MARKKU LÄHDESMÄKI: A MALIBU BASED MASTER PHOTOGRAPHER

STORY: TOMI HINKKANEN – MALIBU
PHOTOS: MARKKU LÄHDESMÄKI, TOMI HINKKANEN

MARKKU LÄHDESMÄKI

From the left: Julian, Anne and Markku Lähdesmäki relaxing at home in Malibu

Markku Lähdesmäki is a successful photographer who is known for his surrealist advertising photos. He lives with his family, wife Anne and son Julian on the hills of Malibu. Their luxurious lifestyle was made possible by talent, hard work, studying, risk-taking and sacrifices.

Pacific Coast Highway in California follows the Pacific coastline. As one drives north of Santa Monica, from time to time luxury beach houses obscure the ocean views. After a right turn from the PCH, the rest of the way is done on a winding mountain road that twists and turns like serpentine, ascending high above the sea level. The Lähdesmäkis’ house is located in an attractive area called Sea View Estates that is comprised of just 80 houses. The place has a countryside feel to it. It is hard to believe that Los Angeles is just twenty kilometers away.

MARKKU LÄHDESMÄKI

Markku and Anne Lähdesmäki in their kitchen

I press a buzzer and the iron gate opens to the front yard. Anne and Markku Lähdesmäki welcome me to their home. We sit down in their spacious kitchen to talk.

Markku Lähdesmäki was born in Pori, Western Finland. His career as a photographer began at age eight when his uncle gave him a camera as a birthday gift. His first paid job was a summer inventory photo shoot for the Satakunta County Museum.

 

MARKKU LÄHDESMÄKI

Markku Lähdesmäki started taking pictures at an early age

Markku studied at the Pori vocational school and graduated as a radio technician. When he was adolescent the family moved to Tampere. There Markku and his friend started a photo studio, doing commercial photo shoots for local companies and advertising agencies. Markku met his future wife, Anne Kauranen, through work. She was an art director in an advertising agency and hired Markku to shoot a campaign for Reima-Pukine, a clothing manufacturer. Anne also served as a model and modeled in winter ice fishing overalls and work clothes.

“As I was working on the photos in the dark room, I came to thinking that this AD, Anne is an attractive girl, so I asked her out on a date. We went to a bar to have a couple of beers. Then we walked in the snow and ended up, where we ended up,”

MARKKU LÄHDESMÄKI

Anne Lähdesmäki is an art director by profession and works with her husband on projects

Markku smiles mysteriously. The couple got married in 1980. Their first son Tomi was born a year later. They decided to move to London to further develop their skills.

“I got a job as an assistant to Ray Massey, who at the time was the best still-life photographer in London. I thought that now I’ll find out what technology is used to make great pictures. However, it turned out that their equipment were older than the ones I had used in Finland. They used a lot of cords, tapes and other tools in London. The biggest revelation was the time, research and painstaking work that went into each image,”
Markku describes.

Anne and Markku returned to Finland, where they received many job offers. Now they were good enough for the demanding advertising market of Helsinki.

“I got to work with the best art directors of Finland. Their ideas were really good. The secret to making a great photo is a brilliant concept. Our Helsinki years coincided with the golden age of advertising. I was a busy photographer. Anne and I were showered with advertizing awards.”

Singer-songwriter Julian Lähdesmäki, who goes by the artist name Julian Jones,performing at a festival in Malibu

Their youngest son Julian was born in 1987. But Anne and Markku still felt that something was still missing.

“The London years had left us with yarning to foreign countries.”

They considered moving to Madrid, Paris and New York. Markku made exploratory trips to all three cities, took in interviews with ad agencies and cased out possible neighborhoods to relocate to.

“Then, Anne’s brother, said he had never heard anyone move away from California. When we came to Los Angeles, we found that this was a familiar place from TV. There were also quite a lot of young Finns there. It made moving easy,”

Markku explains. He got an agent and work based on his portfolio. The family made the big move to a new continent in 1992.

MARKKU LÄHDESMÄKI

Julian and Markku Lähdesmäki relaxing on their patio in Malibu

The first photo shoot was for a computer manufacturer.

