FOREST GIRL, FAVOURITE MAIDEN, GIRL OF NIGHT, MAIDEN OF THE DUSK1
I am dreaming. The hairs on my skin have turned into grasses weighted with spikelets and panicles. Ornamental cabbages and brush are growing from my hands and feet. I resemble some kind of northern hybrid of a portrait by Arcimboldo – a territorial struggle between meadow, forest and garden. My feelings are strongly based on hearing and touch. Suddenly, the organic covering of my body cracks like the casting mould of a sculptor to be pulverized as soil energetically sifted by larvae. This dream could be a tormented nightmare, but this time I greet the reaction of the subconscious with joy. My conversation with photographer Anni Kinnunen the day before has truly made its way to my skin.
Anni tells of her own working process, of how her large thematic series of photographs begin with a stage of acquiring information that involves reading, surfing the Net and impulses from the visual arts. “I then set all this aside and start to work. I trust my subconscious. I feel I am using a considerable part of my bodily memory. The things that I address enter each one of my cells and come out of them in a certain way. When I’m photographing I want to be separated from everything else – I’m not in any mood for conversation, or even able to drive a car.”2
Separated from everything but at the same time connected to a moment and place that can be sensed directly. In fact, Kinnunen’s whole Personal Landscape series (2008-2012) originated from considerations of the separation and interaction of man and nature. On what terms could man, who has primarily only received and defined things, be in a landscape and return to be part of his origins? What would be the results of personal negotiations conducted by Anni Kinnunen if they involved the season, temperature, the qualities of light and the colours of the landscape as partners? Nature gives the photographs not only a physical setting but also a political motive; Personal LandscapE ultimately tells about values and choices.
Of course Kinnunen did not take up the challenge without any history of her own. Going back as far back as her childhood and youth, she acquired relevant know-how for example in scouting, where making your way across a bog was as natural as hanging out in the street, and getting lost was quite normal. The artist herself is living proof that contact with nature itself is the best way to foster a child’s aesthetic, practical and knowledge-based attitudes to nature. In her work as an artist photographer, she has also addressed art history, beginning with images of paradise by the painters of historic Finnish church interiors. They help us understand that landscapes are framed in completely cultural terms. Although it is characteristic of natural processes that they exist without human help or furtherance, the landscape itself does not exist without the interpretations and meanings of those who perceive it. It is ultimately human consciousness that awakens the landscape.3
In the works of Personal Landscape, Anni Kinnunen places herself within the landscape instead of before it. The subject is not a sight calling for an admiring audience and needing to be viewed at a distance. In Kinnunen’s works it is not necessarily meaningful even to speak of landscapes. Instead, we should refer to places and spaces involving close contact, movements and action. Where a nature photographer is motivated by the landscape itself, Kinnunen considers how the human body, in other words her own body, could be made part of the experience of place and the so-called genius loci. The primary consideration here is not the aesthetic appeal of the place, but the ability to activate the imagination, the power of empathizing and narration through different moods and tensions. “I am a visual artist in the sense that I set out to create something from nothing, and the mood is important. In a way, strangeness and distorted reality are realism for me.”4
Participatory corporeality has led Anni Kinnunen to a method of photographing in which a wireless shutter release has replaced work behind the camera. In this respect and of course with regard to the theme of nature and corporeality she is closely associated with the practices of contemporary Finnish photography. In his book “Valokuva on IN” (Photography is IN), photographer and researcher Juha Suonpää names a number of well-known photographers whose work refers to the close association of Finnish identity with nature and the distant past.5 The naked female body in the landscape and having the character of landscape, a classic motif of photography and painting has inspired, for example, Arno Rafael Minkkinen, Kari Soinio and Elina Brotherus to undertake personal interpretations of nudity. In the case of women artists in particular nudity has been psychologized to signify women’s studies.6 When a woman photographer steps in front of a camera, she can be regarded as both object and subject, which undermines the masculine gaze, which has been defined as normative.7
In the series 120 km/h (2006-2007), which preceded Personal Landscape, there are photographs in which Anni Kinnunen bares her own nude body to Arctic conditions. Nudity in itself goes against the grain of both time and place. Kinnunen operates with the extremes of natural and artificial, darkness and brightness, movement and staticness, the concrete and the transient – existence as a whole. “We are born and we die, alone and naked. We become enwrapped in some apparent things along the way, but ultimately life dissolves into air like rays of light.”8 Because of the allusive and abstract nature of the nocturnal lake setting, the activities in 120 km/h are perceived as a staged act rather than something taking place in nature. The nature of a performance is also underlined by the fact that light and nudity are in themselves focusing elements that attract attention.
