Smell this! Photographer & Videographer Silja Minkkinen

For the first post of the Synesthesia series, we met up with photographer & videographer Silja Minkkinen, and talked to her about how she experiences smells in her work.
We asked her to pick her most fragrant pictures, and tell us what she’d like us to smell in her pictures. First, a little bit more about her!

Hi Silja! Introduce yourself, what do you do?

I am a freelance photographer, videographer, food enthusiast and an adventurer.

As a photographer / videographer, the visual world and aesthetics obviously play a big part in your life. Your job is to capture emotion, feelings and moods on film. Does scent ever play a role in the way you shoot?

Whenever taking pictures/ shooting video, I try to capture the full emotion in all of it's senses. Scent is a huge part of the real life moment in front of the camera, and if you can smell the photo when watching it, it's a successful photo. I think I definitely have captured moments with a distinctive smell, but that usually only works out if it's not framed. 

What's your relationship to smells, and what's your earliest scent memory?

I have always been smelling everything from flowers to dead animals, and I feel like I'm actually more drawn to the unpleasant smells, like sweat and dirt and mould. My earliest scent memories are all from my grandfathers home, where he has moose skulls hanging on the walls and fish skeletons drying in the front porch. There is a constant scent of smoke, leather, bones and dirt present, that's remained unchanged from my childhood until this day. Whenever I smell it I feel like an animal.

Are there any memorable moments related to scent from shoots you have been doing?

Once we did a shoot with artist Taika Mannila in an old motel. It was known for it's excessive use of pink satin and velvet, and the owner was a real character. But what really blew us away was the pervasive smell of strawberry scented candles, so strong you almost couldn't breathe. Underneath it you could smell the musty odor of unwashed carpets, and stained red velvet chairs.

Are there any specific scents related to photo / video that you like, or put you in the right mood?

Sweat (non-sport related) is a big deal for me. If you can see it, you can smell it, and sweat has so many different meanings depending on the situation. It means you are feeling something BIG. It can be a crush you have, or anxiety, or hangover, or being horny. I like seeing sweat in pictures and videos because it gives the appearance that the person is truly experiencing something, as we can see the body responding physically.

Synesthesia means a situation where another sense involuntarily triggers another sense in the body. Some people taste colors or see music. These are quite extreme cases, but do other senses ever trigger your other senses like that?

I often recognise scents as tastes, and vice versa. So a food could taste like the smell of an old barn, or I could clearly smell the taste of lingonberries in a wine. 

Do you have a signature scent? Why / why not?

Yes I do. I looked for a specific scent for a long time, one that would remind me of my grandfathers. It had to me woody and smoky but with a twist, not just a smell of tar which often comes on strongest in woody perfumes. I wanted to smell like I had just hunted down a deer, skinned it, and was now wearing it's pelt on my shoulders like a true hunter. When I finally found it a few years ago I haven't changed since. Nowadays people recognise me from my smell. 

So what perfume are you wearing right now?

That secret signature scent, shall we just call it Silja from now on ;)

What's the worst smell ever to you?

I'm not sure there is a worst smell for me, but the smell of sweet wine gummies and All Sorts make me gag.

What does your life smell like?

Nowadays my life smells more and more of food, as I've got into a cooking class and really harnessed my love for cuisine. At home the most common scent in the air is fish sauce, another musky, unpleasant, but yet so lovable rotten smell. I wonder if you could turn THAT into a perfume? 

In an ideal world, how would you combine your work with smells? Your answer can also be completely utopistic, you choose!

I would create peoples scent memories into visual explosions, so they could share their specific experiences, that cannot be explained by words, with others.

The smell of sun-burnt limestone in the sun. Salty sea water, old sunscreen, worn swimsuits. Saliva, wet towels forgotten in a bag for too long.

The smell of sun-burnt limestone in the sun. Salty sea water, old sunscreen, worn swimsuits. Saliva, wet towels forgotten in a bag for too long.


My favorite scents: thyme, garlic, black pepper, tomato stalk.

My favorite scents: thyme, garlic, black pepper, tomato stalk.

The seaweady and sour smell of of lukewarm, shallow seawater mixed with the super sweet smell of apricot turkish delight created an amazing contrast.

The seaweady and sour smell of of lukewarm, shallow seawater mixed with the super sweet smell of apricot turkish delight created an amazing contrast.

Sunburnt plastic. Stagnating air, with an almost poisonous whiff, as if the surfaces oozed weird gases not to be inhaled. Gas fumes, the foul smell of a teenage boy’s sweat.

Sunburnt plastic. Stagnating air, with an almost poisonous whiff, as if the surfaces oozed weird gases not to be inhaled. Gas fumes, the foul smell of a teenage boy’s sweat.


A sweet scent of damp sheets, skin and sex. Smells that are at the same time a little unpleasant and awful, but still wonderful.

A sweet scent of damp sheets, skin and sex. Smells that are at the same time a little unpleasant and awful, but still wonderful.


The industrial, electric smell of metro tunnels mixed with a lingering smell of sewers. A trendy, sweet perfume follows this new aquaintance, mixed with clothing detergent and the smell of bitter tobacco on his fingers and moustache.

The industrial, electric smell of metro tunnels mixed with a lingering smell of sewers. A trendy, sweet perfume follows this new aquaintance, mixed with clothing detergent and the smell of bitter tobacco on his fingers and moustache.

This picture has a pretty scary smell. A really sick person smells super uncomfortable – like urine and excraments, hospital food and tissue fluids ... And not at all like themselves… and that’s scary.  The surrounding space smells too sterile. A little bit of dust, plastic hospital slippers and detergent.

This picture has a pretty scary smell. A really sick person smells super uncomfortable – like urine and excraments, hospital food and tissue fluids ... And not at all like themselves… and that’s scary.

The surrounding space smells too sterile. A little bit of dust, plastic hospital slippers and detergent.

The strange inn where we shot this smelled so dominantly like those ikea strawberry scented candles that it kind of felt like they were there to disguise the pungent smell of the old (but beautiful) bedspreads and sheets. A lot of smoking had definitely been going on here. The air was filled with a strange bitterness, that mixed with the woody aroma of the building’s log structure. All of this added to a strong scent of hair products and makeup.

The strange inn where we shot this smelled so dominantly like those ikea strawberry scented candles that it kind of felt like they were there to disguise the pungent smell of the old (but beautiful) bedspreads and sheets. A lot of smoking had definitely been going on here. The air was filled with a strange bitterness, that mixed with the woody aroma of the building’s log structure. All of this added to a strong scent of hair products and makeup.

The smell of smoke machines, you could almost smell the excitation in the air. Electricity, in all its forms. Hair lotion, deodorant.


The smell of smoke machines, you could almost smell the excitation in the air. Electricity, in all its forms. Hair lotion, deodorant.


This photo is one of the most important pictures I have ever taken. It smells like Uuttuharju, my grandpa’s home. Like childhood adventures, leather, bones, smoke, sweets and cherry tomatoes. Like river mussels and waterlilies. It's a weird mix of childhood and almost animal senses, the lake deepens really suddenly. The smell of this image actually makes my hair stand up and makes me want to scream!

This photo is one of the most important pictures I have ever taken. It smells like Uuttuharju, my grandpa’s home. Like childhood adventures, leather, bones, smoke, sweets and cherry tomatoes. Like river mussels and waterlilies. It's a weird mix of childhood and almost animal senses, the lake deepens really suddenly. The smell of this image actually makes my hair stand up and makes me want to scream!

Find more of Silja’s work here.

Helsinki Perfume Society