“We had to get a sailboat out on land and make it look like it hadn’t been used for a long time. We found an old sailboat made in Finland on a local marina. It was lifted from water and transported on a truck to Zuma Beach in Malibu. But the truck got stuck in the sand, and did not budge. I went to panic. I was thinking of canceling the entire shoot and sending all 30 people in our production team home. The producer told me to take it easy. By accident, the truck had gotten stuck in a place where the light was at its best. The shoot eventually went wonderfully. The idea was: A computer saves you time to use your boat.”

Nowadays Markku and Anne work through their company, Lightroom, Inc. On an average, they create three ad campaigns every month. They must compete fiercely to win each campaign. Ad agencies send invitations to pitch an idea to three competing photographers. Of these, only one is hired to carry out the campaign. Each photograph pays 10 000 to 30 000 dollars.

Markku Lähdesmäki recently photographed Joe Peschi and Don Rickles for an ad campaign

One of their recent ad campaigns was for Snickers chocolate bars. Comedians Richard Lewis, Don Rickles, and actors Joe Peschi and Roseanne Barr were photographed for the campaign. They were supposed to look dissatisfied, because they had not gotten their chocolate bar.

“These are the big stars. The protocol was very particular about who was allowed to be in the room. You were required to laugh at their jokes. Yes, it was a bit intimitating,” Anne reveals.

“Don Rickles’ shoot was the funniest. He asked where the photographer is from. When I told was from Finland, Rickles fretted that he has no jokes about Finland. Throughout the shoot he then came up with jokes about Finland. People were laughing themselves silly in the background,” Markku reminisces.

 

Anne Lähdesmäki is printing out an image of Don Rickles, a subject of their recent ad campaign

Joe Peschi, perhaps best remembered as the high-pitched gangster of Martin Scorcese’s Goodfellas was not as easy.

“When I said he should take an angry look, Joe Peschi said that this is his expression, and he will not change it. However, with the right angles and lighting I got a great picture of him,” Markku explains.

The most difficult case was Roseanne Barr.

“She did not want to look aggrieved, nor was she emotionally there for the shoot. Everyone was on their tip toes. We had been shooting for about fifteen minutes, when Roseanne said, haven’t you got enough already. OK, I said. However, I took a risk and showed Barr the pictures I had taken of Peschi and Rickles. Damn, those are great pictures, Roseanne said. Let’s continue the shoot. Now I will give you an angry face. We then shot for another half hour. She wanted to beat Peschi and Rickles!”

Anne Lähdesmäki on a flight above the music room

The Lähdesmäkis live in a modern single-family house high on the the hills of Malibu. The house was built in the early 1990s. They paid just over two million dollars for it and have lived there for eight years. The main building has a kitchen, family and music room with a fireplace and a grand piano. The living room downstairs opens to a back yard with a rectangular swimming pool. The yard has a view down to the Pacific. The four bedrooms are upstairs. One of them has been converted to a gym. The former garage has found new use as Markku’s photo studio. Across the front yard, there is a two-story guest house. Anne’s office takes up the dowstairs. Markku has his own office upstairs. Julian, who is a singer-songwriter, has his music studio there as well.

 

Julian Lähdesmäki

Julian Lähdesmäki, aka Julian Jones, is a gifted singer-songwriter, whose debut album "Julian Jones' Gentle Parade" recently came out

There are some downsides to living in a paradise as well. It’s an arduous distance away from LA and the area is prone to wild fires.
Five years ago, a fire engulfed the house across the street from their home. The Lähdesmäkis defied the command to evacuate to defend their house with water hoses. The house was saved from the fire. Since then, the family has held a private fire drill twice a year. Anne and Markku work as a team.

“Our clients are art directors. They are the ones who develop campaigns. I have a personal AD at home, my wife Anne. We plan the photo shoots together. Even when on a shoot, I call her to hear her opinion. We solve problems together.”

Many of the shooting locations can be found a few hours’ drive away from home.

“California offers rugged mountain scenery, desert and seascapes.”

Most of Lähdesmäkis’ time is spent working.

“Being an entrepreneur is hard. People are different than in Finland, and business relationships are not as easy to come by. There is no loyalty. No matter how good a job you do, customers are less loyal than in Finland.”

Markku’s a typical work days are long.

“The day begins with morning coffee and checking e-mails. Projects are prepared on the phone and by e-mail from home. The shoots are are often far away – in another state or country. The preparatory work is done at home,”

the ad man explains. It is windy at the top.

“There’s a lot of competition and it’s really hard. Once you have reached a certain level, you compete with the best. One must try to come up with new styles and images for the portfolio in order to sell oneself.”