Where the photographs of 120 km/h express solemn rituality and sculptural posing, Personal Landscape operates in different moods. Kinnunen is still visible and active in the photographs, but now in a more playful manner, with a more comprehensive use of body language. It is as if she has given rein to her inner child, studying her surroundings freely and spontaneously. The figure in the photographs hides among plants, invites rootstock and ornamental spruce to play with costumes and bounces with vitality. She identifies with the flexibility, prickliness and density of branches in slightly the same way as the 17th-century Japanese poet Bashô instructed his pupils: “Learn about the pine from the pine, about the bamboo from bamboo.”9 Or as the anonymous rune-singer of the Kanteletar collection of folk poetry raises a sense of young female energy: ”Two things are of beauty in the summer: the leaf on the tree and grass on the ground, and I am the third, a leaf fluttering, a flower seen, grass swaying.”10 Through her acts she brings things close to her, thereby making her surroundings more human, to be of her own size and appearance. The spatial orientation of the body, front, back, middle, up and down, actively follows horizontal, vertical or diagonal directions or focuses of composition of elements of nature and structures appearing in some of the photographs – for example Porcelain (2011) and Port of Ungru (2012).
Most of Kinnunen’s photographs are more or less free of the typical everyday and practical practices of moving about in nature and the wild. She seeks an alternative relationship with the environment as based on corporeal knowledge. In the situations of photographing, Kinnunen tries to avoid an undue aesthetic and control of the body. She is interested in ugliness, randomness and wrong movements, although, as a dance enthusiast, I feel that there is no such thing as improper corporeality. In a broader aesthetic sense, I feel that the wrong kind of movement in a natural setting could be the mobilization of uncontrolled streams of tourists or voracious ski-lifts and forest harvesters.
Although the person in the pictures of Personal Landscape acts without regard for the norms of adults, her sleeveless, mini-length dress points to the world of consciousness of appearance in the contexts of interior space and femininity. On the other hand, a black dress is more than a role costume: “I have dressed mostly in black since my teens. It has more or less become part of my identity.”11 Kinnunen constructs an interesting turbulence between someone raised within cultural and an animalistic creature of instincts. It is just as odd to walk barefoot in all kinds of terrain as it is to go on a nature outing in a small black dress. Being under or over-dressed leads the viewer’s thoughts, on the one hand, to codes of femininity, and on the other hand to the sensing of the environment on the skin.
The accentuated use of hair is also typical of Kinnunen’s photographs. A city person goes wild with hair standing on end like a proper heavy rock mosher. In historical perspective, wild hair has represented the defiance and emancipation of women. During the long course of evolution, the female sex, which became relatively hairless, manifested its age-old covenant with nature with hair in particular. In Hideout (2011) and Coughing Spikes (2012) hair also provides a means for so-called protective resemblance, which in the animal kingdom is manifested by blending in with the colours or shapes of the environment.
Juha Suonpää has analysed visual ideas typical of contemporary Finnish photography, one of which is to efface the personality of photographed subjects. This is associated with the strategy of art photography to distinguish itself from journalistic and commercial forms of representation.12 The forms of effacement include, for example hair, masks, clothing, textiles, turning the back to the viewer or performances with flowing substances. Suonpää and Kinnunen share the view that hiding the fact adds to the plurality of voices in the interpretation of works.13 In Wasteland (2010), Kinnunen takes anonymity to its logical conclusion: a headless body. The right timing, angle of view and a physically demanding bent pose create the illusion of something impossible.
