by Liberty Finch
Boundary Crossings: Temporal Dialogues in Finnish Landscape Photography is the current exhibit at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery on the West Bank of the University of Minnesota. Featuring the work of four photographers: Johannes Gabriel (J.G.) Granö, Pentti Sammallahti, Jorma Puranen and Taneli Eskola, the works explore the relationship between photography as an artistic medium and pictures as a sociological record, with Finland as the cultural mediator between East and West.
Granö shot subjects and landscapes at the turn of the 20th century, while
Sammallahti, Puranen and Eskola are contemporaries whose work in this show consists
of images taken in the 1990s. Because the collection focuses on remote areas
of Mongolia and Siberia, it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish modern
pieces from images shot in 1915. Only an occasional clue, like a utility pole
or a pickup truck, helps identify some of the photos as modern. For the most
part, though, it looks like little has changed in these desolate areas of Asia
and Russia during the past 80 years.
All of the photographers capture the incredible vastness of the geography. Endless
mountains dominate many of the shots—either in a distant landscape or
close up, near a caravan of nomads. Either way, the immensity of these mountainous
regions commands respect and instills a fearful sense of awe. It’s hard
to imagine—especially for Westerners in today’s modern world—how
people can and did survive in such relentless and unforgiving terrain.
Granö’s work is not unlike that of Edward Curtis, who photographed
American Indians from the 1890s to the 1930s. Both men used cameras to record
and preserve native cultures, and over the years these images have been valued
as much for their artistry as for their historical record.
The deeply crevassed and weathered faces of Granö’s subjects mirror
the ruggedness of their landscape. In one photograph, a man stands stick straight
next to his wife who is holding a chubby baby. The boy looks hardly a year old,
which might suggest that the parents are young themselves. But the man, dressed
in rags with a long scraggly beard, drawn eyes and wrinkled face, looks aged
beyond his years. Despite
their harsh circumstances, we don’t feel pity for the family, but rather
admiration for their stoicism. Many people adapted to their surroundings by
becoming nomads, caravanning families and belongings with the change of seasons.
They respected the land and lived by its code. That pioneer spirit transcends
beyond the subjects to the photographers themselves, who meld artistic creativity
with social history.
This exhibit of Boundary Crossings is the first in the United States.
In conjunction with the show, an academic symposium titled “Picture, Place
and Power” will take place September 23 and 24 in the space next to the
gallery. It will explore themes, including the role of photography in colonial
endeavors, nation-building, cultural identity politics and the power of representation,
and question the objectivity of photography, since even photo-documentation
is considered subject to the camera operator's decision making. ||
Boundary Crossings: Temporal Dialogues in Finnish Landscape Photography
is at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery at the U of M Regis Center for Art, 405
21st Ave. S., Mpls., 612-625-8096. Hours are Tue.–Wed. 10 a.m.–4
p.m.; Thu.–Sat. 10 a.m.–8 p.m.