference between the French and the Germans. The French are supposed to work to live (meaning work is secondary, enjoying life is essential, so they only work as much as necessary). The Germans are supposed to forget living and spend most of their lives working.

Most of my friends had to pay back their debts during 30 to 35 years due to the prices here (even in rural areas 350.000 € for a 3-room flat and more than half a million for a house). This means that they spent many holidays at home or in cheap "family-holiday-resorts". Even now they don't just enjoy a coffee with a cake downtown because it's "cheaper at home". There is a saying here that goes like this: save, save, build a house, die.

I preferred to enjoy travelling and savor each day. When I calculate what I spent on rent over the last forty years and what they spent on their property I definitely paid less (I was lucky to have had nice landlords with normal rents). And that without all the money they put into renovations, new heating systems and repairs. If you want your own house or flat in Germany that means that at least half the income of a couple (both working) goes into paying back the debts. So if you're not rich or don't get money from your parents you have to make ends meet everywhere. This applies to the middle classes, too, at least till the interest payments become less.

And what for? All of my friends' houses or flats are not suited for disabled or very old people, they are not barrier-free. And once they're dead their children sell everything, because they have moved somewhere else or they find it unpractical and old-fashioned.
 

mike3996

Hall of Famer
Location
Finland
French are supposed to work to live (meaning work is secondary, enjoying life is essential, so they only work as much as necessary)
Oh yeah, in this regard I'm most definitely more French than German!

This means that they spent many holidays at home or in cheap "family-holiday-resorts". Even now they don't just enjoy a coffee with a cake downtown because it's "cheaper at home".
I am insanely cheap so I don't do this either. When I travel it's the cheapest airbnb, cheapest airlines possible.

I preferred to enjoy travelling and savor each day.

In theory, who wouldn't. :) In practice I don't fall into this group.

I definitely paid less (I was lucky to have had nice landlords with normal rents). And that without all the money they put into renovations, new heating systems and repairs. If you want your own house or flat in Germany that means that at least half the income of a couple (both working) goes into paying back the debts.
Renting is a freeing experience. In fact I first bought the cabin in Sätös but sold it after two years on the condition that I will continue to live in there, on low rent. I figured at that time, a buyer out of nowhere is a most welcome blessing because these rural huts aren't exactly hotcakes to sell.

There weren't any major problems during my ownership (or later) but I was obsessively saving for possible surprises: roof repair or sewage renewal. I had good cash savings but constantly felt cash-poor.

This is in part why I didn't have qualms about renting in the most expensive city in Finland. But like a flash bulb, it struck me just last Saturday that I am, in fact, renting in the most expensive city.

I don't like debt, I don't like being tied down to a specific place. Outside of the capital region, housing markets in Finland can be dead. What happens if I buy an apartment somewhere and then a few months down the road I get a great job offering in another city across the country?

To circle back to the French/German thing, renting at high cost in my situation (nobody is preventing me to rent at low cost somewhere but this opens too many doors right now) lays a savings pathway at 50% speed, whereas buying an affordable apartment and repaying it lays the same pathway at 100% speed. 10-12 years from now I could own it debt-free and at that point my living expenses would be astronomically low.
 

mike3996

Hall of Famer
Location
Finland
I don't mind the lack of culture, food, art, happenings in a smaller city that much.

What I am more sure to mind, is Kuopio at 1/12th of the size is sure to lack the photographic day-to-day opportunities Helsinki has. Let's say there's 1/12 of the opportunities Helsinki has. Let's kindly approximate that the constantly present fourth season (snowy winter) boosts opportunity count to 1/8.

At the same time, because of the peculiar conditions of Kuopio and its very dense center, could it be that condensed market square evens that out a bit further?

But what is given, is how the lower living expenses allow more frequent traveling. Does anyone dispute this? I used to travel to Helsinki once or twice a year to enjoy good shooting on the streets. If I moved to Kuopio that would surely come back as the first thing. I wouldn't be losing Helsinki's opportunities in a sense, they'd just be five hours away, is all.

Of course there's a distinct difference of exploring urban scenes 50 weeks a year vs two weeks a year (assuming Kuopio doesn't have urban scenes which is false). What will this mean for my learning process?

I can easily afford to do a big trip abroad yearly. My being a cheapskate though I comfortably make such a trip only every other year. In Kuopio I believe my financial comfort level would extend to making big trips every year. Hard to judge or foresee about this -- like I said I don't like debt so maybe I would have this unhealthy urge to put every loose penny into repayment.

These extra travelings, surely they count as photographic opportunities?
 

mike3996

Hall of Famer
Location
Finland
I was presented a down-in-the-middle compromise and so far it looks interesting enough. It's mundane, it's rational, it's obvious. It's too good?

