Research notes – Elina Brotherus

The following comments are made after looking at the work of Elina Brotherus in her website: https://elina-brotherus.squarespace.com/

The first series I looked at was Carpe Fucking Diem (1).  This series was done partly in parallel with Annonciation (see below), and both series are related to the theme of the photographer’s frustration at not being able to have a family with children of her own.

In her notes, at the side of the series, Brotherus mentions that “…I don’t have children so I don’t need to adopt any preconceived role of an adult. I can give normality the finger. Carpe Fucking Diem is also about inventing strange games for the playground of the camera” (1). It seems that part of the artist struggle is not only about how to cope with the frustration of not being able to get what one wants (having children in this case), but also with the pressures from society about the roles we are expected to play. Being in a similar position as the artist (ie not having children of my own, albeit voluntarily), I have sometimes also struggled with a degree of social pressure but time seems to be taking care of this. As times go by and we grow older the physical impossibility of having children gradually takes the pressure away.

Many of the images as such are, as the artist has promised, fun camera games. In this category I quite enjoyed the first two images in the series Hurricane (link) and NYC Snow (link), as well as Lamp Head a bit further into the series (link). The photographs seem to be a combination of life experiences, which show us what the artist has gone through or was doing during the time of the series, combined with what appears to be some degree of travel photography intertwined with incongruous images, some of which work well but others appear to be completely unconnected and disrupt the flow. I particularly liked the Frozen Duck image (link) that comes immediately after Liver Biopsy (link), and I think the photographs compliment each other in a macabre way, with the frozen duck shape vaguely resembling the shape of a liver. However, the insertion of images like Night-Time Streetlight (link) or Moon (link) seems too abrupt and unrelated to the rest of the series. All in all, I am not sure this is a series I enjoyed. Perhaps it is too personal, perhaps it is too disperse, but I fail to connect the stated aim of “giving the finger” to normality with the images on show which are not in any way revolutionary and seem to me too superficial.

Following the above, I had a look at Annonciation (2). In contrast with the above, this series follows a very methodical, chronological and congruent sequence. The images in here are all somewhat related and they all speak mostly of pain and despair. I am somewhat surprised that these images, which were supposedly taken over a 5 year period, were taken while the author was going through fertility treatment. She seem very sad in most, if not all of the images and I wonder if she has had edited out the images in which she was hopeful that the treatment would work. Otherwise, why put up with all the pain for so long? It seems to me that while the series is poignant, and is possibly reflecting what the author felt in the end, it seems quite lopsided. The only image that I found slightly optimistic, Annonciation 27 (link), is a bit ambiguous and I struggle to figure out sometimes if the expression in this photograph is that of happiness or pain. As a standalone picture is brilliant, but in the series it looks like a half-hearted glimmer of hope.

I then have a look at the series Les Femmes de la Maison Carré (3). This is a series the photographer did at the only building designed by the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto in France, the Maison Louis Carré (4). The title of the series refers to “the women”, but in reality we only see Brotherus, posing with different clothes and props in several of the rooms of the house. Rather than autobiographical, like Annonciation or to a certain extent Carpe Fucking Diem, in this series the photographer seems to be just a model, somebody that could be useful to portray something, but not necessarily a reflection of that person’s life. The series makes extensive use of reflections as a way of getting an alternative perspective of the subject, something that Brotherus explores further in other series (see for instance her work in Artist and her Model, commented below). I particularly enjoyed the subtle effect of the reflection on the wood surface in Salle à manger (link), while the secondary reflection on the bathroom cabinet mirror in Salle de bain d’Olga (link) gives a sinister, eerie look to the image.  Likewise, the very faint, almost imperceptible image of the photographer in Fenêtre (link) provides a subtle hint of humanity on what otherwise would be a cold record shot. What I enjoyed the most about this series is that it starts with interior shots of the house, which looks to be in good state of preservation, but when it moves to the outside, and specially the pool area, one starts to get a feeling of the degree of dilapidation that is going on, and the amount of restoration that seems to be required for the building. It is like a metaphor of life itself, one starts with a clean sheet, but as time goes things start to crumble on the outside while one continues to feel new and fresh on the inside, but eventually we realise the scale of the deterioration. The series ends, inexplicably, with a moon shot (link). Like in the case of Carpe Fucking Diem above, I have no idea why this image has been inserted and it feels both unnecessary and detrimental to the cohesiveness of the series.

The last series I looked at from Brotherus website was Artist and Her Model (5). This shows the artist, sometimes alone some other times with a male model (presumably her partner, although we are not told) at various landscape locations. What I find attractive about this series is Brotherus use of alternative perspective. Many of the pictures show the models from the back and the front side by side, and the change in point of view transforms the images completely, to the point that in some cases is hard to believe the images were taken on the same location (see for instance here). I can clearly make the connection with this and various interesting concepts, including that one should not be quick to judge the situation by looking at just one side of it. Like in the case of Les Femmes de la Maison Carré, Brotherus use of her persona in this series feels more like a model (hence the title), rather than just being any sort of personal reflection.

___________________

(1) Elina Brotherus. 2017. Photography — Elina Brotherus. [ONLINE] Available at: https://elina-brotherus.squarespace.com/photography/#/carpe-fucking-diem/. [Accessed 10 December 2017].

(2) Elina Brotherus. 2017. Photography — Elina Brotherus. [ONLINE] Available at: https://elina-brotherus.squarespace.com/photography/#/annonciation/. [Accessed 10 December 2017].

(3) Elina Brotherus. 2017. Photography — Elina Brotherus. [ONLINE] Available at: https://elina-brotherus.squarespace.com/photography/#/les-femmes-de-la-maison-carre/. [Accessed 10 December 2017].

(4) https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maison_Louis_Carr%C3%A9

(5) Elina Brotherus. 2017. Photography — Elina Brotherus. [ONLINE] Available at: https://elina-brotherus.squarespace.com/photography/#/artist-and-her-model/. [Accessed 10 December 2017].

 

 

 

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