Jorma Puranen (born 1951) has become known for his works that arouse considerations spanning the past and the present. His subject matter has ranged from illustrations of scholarly works and ethnographic photographs to historical portraiture, with points of departure often found in archives or museums. Puranen has an undisciplined approach to archives, fragmentary rather than systematic. His method has also proposed fictive interpretations of his themes.
Shadows Reflections and All That Sort of Thing (1991-2009)
"By „images" [eikona] I mean first shadows [skias], then reflections on water [phantasmata] and other close-grained, polished surfaces, and all that sort of thing…"
Quotation from Plato's The Republic, Book VII
"Shadows, Reflections and All That Sort of Thing" was evolved of fragments and details of portrait paintings I have photographed in a number of museums and private collections within the last few years. The starting point for the project was my interest in museum and archive and it developed gradually while completing the work "Imaginary Homecoming" (1991-1996).
Within museum photography, dramatic use of light and shade were avoided; rather, light was used to give uniformity to a series, regardless of difference of photographed objects. My emphasis, however, is not placed on the relation of the original and copy, a "rhetoric of substitution", but drawing attention to the photographic process itself, complexity of gaze, to convey arresting sense of presence, to evoke an exalted attention. With intensive raking light I wish to bring to our attention the surface of the painting, with its shiny areas, its hidden colours and its cracks.
The resulting photographic portraits of "Shadows, Reflections and All That Sort of Thing" defy the accepted standards of a well-made photo. The daylight is reflected on the surface of the painting, overexposing certain parts of the image, obliterating others in darkness. The series questions the relationship between the portrait, the portrayed, and the photograph of the portrait, and the way in which the employed mediums influence our perception of them as an "image".
In the photographs seen in "Shadows, Reflections and All That Sort of Thing" the original focus of the painting, a face, seem to hover behind, between and beyond the material layers of the painting. Looking at paintings from unusual angles evokes in the viewer the sense of vulnerability emerged from the tension between a moment and permanence, a flash of light and centuries old patina.
Photography´s capacity to register reflections is actually its singular gift. What other medium deals so expressively with the play of light and shadow? Furthermore, by veiling the faces in light, the photograph actually reinvests them with mystery. In the face of their own reality, these pictures remain blind, just as at the same time they open our eyes to the "destiny" of the sitters. The actuality of the past is thematized in the series of "Shadows, Reflections and All That Sort of Thing". I fetch my portraits through the past of their painted existence and the actuality of the photographs materializes them as transitory bodies.
"Places are both the topos for a given event but also the sign, the tropos for the recollection of the path to another place and time."
The idea of "Icy Prospects" came from reading histories of polar expeditions, Arctic lore and from watching tourists on the furthest promontory of Nordkap in North Norway. Nordkap is a place where tourists throng from all parts of Europe to admire the last shore of our continent. To the north there are only Spitzbergen and the North Pole. The people standing on the foggy cliff stare northward as if they had in mind the ancient myth of Hyperborea, the temperate land beyond the northern winds surrounded by the polar ice.
The Arctic is often associated with an idea of immensity, infinity and distance that is an invitation to discover Otherness and Elsewhere. Journey across the sea is always both metaphorically and meteorologically an encounter with the unknown. It likewise becomes an instrument for the cultural definition of self. "Icy Prospects" is associated with new concepts of space, mobility and distance that have emerged in cultural studies. I was interested in the possibility of a cultural space created by different fates, places, histories and encounters, a fictive historical world. "Icy Prospects" is a kind of fabric of facts, fantasy, geographical imagination and intellectual landscapes.
For fifteen years I have been engaged in landscape projects in which I have prevented direct admiration of the landscape by putting something in between the viewer and the subject: transparent portraits, phrases in Latin, flags. They have served as obstacles of a kind, denying any admiration of Arctic landscapes as such. In "Icy Prospects", the possibility of direct viewing is completely denied. What we see now is a mere reflection of the landscape/seascape on surface of black glossy wooden board. Jean-Luc Godard has said that "the photograph is not a reflection of reality but instead the reality of that reflection".
The reflective qualities of the wooden board´s surface draw resulted photographs of "Icy Prospects" into a space between photography and painting. In this work almost hallucinatory visions are like the echoes of ancient expeditions lost in the Arctic seas. I am reminded of the story about Turner, who had himself bound to the mast of a ship to experience the extremes of a storm in order to paint the world in a more credible manner.
By contrasting landscapes of past end present, the photographs of "Icy Prospects" address the resources of photography to speak of the levels of memory and history. They also provide the expression of the sublime, the picturesque, the mysterious and the unknown.
The photographs of "Icy Prospects" I have taken in 2005-2006 by the Arctic Ocean and in northernmost Lapland of Norway and Finland.
Museum Meditations 2012 - 2013
For his new series, Museum Meditations, Jorma Puranen photographed old glass negatives and the retouching made on their surfaces. Many of these negatives are of well-known Finns of the 1940s and 1950s. Puranen placed glass negatives in strong light, making the retouch visible to form an almost drawing-like network overlaying the accurate photographic document. He does not consider glass negatives merely as documentation of the past but also as historical material objects with their own biography.
Retouch, the technical improvement of photographs, was an important tool for creating the image of a good life. Markedly retouched photographs seem to crystallize simultaneously the promise of a better future and melancholy recognition of losing all such hopes. The images that once took part in creating modernity now look ruined and dream-like.
In Jorma Puranen´s work, photograph becomes the site of fluid renegotiation of the past. His photographs are both of the past and the present. In Roland Barthes´ famous phrase - the "there and then" becomes the "here and now".
In Puranen´s photographs, the reflection of light serves to mediate the images and functions as their metaphor. It has often covered or blurred our access to images, thus adding layers of uncertainty to historical objects. It could be said that reflection as such is Puranen´s theme. In fact, he appears to be saying that light is the only reality to which the photograph has access. Light coming from in front of the camera.