For the first research point for this section, we are asked to watch a video of a talk given by Elina Brotherus. I had researched Brotherus during the Context & Narrative module which can be seen here. In this video Brotherus explains and gives the background to her method of working, going into detail about her first major body of work, Suites françaises. Having never learnt French she took a few crash courses in the language before taking up a residency at the Musée Nicéphore Niépce located in Chalon-sur-Saône, France. However, when she arrived in France she realised that she could not help herself in the language and her knowledge was extremely basic. So on recommendation from a friend, she adopted the “post-it” method of learning her new language. She would stick post-it stickers with the French word written on it on objects so that she could learn the vocabulary and so began her work for Suites françaises. Gradually her vocabulary evolved from basic words to complex phrases and sentences. Suites françaises is a body of work about an “effort to learn a new language, to get acquainted with a new country and a new culture” (Brotherus, 2013). I think anyone moving to a new country and having to deal with new language and cultures would regard this series as a mirror. Having experienced emigration myself I can definitely empathise with certain aspects of her work, although I did not have the language issue to contend with. For someone not having experienced such an upheaval, the series would act as a window – a sometimes comical way of dealing with unknown circumstances.
Twelve years later she had the opportunity to return to Chalon-sur-Saône for a workshop project among school children and she requested that she stay in the same dormitory she had lived in during her residency. Thus began another project “12 years later” where she went back to her roots, where she began as an artist. She repeated the post-it exercise, but this time her post-its were more philosophical. One can see that there is less chaos (the profusion of the post-it notes) and the adult artist is now quite evident in her series. Her expressions are more intense and serious. Life is not as carefree as it was twelve years previously. Another difference between the two series is her use of language. In the initial series, she was “obliged” or perhaps “limited” would be a better word, to using vocabulary post-its on objects within the frame. In the second series she was free to choose the text she wanted to use in a given image (Brotherus, 2013).
She regards this stage as a turning point in her life (she turned 40) and one where she took up a position statement. A position statement is something she recommends an artist make from time to time. It is an exercise where one looks at where one is in now exactly at this point in one’s life, what one has achieved – basically taking stock. Many times artists focus on the past instead of where they are at in the present. Her project started to build around this position statement image and various works have evolved from it.
Her advice to the audience is if one lets the life guide the work, the art will push through. When the work is personal it is hard to have someone else there. She prefers to be on her own when working, as having someone around just distracts her. Brotherus also lets her work rest for as long as six months before looking at it again, so that she can obtain the necessary distance and objectivity she needs when editing. She doesn’t always start off with an idea, but recognises it when she sees it. When asked about her figures in landscape images, she replied that as one can see her cable release in the image, this reminds the viewer that the model and author are the same person, that there is a double role being played out. The image is both landscape and portrait. Because her figures are standing with their backs to the camera, there is more of an invitation to share the contemplation from behind the subject. If the subject was facing the viewer it would be more of a confrontation and the image would then be about the person and not so much the landscape. With the subject’s back facing the viewer, this turns the image into a window I believe as the viewer is sharing the same view as the subject – there is no interaction. Where the subject to turn around it would be a mirror image as there would be a level of engagement with the viewer/photographer and the subject.
The link to the full video can be obtained from this article.
Brotherus, Elina (2013) Interviewed by Sharon Boothroyd in Elina Brotherus Interview [online] Photoparley. Available at: https://photoparley.wordpress.com/2013/03/29/elina-brotherus/ [Accessed 25 November, 2016]
Open College of the Arts (2012). Elina Brotherus – “It’s better to work more than sit at home and think” [user-generated content online] Creat. Open College of the Arts. 12 December, 2014. 48 mins 31 sec. Available at: https://www.oca-student.com/content/photographers-talking?page=1#comment-72335 (Accessed 25 November, 2016)