A location 60 minutes (and 5-9 eur) from Helsinki center. Or 75 minutes from my current place: I could walk 15 minutes, take the train for 45 minutes, walk another 15 minutes: door-to-door from my current place. Super affordable like you wouldn't believe.

But this town isn't nearly as vibrant as Helsinki or Kuopio. Its good proximity to Helsinki helps with some issues I might have wrt future plans outside photography (resale value, job market in case I find something that can't be done remotely).

But what about photography?

In a way it's great because Helsinki and the seaside is so close. Great because it provides focus* to my street photography (I wouldn't pay 10-18 eur for a round trip just for a quick hour stroll, it would motivate me to spend time on the battlefield). Great because during these dark months and other creative slumps I can simply choose not to go and build up the mojo for a better light.

In another ways, it's bad that there's no** engaging urban surroundings for me to, well, engage when I step out of the door. Kuopio is pretty and I think would offer engaging surroundings much like Helsinki does (of course in that much smaller 1/12th scale but still).

Bad in a way it will raise the threshold to grab the camera and go. I've had superb results in Helsinki just living in the moment sometimes. Granted this doesn't happen often! I'm not an impulsive person in any way but the one time I was, the decision was met with success. This impulse is limited to immediate surroundings -- spending the money on train tickets plus the time to travel, it's a big step to go see the sea on a sudden whim.

This is the memory I'm referring to. It was a cold January Saturday and I was already been out shooting in the morning. I thought I'd call it a day. But the weather forecast did predict a break in the overcast sky come sunset time. I thought to myself, what the hell, headed to my "spots" in Särkiniemi. My hunch was rewarded handsomely.




*) At this point we're circling back to nostalgy of the days of 2016-2019 when I would make these dedicated trips to a town to shoot, have burgers and coffee and such.

**) This is just my immediate prejudice about the town in question. I have literally been to this town exactly once in my life, and that was yesterday when I went to see the apartment. I have always disliked these satellite towns surrounding Helsinki and I have always liked population centers such as Helsinki or Kuopio would be in their respective regions.
 

mike3996

Hall of Famer
Location
Finland
Just like camera-related GAS, there's been a lot of hemming and hawing about this. A lot. Almost makes me wish I was a tiny bit less responsible about my finances and just dive in to one option and then see how it goes. Experience and life is lived through mistakes.

The introduction of this third option (described in post above) has luckily clarified things a bit (towards Kuopio). I suspect this clarity will be gone by tomorrow.

With the interest rates being so low right now, it literally doesn't matter what size mortgage I will take. What does limit me of course is what liquid assets I have to put on the downpayment. Around here the law mandates a 10% minimum cash downpayment.
 

bartjeej

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Real Name
bart
Regarding Kuopio being smaller and therefore having fewer opportunities: is streetshooting for you mostly about 'streetscapes with people for atmosphere' or more about 'people encountered on the street'? I see a bit of both in your first post here.

A smaller city will have fewer fresh streetscapes to offer, but if it's about the people you encounter: you can only be in one place at a time, and the people around you will never look and do exactly the same as the previous te you were there.

Saul Leiter did almost all of his iconic street photography within a few blocks from his house. Sure, that happened to be the East Village in NYC, but still, that variety you seek can be provided by the cast of characters moving through even a single street, especially if it's in a dense and lively city center.
 

mike3996

Hall of Famer
Location
Finland
Regarding Kuopio being smaller and therefore having fewer opportunities: is streetshooting for you mostly about 'streetscapes with people for atmosphere' or more about 'people encountered on the street'? I see a bit of both in your first post here.

A smaller city will have fewer fresh streetscapes to offer, but if it's about the people you encounter: you can only be in one place at a time, and the people around you will never look and do exactly the same as the previous te you were there.
This hits a good spot. I have this HCB-esque ideal for street but I rarely produce this content as suitable scenes are sometimes tough to spot and I don't try too hard.

I recognize that once I find a way to practice this kind of shooting then Kuopio for one will offer plenty of material.

For stroll photography purposes, I reckon Kuopio has plenty of nice lakeside area, a good amount of urban streetscapes, bridges, water, trees, high vantage points. To be sure, content for a strolling photog will run out at some point. But I think want to develop my skill to do "less stroll and more street".
 

mike3996

Hall of Famer
Location
Finland
A status update on this decision. :) After writing this body of text it appears it's rewarmed thoughts from Oct 31 in this thread. But here goes.

