In a journey that would eventually take him to every corner of the globe, photographer Todd Antony set out to identify and celebrate the ineffable qualities that set extraordinary people apart. Sponsored by Finlandia Vodka, Antony traveled with a film crew visiting a funeral dancer in New Orleans, a volcanic seismologist in Iceland, a drag-queen Mexican wrestler and many, many others. What follows is a portfolio of Antony’s beautiful work and a film capturing the characters, along with extracts and observations from each encounter.


“The difference between the bears and people is that you can 100% trust the bears.”

Known as the Bearman of Lapland, Sulo has raised sick and orphaned cubs for the best part of 20 years. Despite their hulking size, Sulo treats the bears with absolute trust, playing and wrestling with them affectionately.

“The bears are like family members to me.”

The week before our meeting, Sulo’s brother Jalo passed away. The brothers had lived together on the farm their whole lives. Now it’s just Sulo, and the bears.

“Well nobody is an individual anymore. Everybody’s like out of a cookie cutter.”

The nonagenarian doyenne of style, Iris is a modern day cultural icon. There was a considered order to the chaos of her Park Avenue apartment. Everything had its place, with Iris perfectly perched at the centre of it all.

Finlandia Presents – 1000 Years of Less Ordinary

So far we have encountered 1000 years of less ordinary life. These are their stories and this is their wisdom. Our journey continues.

“If you think for one second that you can’t do something, you’ve already lost.”

An actor of growing repute, Hafthor is training to become the world’s strongest man. Jakaból, his gym, resembled a factory. Chalk in the air, steel on the ground and on the back wall a single sign that read ‘No Pussies’.

“Wrestling gave me an identity and the courage to work through all my issues.”

Growing up in the macho boarder town of El Paso, Saúl Armendáriz had to deal with poverty and sexual repression. Now, when he steps into the wrestling ring, he does so as a she, as Cassandro el Exótico, the drag queen star of Mexican wrestling.

“It’s wrestling, not a beauty salon. Although sometimes it looks like one.”

She was the draw. The headliner. The main event. The crowd chanted her name unceasingly. “Cas-san-dro. Cas-san-dro.” The other wrestlers didn’t exist. Everyone was there to see her, and she didn’t disappoint.

“People will make me and people will make me disappear.”

After the glory and adulation of the fight, Cassandro spoke at length about pain. About all the things she’d given up for wrestling, and the lingering fear that her beloved lucha libre would leave her body broken beyond repair.

“After training I have been so cold that I can’t open the doors of my car.”

Tuomas Kaario keeps on pushing the limits of open water distance swimming. Last year he became the first person to cross the freezing 58km Gulf of Finland, doing so in 22 hours, without a wetsuit.

“I was so afraid of the water, the darkness, the waves.”

As a storm rolled in and he prepared to enter the sea, Tuomas explained how he’d grow up in fear of the open water. The darkness and uncertainty that lurked beneath. He took these fears with him every time he swam, as a reminder against complacency.

“God and music are my strength.”

As sweat poured down his face, Squirt Hunter explained how he’d danced at New Orleans “jazz funerals” since he was a boy. For him dancing was a spiritual experience that brought him closer to God.

“A smile is everything. It gives people courage.”

The sun hung low as the procession moved through the graveyard. The band first, playing a rousing number. Next came the mourners, singing and clapping. And then Squirt, dancing hard, leading the second line of the procession.

“Every day the grave is calling us.”

Death wasn’t a sad time for them. It was a time to rejoice and celebrate the life that had been lived. They spoke about the soul being “cut loose”, freed from the pain and hardships of this life.

“The fast reindeer eats the slow one.”

Hanna has raced reindeer since she was a child. Introduced to the sport by her father, who himself raced in the 1980s, she rose steadily through the ranks and is now the Finnish champion and the world record holder over 1km.

“Our traditions make us who we are.”

Talking to Hanna, you get a clear idea of just how important the reindeer is to the people of northern Finland. It plays a central role in their culture, touching every part of their lives from sport to sustenance to economic stability.

“You must not have any fear, or your cover is blown immediately.”

It’s impossible to know who the real Matti Markkanen is. He’ll freely tell you that at different times he’s played the bank robber, the mathematician, the KGB double agent and the prison escapee. Has he been any of these things or has he been all of them? Only he truly knows.

“Driving to my grandfather’s in the countryside you have to pass a volcano.”

Her native Iceland may be the land of fire and ice. But volcanic seismologist Tobba Ágústsdóttir has always gravitated towards the former, the fire that burns just beneath her country’s barren surface.

“You’re tiny compared to Mother Nature.”

Tobba was adamant that science needed to be respectful of nature. She said that we’re all much smaller than we think and that ignorance, especially in the field, was extremely dangerous.