Jussi Pohjakallio and the Origin of the Speech.
‘Unfortunately, the relations between our countries cooled down towards the end of last year. This year, Finnish politics must restore the trust between Finland and the Soviet Union,’ said President Urho Kekkonen in his New Year’s Day speech in 1959. The relationship between the two countries is being disrupted by the so-called Night Frost Crisis, which is resolved when the president and his wife visit Leningrad on a private holiday at the end of January 1959.
President Kekkonen is preparing his third New Year’s Day speech at his official residence in Tamminiemi on the last day of 1958. Since 1942, Kekkonen has been writing for Suomen Kuvalehti under the nom de plume Pekka Peitsi. Now, photographer Jussi Pohjakallio and journalist Maija Dahlgren from Suomen Kuvalehti have been given permission to observe the president writing his speech and, later, giving it.
It is Kekkonen’s first term in office as president. He opens up his door to the press in an unprecedented way. Pohjakallio captures the brief, private moments into his pictures, but we can only see what the photographer – and the president – have decided to reveal to the readers.
We are able to catch a glimpse of Kekkonen’s office. As the photographer glances over the president’s shoulder at his desk, we can see that the president is writing his speech by himself with a fountain pen. This same handwritten version of the speech is the one he will read out later.
On the nightstand in Tamminiemi is a pen and a notebook. Butler Albert Pahlsten tells the magazine that the president has a habit of making notes in bed for his speeches. Under the notebook is a copy of Parnasso, a magazine on literature.
On New Year’s Day 1959, at five minutes to twelve, the president sits down by the desk in the second-floor study of the Presidential Palace and prepares to speak to the nation.
Pohjakallio is not taking frontal pictures of the president; instead, we are looking at the radio and television equipment from behind the president’s back. Lightweight cameras, flashes and more sensitive film allowed press photographers to adopt a new, mobile role. A photographer became a witness and an observer.
Regular television broadcasting began in Finland in 1957. Traditionally, the presidents’ New Year’s Day speeches had been broadcast on the radio, but Kekkonen’s 1958 speech was also broadcast live on television for the first time. At the time, the number of TV licences in the whole country was just 7,757, but by the mid-1960s the number of television sets in Finland had risen to as many as 700,000. The press had gained a competitor.
The president looks at his watch, cleans his glasses, strokes his head, takes a sip of water and begins his speech: ‘Citizens! As we can all recall, the New Year’s Day of 1958 was not a particularly bright one...’
The Origin of the Speech image series, published on Suomen Kuvalehti on 10 January 1959, are on display at Tamminiemi from 6 May 2022 to 31 December 2023 as an exhibition named In Leaps and Bounds – Press photographs of President Urho Kekkonen by photographer Jussi Pohjakallio.
Text: Raija Linna
President Kekkonen’s New Year’s speech in 1959 is being broadcast over TV and radio from the Presidential Palace. Director General Einar Sundström (left) from the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE and Technical Director Paavo Arni (front left). Photo: Jussi Pohjakallio / Otavamedia / Press Photo Archive JOKA