Portraits at over 70 degrees.
Into the Sauna. In Finland.



North. Wide forests. Islands. Silence.


Modest. Sincere. In need of warmth.


Life content. Tradition. National culture.

Life in Northern Europe is inconceivable without a sauna. FULL STOP.

The Finnish word “sauna” is well known all over the world. Moreover, the fact that the Finns were voted the happiest people on Earth for the third time in a row, may also have been due to this retreat. At end of 2020 Finland could safeguard its sauna culture to the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Onnea!

The challenge

A good reason to go to the sauna with Finns: sweat and dive into their world. Into the world of Löyly. This constant throwing of water on hot stones. Watching the people. Their faces.

To see their sweat beads and to listen to their thoughts. At more than 70 degrees, in the humid air – under extreme conditions for people and technology.

Pearls from and on the skin. Pearls of human souls. Therefore: Löyly Pearls

In my home sauna, there are two sauna trolls – a female and a male one. From time to time I honor them with a piece of bread, at Christmas also with a little Christmas ham. They thank me that with a good sauna spirit.


In the Lahdenvainio’s lakeside sauna I have my own place next to the sauna oven. I am proud to be the löylymestari!


Sauna is a part of me, it’s such a close family moment sitting together in sauna with my husband and our two boys – I can leave everything behind and be present.

Sanna Mustonen


There is no literal translation for “Löyly”. For the Finns, Löyly describes everything that happens after the water has been poured onto the hot stones of the sauna heater. A unique steam develops that envelops the people in the sauna, literally descends down on them. Some Finns say that Löyly is like a hug: You are together in the Löyly and yet for yourself. Connected yet separate. As the sweat beads slowly rise to your skin, thoughts and memories emerge. Individual and unique, just like people are – true pearls.

For me sauna is a full body & mind treatment. It’s cleaning outside and inside.


When I am sitting in sauna, sometimes

I think nothing, sometimes everything.


Sauna is like your wife, she hugs, and loves you! 


Sauna is good for marriage, and together is simply the best!


There can be silence in a crowded Finish Sauna.


Lisää löylyä?

If you want more sauna steam, you politely ask “lissä löyly?” And a ladle of water flies onto the stove. Afterwards, the sauna guests often exchange ideas about its quality. “Hyvät löylyt” is heard over and over again – which attests to a good sauna steam. And in general, the social component: you get to know each other easily in the sauna. A conversation begins open-minded.

Young as old. Everyone is the same in the sauna.

When we Finns talk about politics in sauna, it can get wild. (for example about climate change). Luckily the heads cool down in the avanto (ice whole at a lake/at the sea)!


Rules? None!

An hourglass? Nope. Close the door? Rare. It’s a constant movement in and out. Because the Finns can’t be asked twice: when it’s enough, they long for colder place. In the lake or in the sea. And then immediately back to the oven. Back to the community. And so it continues: water is constantly flying towards the sauna heater. It hisses, steams. The pearls will run down again soon.

Sauna is place to relax. That includes letting your mind go its own paths.


When I think back to my childhood, I was always grateful that there was lemonade after the sauna. Today I drink a beer afterwards. 


Christmas sauna is a must – you become clean and prepare to get presents.


I don’t like Sauna. I love it!


I was born in Sauna, in 1939. In Vermuntila.


For me sauna is like taking a bath.


About the Series

All photos were taken under real conditions in four Finnish saunas around the Baltic Sea city of Rauma in the southwest of the country. At least at 65 degrees Celsius, sometimes even over 80! High humidity. Steam. The camera, the photographer and the flash were exposed to the same extreme conditions as the photographed. All participants were asked individually to take a seat at a prepared spot and then be photographed there.

Almost 30 people showed their sweat beads, most of them having been informed of the idea in advance. Some came by chance and spontaneously participated. People and technology survived the shooting without damage.

Before leaving for Finland, two extensive experiments had been carried out to determine whether and how the idea actually could be implemented in terms of technology and health. Important finding: It is indeed possible to endure a sauna photo shooting session in Finland, on the sauna floor. And: ice-cold Baltic Sea-water is sooo good!

The Making-of:

See for yourself how an crazy idea turned into an existing photo- and storytelling project.

Löyly Pearls. Pearls from and on the skin. Pearls of human souls.

This is how this series came about. The making-of.

Thank you so much!

Kiitos paljon!

to all lovely people who sweat for this project! A special thanks to my always in a happy mood friend Katja Ansorge (saunaglueck.com) for organizing, her curious questions to our guests in the saunas for the texts her and hospitality. Thank you also Katia Klose-Soltau for your kind support in editing and choosing the best images for the serie.

A special Kiitos paljon to Rosanna and her family for inviting us to their Puusaun in Lappi at the Narvijärvi and to Katariina from the  Lahdenvainio Rantasauna at the Kaljasjärvi, as well as to Enzo Forciniti und Thomas Rötting for their patience in the “test sauna” in Leipzig before the journey to the north.

Technical note:
All photos were created in digital medium format (long edge >8000 Pixel/RAW) and can therefore be easily reproduced for all purposes!