His agent helps with getting work. Photographers rarely meet their colleagues, but will closely monitor their doings.

“It always bugs me if someone gets a campaign that I was competing for.”

Markku’s Malibu neighbors include a number of celebrities. Therefore the paparazzi are a permanent nuisance at the local shopping center.

“They are parked by the Malibu Starbucks and are lurking celebrities in their cars. Once they get a whiff of a celebrity, they start running after them like a bunch of lemmings,” Markku laughs.

 

Anne Lähdesmäki

Anne Lähdesmäki looks out of her balcony. Their home offers spectacular views of the ocean and mountains

Celebrities do not interest him but remaining fit is an important part of the Lähdesmäkis’ leisure activities.

“We go to the gym five times a week, taking a spinning class, where you exercise with a cycle for an hour to loud music. I also bicycle once a week, even though the hills here are quite steep. Sometimes we drive to Zuma Beach and run from one end of the beach to the other. Every time I pick up a small round stone, bring it home and put it in a vase. It’s half full – running rocks from Zuma Beach,” Markku smiles.

 

JULIAN LÄHDESMÄKI

Anne, Julian and Markku at the Kiwanis Cook Out festival in Malibu

Anne and Markku go out to dinner a couple times a week, sampling different ethnic restaurants Malibu has to offer. They often pick a beachfront restaurant, sipping margaritas as the sun goes down. So, one would think that they are fully content remaining right where they are, but no.

“We have always moved from place to place. Now we are stuck here. I always imagined that six years in America would be the maximum. But leaving this behind has proven to be surprisingly difficult. The area is so ideal for a photographer. To me, moving is a way of letting go of old ideas, seeing things fresh and new. Yes, it is in my mind all the time,”
Markku Lähdesmäki sums up.

FINNISH SINGER/SONGWRITER JULIAN JONES AND HIS DEBUT ALBUM ‘GENTLE PARADE’

FINNISH SINGER/SONGWRITER JULIAN JONES AND HIS DEBUT ALBUM ‘GENTLE PARADE’


by Tomi Hinkkanen
Photo Credits: Tomi Hinkkanen

Julian Jones was born in Finland and came to the U.S. with his family at the age of five. His father Markku is a well-known photographer, his mother Anne is an art director, and older brother Tomi is a graphic designer. Julian found music as a teenager and has written songs ever since. Julian’s debut album, ‘Julian Jones’ Gentle Parade’, came out this Summer.

The record launching took place in Malibu. Tall and slender 23 year old Julian sings and plays the guitar. “Come and spend some time with me down by the water…” His music is melodic, with influences of folk, pop and rock. Themes of the songs come from Julian’s own life. They deal with relationships, beach, friends, struggles with Finnish and American identities. Even the Northridge earthquake in 1994, a traumatic childhood memory that has stayed with him to this date.

“I had only been in Finland, and I had never heard of earthquakes. I did not understand what happened. I was pretty horrified by the following couple of months after the incident”, Julian recalls. The band does two sets and gets an enthusiastic applause from the audience. We sit down to talk. His Finnish language skills has remained smooth thanks to the childhood Summers spent with grandparents in Tampere.

“At home we speak Finnish. Fortunately, it was important to my parents that I maintain good Finnish language skills and visit Finland regularly, so I know where I come from,” he acknowledges. “Upon arriving in America, Julian started school right away. Fortunately, he had attended an English preschool in Finland which eased the transition into the American school system. “I didn’t have many friends initially because I did not speak English as well as they did. It was also difficult to get accustomed to the pace of the school. It took a couple of years before I understood the language well enough to adapt and to make more friends. I became more American,” Julian says. He certainly considers himself first and foremost a Finn.

Music arrived in his life by chance. “I had a really good schoolmate with whom I hang out on a daily basis. One day we started playing with guitars in his parents’ house and then I realized how much fun that was. I went home and began studying the music of the Beatles and Oasis. That’s how it started.”

Through devoted determination, Julian trained himself to become a musician. “I read books, studied sounds, listened to songs and started to play along. Playing and singing came easily for me. It’s probably why I became interested in them more than other hobbies. It was easy to continue on the musical path, learn more and enjoy it.”

He graduated from Calabasas High School at age 18 in 2005 and enrolled in Santa Monica City College.” I wanted to study music, because I just started to play a couple of years earlier. I wanted to learn how to read and write

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