A Route to Contemporary Finnish Photography

Jenna Jauhiainen 9.3.2012

This Way!
Jukka Male museo, Cable factory, Helsinki
2.3. – 30.4.2012

Natalia Kopkina: Untitled, 2011

This Way! is an annual group exhibition curated by the Union of Student Photographers of Finland, this year with works from twenty photographers educated in varying universities around Finland. The exhibition is part of Helsinki Photography Biennial, a bundle of shows of photographic works running through March and April, 2012.

Quite unlike any other medium in the arts, photography is bound into a dialogue with its documentary nature. Whereas some artists aim at overcoming that nature, some embrace it as a source of extra value. This Way! is an interesting exhibition in relation to bringing the spectrum between those approaches onto the same walls. One of the curators, Veli Granö had the following to say: ”Many photographers participating in the show have used the documentary element of the medium in an interesting way. Documenting and presenting the reality in a witty way continues to serve a photographer as a strong and useful method.”

Timo Marila: Evening Sun, sarjasta Incognito, neurology slump, 2011

The artistic possibilities brought by Photoshop and other such software are a definite attraction to contemporary photographers. All digital works go through some processing, though it has little to do with deliberate pixel manipulation. Those photographic works, to my eye, aim at overcoming their documentary nature through selective re-creation of reality – which is to say that they acquire their value as works of art outside of the realm of documentary photography.

The only photographer present in this exhibition with heavily manipulated works is Timo Marila. Two of his three works on display are technically too poor to be really appreciated from my stance, but the potential and idea behind them does reflect from the last of the series, which presents harmonious colors and textures overlaid on a photograph of a light filled room, creating a sense of space unique in being artificially constructed, not documented. All my points go to the title of his series – Incognito, neurology slump – which perfectly describes the cognitive dissonance me and my avec experienced while trying to decipher the works on display.

Veera Lipasti is a bit more subtle in her approach to conceptual photography, in the sense that her works do possess an air of documentary qualities. A shot named The Wild captures my conceptual understanding and leads it gently to imagined sensory perceptions – one of the notorious “modern masterpiece” block-houses of Pihlajamäki serves as the background for an overlaid image of dried leaves and cigarette butts. Technically extremely well conducted, the image takes my mind to the smells and winds of fall, crispy leaves under my shoes, and an area in Helsinki I’ve only seen from a distance.

Bita Razavi: sarjasta An Observation on Inhabitants of Utopia, 2011

Maybe my mind is not suggestible enough, but the two other images on display by her, following The Wild in composition, do not create the same cognitive effect. One of them has tin-foil-like material overlaid on a picture of an apartment building, creating only a slight association to those presumed paranoid schizophrenics who might live in apartment buildings. Not really a mind expanding conceptual association, I’d say.

Conceptual photography walks beautifully hand in hand with minimalism. Natalia Kopkina has only one work on display, comprised of two small photographs side by side inside a big frame – a wonderfully captured night sky with lunar eclipse forming a dark void in the middle of the image, and a picture of a rising mountain hugged by gray hue, giving it an air of emptiness that defines the joint display of the two images. The only other framed work in the exhibition is as conceptual – Aukusti Heinonen’s Omakuva 2007 / 2011 is a shot of the artist himself, scratched into tiny slices fallen onto the bottom of the glass covered frame. It easily associates to the mindscape of someone who has spent a lot of time pondering on portraits, realizing their arbitrariness.

My favorite works of the exhibition form a bridge from conceptual photography to artistically refined documentation. Marina Ekroos speaks directly to my obsessive compulsiveness with her surreally perfect arrangements. The colors, textures and the subject matter create a coherent totality of the three works on display. One way to recognize a great photograph is to imagine it created through the use of some other medium, and see if it loses value – Visual Recipe would. Food is one of the most mundane elements in our lives. In the shots in question it has been uplifted to the focus of the viewer while serving as a documentation of, I’d say, Carelian kitchen – fish, blinis and lingonberry porridge. An unintentionally feminist processing of everyday reality into sublimity worthy of aesthetic appreciation is something that deserves praise, at least on my humble, hungry opinion.Marina Ekroos: Graavisiika, 2011

Bita Razavi’s works land into the documentary end of the spectrum of the exhibition. Hailing from Iran, he spent about a year cleaning apartments in Helsinki, catching two flies with a single hit as we say up here – An Observation on Inhabitants of Utopia, a series of shots of “manifestations of nationalism in everyday life” was born while mopping the floors. Initially Razavi was oblivious to Iittala, a legend in Finnish industrial design, yet he intuitively knew there was something to their reoccurrence in different apartments around the city. Though none of the photographs on display have true aesthetic value as single shots, together they show an interesting unity in the everyday aesthetics of Finns. Plus, yours truly is really into the kind of stealth photography hinted at – using a “mere” job as a creation ground for art.

Lasse Lecklin: SEO sarjasta Places to Stop, 2012

Last but not least, the most impressive series of This Way! in regards to aestheticized documentation is Lasse Lecklin’s Places to Stop. Framed with a pair of pink neon lights, the five works on display are night-time shots of self-service petrol stations. Technically wonderful, the shots asked for my evaluation of whether any of the stations documented were familiar ones – had a self-service petrol station I have visited made it into the history of Finnish art photography? As documentary artifacts, the pictures will serve to portray the neon hue that once shone in the middle of nowhere, telling a story of a culture that is bound to pass, sooner or later.