Thursday, May 10, 2007

Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen

I love serendipity. A couple of days ago I was hunting for a book on my shelves and saw one of Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen's there and thought to myself "I haven't looked at that for years, I must get it out some time". Then today, Struan Gray across in Lund (somewhere I've always fancied visiting) mentioned her in an email.

I first came across Konttinen and her work at the Side Gallery I mentioned a couple of days ago, in Newcaste-upon-Tyne. I was also photographing in NE England at that time - the height of the Thatcher Years and Maggie's epic battle to crush the Unions. I see the Side Gallery, now with Amber Online, continues to show and enable all sorts of good photography - I love, for instance, that there is a short set of pictures there taken by legendary Mexican photographer Graciela Iturbide - but of a group of Mums & Toddlers form Newcastle - taken when she was in town for a show she had at the Side.

Konttinen has photographed in the North East for well over 30 years, since arriving from Finland. She has captured the lives and communities of the region on film, documenting the traditional terraced house community of Byker, where she also lived, before it was demolished. She has also caught the strange habits of the English at the seaside (my Aussie wife still can't understand why someone would want to go sit on the beach when you have to wear an overcoat... or even venture onto a beach made entirely of large pebbles). Lately she has moved to colour, documenting "industrial" seashores.

As Struan commented, Konttinen "has a great trick ofmaking me homesick for places I've never been". Her work is down to earth and almost gritty at times, while also having something magical and almost ethereal about it in places - as well as a sense of humour.

One thing I find about photography is how I often circle back to photographers and their work years later. I was drawn to Konttinen's work originally because she photogrpahing a place I was also trying to photogrpahing and doing it in a way the drew me in. But after a while her books sat on my shelf, not quite forgotten. But over the years, a couple of times I have come back to them and spent time with the pictures as they remind me not just of certain places and times, but also of a way of seeing things.

(Horizontal bedding of limestone in a sea stack, left behind by preferential erosion, surrounded by pit waste of iron pyrites)

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