Some of your pictures almost look like paintings, in particular “Mirja”. Is there a relationship between photography and painting ?
© Tuija Lindström, Mirja, 1982
© Tuija Lindström, Mirja, 1982
Oh yes, there is ! I didn't come from photography at the beginning. I started as an author. I wrote poetry and philosophical essays. But then I move from my own country (Finland) to Sweden and even if I could speak Swedish, it wasn't my mother language, so I stopped to write. Perhaps for this reason, photography became more interesting to express myself. Images, whether pictures or paintings, are also a language. Also, when photography was invented, painting tended to be as realistic as photography. Nowadays, photographs tend to be as pictorial as paintings. I think this is a nice return of situation.
What is your background in photography ?
I studied photography in an art school. In the eighties, we didn't have computers nor many books. It was very hard to find informations. In my own trips, I started to buy photography books. I first understood what photography was when I saw Diane Arbus work. In art school, we had to take portraits in a studio. “Mirja” was my very first one. All the images that you can see in this exhibition were taken more or less during the time I studied photography. But it was not art photography, it was so boring ! I wanted to put more in the image...
Left : © Diane Arbus, Twins, 1967 // Right : © Tuija Lindström, Sisters, 1984
Do you endorse a feminist perspective in your work ?
Yes and no. Of course, I am a feminist but not only ! I am interested in the difference between the male perspective on the world and the female perspective. I think women see different things than men and it shows in photographs. When I was a student in the eighties, I was the only girl in my class ! At that time, women weren't allowed to take pictures of themselves, even less naked. So “Mirja” is a little bit revolutionary, because it is a woman taking a picture of another woman who shows her nipples and is proud of it !
Some of your pictures are blurry, almost smoky. Does the camera reproduce reality or, as the blurred images suggest, create a new reality ?
© Tuija Lindström, Panther, 1983
Photography is really about missing time. The pictures exist to remind us of the past. The problem is that now is already past ! My pictures could look like images of my childhood, which is impossible since I don't know anything about it: I've been adopted. In this way, photography is really magical ! I've always tried to get my spirit in the picture, I tried to blow my soul in the paper. It is alchemy. I am still into this idea that you can catch something invisible. But you still want the material proof...!
What do your pictures mean ?
This work has thirty years old. Even at that time, I wanted to take away all marks of time. I wanted the pictures to be out of time. I was quite naïve ! But the pictures have to stay open. I am not the teacher and I don't even know the answers. I hardly know the questions... (Laughters). Maybe the picture is the question itself, but there is nothing behind it. Some people can get scared about that, which I find quite interesting.
In your early work, you took many pictures of animals or children. What did attract you in them ? Innocence ? Frailty ?
No. I started street photography because I was shy... It was easier for me to take pictures of a flower or a dog because they wouldn't come and hit me ! Also, I don't like to keep the camera in front of my eyes. I prefer to keep it down, against my chest. So that I can see everywhere. When you hold the camera against your face, you have to look through the lense and you aren't safe. When I took pictures like that, I didn't react at first. My finger was quicker than my brain ! However, street photography is not my favorite kind. When you are in the street, the street comes to you, whereas in the studio, you can be the director. I want to be a director ! (Laughters).
The skin is very present in your pictures. What does the skin represent to you ?
© Tuija Lindström, Backs, 1981
I used to work a lot on contrasts of light. I wanted to show some innocence. Maybe because of the male look on women, I wanted to show bigger women naked. This was a way to go back to Antiquity and Greek sculptures. But at that time, it was only white male bodies; there weren't realistic. I also used skin as a metaphor of sensitivity. It was a long time ago... Those works were like sketches : I was experiencing the possibilities of photography. I've changed.
Do you still feel close to the artist you were at that time ?
Yes, I love her now. I didn't love her, then. When they asked me to do this exhibition, I didn't want at first. The pictures are thirty years old, I had closed that door. But then I became ill, so I thought I should clean the room before I go and get the pictures behind the door. It took me two or three years of work, because I had thousand of pictures. I was working hard but long story short, young Tuija gave me a huge present when she came back in my life. I understood shortcut wasn't the quickest path to reach the arrival. It was both fantastic and painful !
Your work goes in so many different directions : portraits, landscapes, street photography, still life... It is hard to qualify it. Do you have one word to describe your approach of photography ?
Interview by Marie Beckrich