Between the (first two, now three) options I've been juggling;

  • "Money won't make you happy, a hip place of living does": stay in Helsinki living costly, enjoying the quiet apartment and busy streets.
  • "Jump to the second best thing": move to Kuopio which is a wonderful place and not too small either. This is a choice of the feels.
  • "Be very, very boring but rational": move to Hyvinkää which is 45 minutes from Helsinki (by train) and located very attractively near Finland's other population centers.
It is an apartment in Hyvinkää that I am in the process of making a deal of. Hyvinkää is a very boring choice because it makes so much sense it's laughable.

Now Hyvinkää has the least photo opportunities being a small place and the train ride to Helsinki is sufficiently long and costly so that I won't be traveling to Helsinki every day after work to shoot cameras. I will find a new balance between what and when I want to shoot. Realities are probably directing me towards weekend sessions which is not a bad idea overall.

Besides Helsinki there are several other of Finland's largest towns nearby within 1-2 hours of train riding. A change of scenery is always a grand idea for creativity. Take HCB for instance. His grand years in early 1930, he spent time all around Europe. Perhaps if he had just stayed in Paris not traveling he'd not be so inspired by his familiar surroundings to produce the work that he did?

And I wrote earlier about the old days of focused photography trips. With Hyvinkää that comes back in fashion, for me. A return trip by train is 17,80 € which is a hefty sting for a cheapskate like me. It will probably focus myself into doing longer photography sessions with better goals for results, not just aimless wandering. I have good hopes this will be one beneficial byproduct of this move.
 
It's very important to know yourself: how likely is it that you will indeed make weekend trips? It's a much bigger threshold than just grab your camera and go out on a walk. Try to be honest and ask yourself how many trips you will make in a year. A 1.5 hour train ride to other places will cost you 3 hours on a day, which is a sizeable chunk of the day; how often will you want to do that? Before corona I regularly went to Utrecht on an afternoon, a 1 hour train ride, but that's about the limit for me.

Does a focused photography trip work for you or does "aimless wandering" with a camera work better? Check your results from the past, I'd say.

How much do you enjoy city life? How much will you miss it? Or do you just endure it? I suppose you don't really dislike it, otherwise you'd have moved already to a quieter place.

I'm biased, of course. I think I'd get a little depressed in a small town with not much to do, and my wife even more so.
 

mike3996

Hall of Famer
Location
Finland
It's very important to know yourself

Man oh man. This would be a long ramble if I didn't self-edit most of the text out.


Don't get me wrong. Hyvinkää has plenty of scenery, it has elements (or should I say, fragments) of a nice small town. It just has to lack (statistically speaking) the number of human elements Helsinki has. But there's architectural abstracts, there's nature, there's landscapes, there's urban scenery, there's farms and tractors.




Does a focused photography trip work for you or does "aimless wandering" with a camera work better? Check your results from the past, I'd say.
There are some psyche related minor reasons why I currently don't even do photography to my full potential, "limiting" myself to stroll photography. (Not meant in a derogatory way.)

Now in my estimations wishful thinking it is likely that Hyvinkää becomes my strolling ground (for photo purposes) and Helsinki and other towns for stroll and street photography. Because I'm away from home, hopefully a different mode sets in my brain.

I think it might work for me. I will be combining elements to my visits that currently are reserved for out-of-town* trips only: eating out, having coffee, resting my legs and things like that...

*Technically yes, should I move to Hyvinkää Helsinki visits would be such trips. :)

how likely is it that you will indeed make weekend trips?

...and to spice things up, take a step further and book an occasional hotel or AirBnB to make it an overnighter. In fact I made an estimation that money saved from this move will net me enough to make fifty trips to Helsinki with a cheap night in a hotel, coffee, lunch. Fifty, that would mean weekly.

But I won't be doing trips every weekend. I won't need to. Hyvinkää has its things. "Worst" case scenario, I will reduce my photo hobby to pursue my other passions that are more likely to advance my career.


It's very important to know yourself
Circling back to this I say I aspire to be a street photographer but my work for the last 2 years or so doesn't meet my own bar of street photography. Of course COVID times hinder things further but this was in the stars before it. My recent stuff --- low on people, heavier on light and natural beauty --- can be made almost anywhere.

It might pay off to force myself attempt my ideal styles of photography and live in a city but then again, it's a lot of cost and maybe letting my photographical style fall on me naturally without forcing is a good idea.
 
letting my photographical style fall on me naturally without forcing is a good idea.
Worked for me. I've been a member of a photoclub for some 5 years now and after trying out other stuff I now only do street photography by just roaming around, with or without people. My fellow members sometimes tell me to get out of my comfort zone and then I say: "Why do you think I'm in my comfort zone? It's nice there!"
 

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