Le Reflet

Perhaps it is in the very nature of photography, or more especially photography as an artform, that it inevitably directs the artist towards introspection? After all, photography is nothing if not a memory; a narrative conditioned by either the conscious or unconscious direction of the lens that records temporally, sequencing the past into episodic frames of, or from, a life. If the purpose or practice of a photographer is to continually examine their place in their life, to consider how they fit in within the framework of their existence, it might also be said that that practice itself, being an echo of the means of creation, finds a natural synchronicity. The frame of life rendered on photographic paper reconsidered a decade or score years after creation and juxtaposed with one made yesterday in a continual process of re-evaluation. Elina Brotherus talked about one body of work, viewed collectively as a whole, and re-sequenced continually to revisit her comprehension of the state of her previous life and as it passes now, in the moment.

The artist felt she became aware of herself perceived as an artist when she took up a residency in France aged 27, before then she felt understood as a student and those early frames of her in France, coming to terms with a new identity as a Finn in France, a Finnish artist in France with limited comprehension of either the language or it’s customs. But it was another part of that journey she spoke of, a process by which she regularly took stock and asked ‘where am I?’ (in that journey) that I found very interesting. The changes to her life, her recent divorce before accepting the residency for example and other upheavals that provided the impetus and perhaps the emotional energy to create and, inevitably, to reflect. Brotherus talked about the notion of a private investigation, not knowing – but perhaps wondering – what the result might be. Having no determined plan, her practice appears, at least on one level to be a practice about continuity, to work on a few themes in a process of continuance. The concept of time seems central to her practice, thinking that six months after images are made might be a good time to see what they mean, how they fit into the canon. Seeing this work created a while ago as ‘found footage’, but also working in large format integrates that idea of time, slowing the process, ensuring the contemplativeness is embedded within the work.

Several themes have continually inspired Brotherus; the horizon, the land and the place of the body (perhaps especially the artist herself) within it. She suggested that by placing herself in the frame, in the landscape, looking away from the lens is an invitation to a shared contemplation with the viewer which I receive as an expansive gesture and the least introspective of her work, the least emotionally charged. It appears to me to be about how she is interested in the joint enterprise of looking with her viewer. Regarding and re-regarding the body and the land, how they continually slide and morph, frame to frame, episode to episode, looking for difference. Whereas her more intimate work, whilst also about time, seems to me to be about how she fits into the place(s) she now inhabits. Her first series in France discusses how she strategizes her new found place in France/Artist/single again fledgeling; her second France series, in which she placed herself in surroundings that mirrored her first experience, is about being observed and then observing those changes a dozen years on. The artist has recently turned forty, twelve years is not far short of half her adult life and is therefore significant. Partners have come and gone, her life has revolved, but the ‘new’ French residency allows Brotherus to reflect again. I regret not asking her a question about this second series in France. Language is the means by which people, citizens, visitors to a place negotiate their lives with their fellow travellers. Brotherus’ strategy was to place stickers onto objects with the French language translation written on them. However when she read to those in the room it was in English. I wanted to know whether she translated the French into Finnish before reading to us in English, I wanted to know whether the French that she wrote, describing not objects but an introspective and emotional treatise on how she felt was mediated by language. Would the Suomi provide less or more? The Finnish nation is culturally troubled by both it’s neighbours Sweden and Russia, for a long time Swedish was the national language and many parts of Finland still speak it as their first language. Brotherus speaks about her how time in France has modified her character and personality, I wonder if she reflects on how it has changed her art?

Interesting video here: 

Reflecting, as an integral notion in this note perhaps, on the symposium that I attended recently and which I wrote about here I wondered about the distinction between narrator and author that Lucy Soutter discussed, perhaps all too briefly in my case! Brotherus’ practice involves continual sequencing and re-sequencing her work, she mentioned collaborating with graphic artists, mentioning Christopher Bangert for example and how his intervention redevelops different, perhaps more richly nuanced narratives. I wonder then if, not only being an author, something she mentioned was critically important to her work and which was integral to her practice, that she was also narrating her work as Soutter suggests? – “Why Art Photography” Soutter p75 Routledge. Soutter suggests, I think, that the author/artist can continually purpose their work but over a time differing discourses emerge repurposing the work into other tropes unintentionally; much like Brotherus’ first French series combining and recombining with work post that period as a ‘fledged’ artist. Interesting.


8 thoughts on “Le Reflet

  1. You ask some interesting questions in this philosophical piece John. I thought she was going to speak the words in French and then translate them also. I’m musing now on this continual switching between languages and countries and how much this affects a sense of belonging and the need to keep finding oneself . The video adds further illumination – thanks for that.

    • I found it really useful, coming after the Symposium. Her melancholic quiet works are quite intimate with a strong sense of narrative and layered by both time and culture. Beautiful and inspirational.

  2. Thank you John!
    Truly inspiring work from Brotherus; I’ve been thinking of her lately as I’m inspired into doing something about mystical ls with me in it and her work seems apt to look at and get from. There are a few sentences in your text that struck a chord with me; do you mind if I reference you?

    Catherine, you have said something really interesting that has also pinned down a vague thought I had and that is central to my BoW – “… the continual switching of languages … and how much this affects a sense of belonging and the need to keep finding oneself.” – although I think this is only one of many possible elements that nurtures a sense of belonging or the need for an especific identity.

    Thank you both!

  3. Pingback: Elina Brothers Exhibition 12th November 2014 | Context and Narrative

  4. Pingback: Lessons from Barnsley | Body of Work

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