Emma Godfrey

Elina Brotherus Photography | Finland | Inspired by series


In this series of blog posts I would like to share with you some of the photographers, artists and writers who are inspiring me at the moment. For my inspiration this month I would like to share the work of Finnish photographer Elina Brotherus. Elina Brotherus works mainly with self-portraits but looks at the meeting of painting and photography, how we look at ourselves and others and the difference between a photograph and reality.

About Elina Brotherus

Elina Brotherus is a Finnish photographer based between Finland and France. She originally studied Chemistry and then turned to photography, graduating from the renowned University of Art and Design Helsinki in 2000 with an MA in Photography. She has held exhibitions all over the world including the Centre Pompidou in Paris, Bloomberg SPACE in London and the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago. She is currently exhibiting at the Kunsthaus Wien and the Abbaye de Jumièges.

Archetypal moments in life

Her photography has developed through several themes which she looks at as themes and variations, coming back to ideas and exploring them again. I really like this investigative way of working and the idea that you don’t need to include everything you want to say in a single image. Her first publication Decisive Days looked at identity while also exploring what it is like to be in a country where you don’t speak the language. From her personal experiences she reaches out to her viewers on a more universal level. Looking at the archetypal moments in a person’s life but, unlike the weddings, births and families that we photograph, there is a sadder tinge to some of her work. She works pain into beauty and creates something to which other people can relate their own lives. I admire the poetry in her images which prevents them from seeming overly personal and allows the power of a picture to make you feel without telling you what to feel. This openness is something I would love to explore in my own work.

Photography and Painting

With The New Painting her attention shifts to the history of painting and photography. The works are influenced by painting and how photography can use the same compositional devices, colours and form. In the photographs we can see the influence of Caspar David Friedrich, Claude Lorrain and the light of the impressionists. The light in all of Brotherus’ images is incredibly inspiring to me. In landscapes, still lives and portraits there is a beauty of light that is almost irresistible to me as a photographer.

These images, especially ones like Der Wanderer, consider the individual and space; how we see the world and how we fit into our environment. The oft-copied image of the landscape you have no doubt seen on Instagram with the figure taken from the back comes back to Caspar David Friedrich and Elina Brotherus’ contemporary take on his work. When she turns and looks straight at us, such as in Points of View on Landscape IV (part 2), she asks us to consider different points of view and different relationships between the viewer and the subject in the photo.

This is picked up again in her works Etudes d’après modèle, danseurs and Artist and her model. Turning the norms of art around, it is the woman who is looking at the model. In some of the images it is the man who is the model, men and women or Elina Brotherus herself. The images are obviously posed and we find ourselves questioning the act of looking. Having become more sensitive to the way women, especially, are portrayed in the media the concept of gaze – who is doing the looking and who they represent – is very interesting to me. I find myself asking whether there is such a thing as a feminine version of this gaze and how to find it.

For me, photography is primarily a constructed image. I consider myself a “maker” of images, or perhaps as someone who finds images. Visual discovery is very important. The working process follows after in the lab.
— kadist.org/people/elina-brotherus/
I seek, do, find – and take pictures. I don’t interfere with the space, but the human presence awakens it.
— Elinabrotherus.com


Fragility of life

Self-portrait in Chamonix, France. Inspired by Elina Brotherus, photo by Emma Godfrey.

Annonciation is a work that is incredibly difficult to look at. In it is all the fragility of life and pain of infertility. Mostly a taboo subject, I relate enormously to this work and find it incredibly brave. It moves me to tears and I am sure that it strikes a chord for a great number of women, couples who cannot have children. Again it looks at the outsider, the person who doesn’t fit into society through no fault of their own. In her own words about the work, Elina Brotherus talks about the idea of a Hollywood ending, how we only ever hear the success stories which just makes the failures feel even more like they have failed. We don’t want to hear the sad stories but those with enough courage to share can help us feel a little less alone.

Beautiful light

Turning her attention from painful moments in life, Elina Brotherus seems to alternate with lighter themes. Les Femmes de la Maison Carré invents the different types of women who could have inhabited this space. We can imagine their stories and share for a moment in her imagination. In Rules of the Game she delves a little into the surreal by creating images based on absurd rules. Collaborating with Vera Nevanlinna they take a fun look at the world of games and rules, and the idea of performance.

I made “Wedding Portraits” (1997) when I got married, “Divorce Portrait” (1998) when I got divorced, and “I hate sex” (1998) when I felt that way. So I wasn’t showing various women’s roles, but living my life and trying to capture something genuine and real about it in the pictures.
— neba.finlit.fi/booksfromfinland/bff/202/brotherus.htm

The inspiration

The key inspiration from Elina Brotherus’s work for me is to embrace my different passions and emotions. Sometimes creativity comes from things that are going on in an artist’s personal life, sometimes from places and things that have become caught in their imagination. Coupled with the right technique, light and courage to explore the idea fully these things create images that reach out to others and stay a little bit longer than the average Instagram pic.

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