A small boy struggles to don a red shirt. A little girl spins and dances, engages the camera, forgets it. A woman alone in a room with a camera shifts in her chair, changing her expression as she falls in and out of thought. We are in a forest. The light shifts, the trees sigh in the wind, and time, always time, passes. Whether portrait or landscape — rendered as a grid of multiple silver gelatin images shot over a few minutes or as the ongoing collision of color-animated video with black-and-white still images — a myriad of sensations and gestures pass with the ephemerality of a cloud. We see that we too are as infinite and changing as the wind that lifts the trees.
These are Santeri Tuori’s beautifully warped tapestries, where time becomes timelessness, and the familiar becomes strange. When I met with the artist in his Helsinki, Finland studio last year, he returned again and again to the idea of vieraantumisen, which translates as “estrangement.” He essentially takes something very familiar — the forest, the human figure — and, through endless editing and layering of hundreds of hours of shooting and filming, creates a contextual remove and a new, slower kind of time that makes visible the nuances missed in real time.
Ranked among Finland’s leading contemporary photographers, Tuori exhibits his work worldwide, including the Wacoal Art Center, Tokyo, Japan; MoMA, New York, USA; Malmö Art Museum, Malmö, Sweden; Museet for Fotokunst, Odense, Denmark; and Effearte Gallery, Milan, Italy. In Finland he has exhibited at the Espoo Museum of Modern Art (EMMA) in Espoo and Anhava Gallery in Helsinki, both of which also house collections of his work. Collections are also found at Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art and the Finnish Museum of Photography, both in Helsinki; Frac Haute-Normandie, France; and Malmö Art Museum, Sweden. I spoke with Tuori this fall in advance of the opening of Santeri Tuori: The Forest, an exhibition I curated for the University of Cincinnati, College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning for FOTOFOCUS, the October biennial celebration of photography.
Judith Turner-Yamamoto: One thing that intrigues me about your experience is your master’s degree in law. I wanted to ask you how you got to art, if you could describe that path, and how your training in law influenced your creative vision.
Santeri Tuori: How I got into art was little by little. First, my studies were focused on law.
JTY: Were you always interested in art, and it was something you sidelined because you thought law was the more grown-up choice?
ST: Art occurred to me when I began to realize I could actually do it for a living. Even when I was studying law, I was working as a photographer. I was photographing for newspapers and theater companies and things like that. It was just like, getting some extra money. But little by little, photographing took more and more time.
JTY: What was it about photography that pulled you in?
ST: I don’t know. Everything started with very self-taught methods, like going to the basement and developing pictures. Of course, there is something very magical about this. For a long time, it was just a hobby. Then I got some opportunities to work as a photographer, so I took those opportunities and then just got more and more involved.
JTY: Did you begin exhibiting while you were working on your law degree
ST: Yes. I studied law for four years before I got into art school. Then I was in art school for two years. Then I took a year off from art school to go back to law school and finish that degree. Then I went back to art school. So everything was very mixed. There was no clear time when I finished law and started photography.
JTY: There’s something very methodical about your work. Having the kind of mind that can work with law, I would imagine there’s a relationship there.
ST: When I started my art studies, I felt that every art student should have a law degree as basic education. I was very interested in the philosophy of law and the history of law. Within that framework, we of course read many texts that have influenced art or thinking about photography. For example, Michel Foucault is the same in law and the same in art. My final work for my law degree was to study police and prison photography.
More of this article can be read in the Winter 2012 issue.