Immobility belongs to the media of photography and painting. As an object with a flat surface, a photograph cannot really create the impression of movements unless it is in a relationship with other images, or a series of pictures. On the other hand, it has been possible to represent movement in painting with various elements of composition by varying intensity and hue of lines, shapes, figures, colour and texture. With these technical means, the artist steers the viewer to follow given tempos and rhythmic guidelines of the visual space.14
Compared with a painting, where everything is created with artist’s brush, a photograph is assumed to observe and record everything around it reliably and efficiently. We believe that a photograph is proof that something really happened, even when it is not a documentary photograph. Paradoxically, an arrested image will help the viewer perceive continuity in spaces and situations. Long exposures record time and change along with movement in photographs. “In this case, the photograph is more of an imitation of the world as we see it, and especially as we experience it,” observes Kinnunen.15
For Anni Kinnunen photography is both a fast and a slow medium. Fast, because the camera can concretize the passing moment and reveal movement that the eye would not normally perceive. Kinnunen’s working method, on the other hand, proves to be time-consuming. “I’m a slow photographer. I sit, observe and wait for the right kind of moment. There are places that I can visit for years before they lead to any pictures.”16
The stages following the photographing sessions also require their own time. The visual material recorded on the memory card of a digital camera is transferred to a computer, after which the images are deliberately left alone for a while. For example, the materials of the multi-year Personal Landscape project that were photographed in the summer or late summer were processed by the artist in due time in the winter. All the choices concerning the images, including cropping, took place at the actual locations, but the treatment of hues and colour and their finishing touches required the use of a computer. The aim was the most identical replication possible of the atmosphere and views of the photographing. This is a challenge, for, as Kinnunen points out, a surprisingly large number of things disappear from the pictures.17
The question arises, however, to what degree is it even possible to achieve the authenticity of colours afterwards. Artist Teemu Mäki has noted that painters and photographers differ in their attitudes to colours. According to him, most artist photographers think that the colours of a photograph may be composed only before the moment of photographing, after which they will permit only the adjustments that reproduce the colours as they appeared to the naked eye in the original situation. The painter, on the other hand, admits that the authenticity of a photograph is mostly an illusion. At the moment of taking a photograph, hues of light change rapidly and unnoticeably that one must honestly admit that a photograph can contain both the right and wrong colours.18
Anni Kinnunen’s conception of colour greatly resembles the painter’s views presented by Mäki. Since she does not aim at veracity in photography, there is greater subjective leeway for colours. “I experience colours as something very strong and perhaps in a different way than normally.”19 In the 120 km/h series, for example, it was important to find the right kind of blue in the post-processing stage that would correspond to the artist’s comprehensive experience of cold, darkness and spaciousness. In Personal Landscape, which was photographed during the warm months of the year, Kinnunen concentrated in particular on the varieties of green, although blue is also varied from almost milky white to rich hues of an unreal nature. A single composition can contain pale, overexposed areas together with accentuated details playing with colour. In some of the works, such as Swan Lake (2011) and Darwin’s Garden (2010) the use of warm and cold complementary colours reinforces individual hues while emphasizing their harmony.
In this article, I consider Anni Kinnunen’s Personal Landscape series from the perspectives of corporeality, movement and the experience of colour. But what is landscape actually like to which the adjective ‘personal’ is added with its particular emphasis? Judging from the locations of the photographs, a personal relationship is possible both close by and far away. The artist’s recent photographs are from a summer house at Vaala and from shorter trips to Berlin and Estonia – the shared quality of these locations is relatively long acquaintance with them. Kinnunen does not actively look for new subjects to be kept as a reserve and instead lets her connection with a place grow deeper of its own accord. Contrary to what we might think, the recurring perception and experience of a given setting do not exhaust its interesting qualities. Instead, they complement its meaning and significance. For artists, the experience of landscape involves aesthetic experience, but with local milieus in particular, a subject attachment and everyday functionality that are similar to what any one of us can feel.
