Witnesses of the Others

Nanna Hänninen connects historical photographs to the present by painting on them. Hänninen explores personal themes and her own family background by appropriating photographs. Using brushstrokes in acrylic to steer our viewing of the pictures from 1870–1960. She directs our attention to a pose, a facial expression, a hand in a lace glove, an accidental passer-by. The subject matter of the photographs is recognizable, the painted additions abstract.

The pictures are copies of photographs by Viktor Barsokevitsch (1863–1933) and Karl Granit (1857–1894), found in the collections of the Kuopio Museum of Cultural History. Pictures from family albums taken in Helsinki, Viipuri, Vienna, Berlin, Kuopio and other places, are also included. Hänninen’s grandfather, who appears in the pictures both as a child and an adult, was a portrait photographer himself in Rautalammi and Kuopio.

In the pictures, Nanna Hänninen examines the thoughts and emotions aroused by the photographs as well as any existing historical facts about the people and events featured in them. Although Hänninen’s attention is drawn to lights and shadows in the photos, her primary concern is the feelings that the pictures awake in her.

Completely unrelated events and persons are mixed to create a new story. This is a story about war, separation, death, adoption, orphans and adopted children, young mothers who must abandon their children, maids and patients attempting suicides, bombings, studies in Vienna and Berlin in the early years of the 20th Century, immigrants heading to America, affluence and poverty, accidental meetings and missed encounters. The experiences are passed on from one generation to the next in the form of fragments of stories, unvoiced traumas or golden memories. From a personal perspective, Hänninen addresses similarities between events and opportunities for identification.

In time, the private becomes universal, and allows documentary materials to be approached conceptually. The appropriation of images makes tangible the dimension between the past and the present.