Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Tiina Itkonen: Avannaa

The first impression: every thing on these pictures is so crystal-clear that these razor-sharp images appear extraordinarily artificial. It very much looks as if these scenes were drawings or paintings but not photographs. And although I know that I'm looking at photographs I'm not really convinced for they do not seem to convey a familiar reality. But then why should they? Fact is that these pics intrigue me, that I can hardly take my eyes off them. Rarely have I looked at photos "of real things" like houses, for instance, that gave me the impression that what my eyes were seeing was totally unreal, more akin to a toy-scenery than to what I know to be real.
Qaanaaq Graveyard, 2005

In case you don't know (I didn't), Avannaa is how the North of Greenland is called. Finnish photographer Tiina Itkonen, born in 1968, who lives and works in Helsinki, has been documenting Greenland since the mid-1990s. Pirkko Siitari, the director of Helsinki's Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art calls her "a visual expeditionist", another label (well, we are living in a world of labels, aren't we?) that is new to me. From Siitari's text ("Frozen in Time") I also learn that Itkonen "spends little time actually shooting – most of her time goes into simply observing. She waits and watches, patiently studying the forms of the landscape and inflections of light before taking up her camera." This isn't really surprising for there aren't many people around and not too much to do, or so it seems, north of the Arctic Circle.
Kullorsuaq 4, 2010

Anthropologist Jean-Michel Huctin, who has travelled extensively in Northern Greenland and spent four years working in the Uummannaq Children's Home, contributed a text entitled "The Intimate Far North" in which he states that his friend "Tiina knows what it takes to capture a unique moment." It is difficult to find a text on photography that does not use "to capture a unique moment" and, since all moments are unique, one can't really go wrong with it – except in the case of this somewhat timeless scenery that Huctin very aptly calls "icescapes".
Uummannaq 6, 2010

Huctin also describes the not so easy task of taking photographs hundreds of kilometres north of the Arctic Circle. "Sometimes she has to trudge through deep snowy slopes at -20°C, go dogsledding across the icy desert for days, feel the frosty air stinging her cold cheeks when boating at full speed around icebergs, or endure numbness during endless evenings spent outside waiting for the aurora borealis or the dark blue of the polar night." I'm grateful for this information, it makes me appreciate these beautiful pictures even more.

Tiina Itkonen
Kehrer Verlag, Heidelberg Berlin 2014

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