Kinnunen, who uses her own body as material for images, has also pointed out that she needs absolute privacy when photographing. Accordingly, this currently excludes work in an urban setting, although most of the images of Personal Landscape were photographed in environments shaped by man. The photogenic nature of the milieus does not exclude the fact that most of the sites are poorly treated or castrated. The images depict gravel pits, clear-cuttings and unofficial dumps, but also the light natural features of the yards of homes. A distinct entity among the works of Personal Landscape are the ones that show how nature strikes back once man has left the scene.
Anni Kinnunen considers her works to be self-portraits to only a minor degree, although she is often included in them. The artist does not deny the personal nature of the pictures. “In that sense they are self-portraits, because they reflect my states of mind and the moods of the periods in which I happen to live.”20 As a writer and viewer, I find myself continuously confronting the fascinating contradiction of whether I should consider the woman in the photographs to be Anni Kinnunen or some universal representative of her genre or even outside categories? Either one is acceptable, the idea of the artist’s alter ego or the non-specific Other of contemporary photography. Where Kinnunen notes that in her photographs she is more a body, a physical element, than a person, I understand this to be a gesture of solidarity towards nature. Our human-centred culture worships individuality, but in natural settings human uniqueness is surrounded only by the sovereign indifference of nature.21
The landscape of Anni Kinnunen’s photographs is personal, but it is not private property. While memories and attachment to a place are in a sense unique, no one perceives things in their own way, but instead in the ways that we have shared with others. The first snow has fallen today, but yesterday I still saw in the last rose petals of my garden Anni’s yellow-toned green, the beautiful farewell of summer.
I wish to thank Anni Kinnunen for the interview with her and for constructive comments during the process of writing this article.
1. Kantelettaren lauluja, 1990. p. 268.
2. Interview with Anni Kinnunen, 5 October 2012.
3. Raivo, 1997. p. 198.
4. Interview with Anni Kinnunen, 5 October 2012.
5. Suonpää, 2011. p. 94.
6. ibid. p. 120.
7. ibid. p. 131.
8. Email from Anni Kinnunen, 16 November 2012.
9. Saito, 2007. p. 117.
10. Kantelettaren lauluja, 1990
11. Email from Anni Kinnunen, 16 November 2012.
12. Suonperä, 2011. p. 135.
13. ibid. p. 136.
14. Seppä, 2007. p. 59-65.
15. Email from Anni Kinnunen, 16 November 2012.
16. Interview with Anni Kinnunen, 5 October 2012
18. Mäki, 2009. p. 362-363.
19. Interview with Anni Kinnunen, 5 October 2012.
20. Email from Anni Kinnunen, 16 November 2012.
21. Kivi, 2004. p. 158.
Interview with Anni Kinnunen, 5 October 2012, Oulu.
Email from Anni Kinnunen, 16 November 2012.
Kantelettaren lauluja, 1990. Hämeenlinna.
Kivi, Jussi, 2004. Kaunotaiteellinen eräretkeilyopas. Helsinki.
Mäki, Teemu, 2009. Näkyvä pimeys. Esseitä taiteesta, filosofiasta ja politiikasta. Juva.
Raivo, Petri, 1997. Kulttuurimaisema – alue, näkymä vai tapa nähdä. Tila, paikka ja maisema. Tutkimusretkiä uuteen maantieteeseen. Tuukka Haarni, Marko Karvinen, Hille Koskela, Sirpa Tani (ed.). Tampere.
Saito, Yuriko, 2007. Luonnon arvostaminen sen omin ehdoin. Maiseman kanssa kasvokkain. Yrjö Sepänmaa, Liisa Heikkilä-Palo, Virpi Kaukio (ed.). Hämeenlinna.
Seppä, Anita, 2007. Maalaus ja liike: Bill Violan The Passions. Taide ja liike. Keho – Tila – Ääni – Kuva – kieli. Olli Mäkinen, Tiina Mäntymäki (ed.). Vaasan yliopiston julkaisuja; Tutkimuksia 282. Kulttuuritutkimus I, Taiteen tutkimus. Vaasa.
Suonpää, Juha, 2011. Valokuva on IN. Tampereen ammattikorkeakoulun julkaisuja. Sarja A. Tutkimuksia, Helsinki.