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Research by TAMK University of Applied Sciences and the Finnish Museum of Photography:
Photographic art achieved appreciation in Finland through internationalization

Many Finnish photographers with international success have achieved fame in Finland “via foreign countries”. Likewise Finnish photographic art has begun to be increasingly defined through internationalization. Nevertheless photographic art has mostly imparted a traditional image of Finnishness.

Elisa Mäkitalo, Juha Suonpää and Liina Mäki-Patola
Elisa Mäkitalo (left) and Liina Mäki-Patola (right) fourth-year undergraduates Degree Programme in Fine Arts TAMK University of Applied Sciences with Juha Suonpää, Head of Programme, contemplating the various alternatives for attaching significance to pictures..
High resolution image (
1406 Kb)
Photo: Antti Haapio

Juha Suonpää of TAMK University of Applied Sciences in his research has established that the breakthrough of success factors in Finland’s photographic art occurred some 15 to 20 years ago. In its first decade of EU membership Finland’s photographic art strengthened as part of pictorial art, commercialized and westernized. Many Finnish photographers won their spurs in international galleries – and only after that achieved acclaim at home.

According to Suonpää’s research, the successful Finnish photographer has succeeded in reconciling demands for internationalism in photographer or photography with the call for a basis in the “Finnish self-portrait”. This has typically been expressed by three factors: the ethos of the forest primeval emanating from the man-nature relation, a clear Finnish-man-woman gendered image and the portrayal of Finland as a Europeanized periphery – the exotic tourist attraction.

The Finnishness of the photographer has facilitated working with other small nations and border peoples and conditions. The artist in his work has identified with the object portrayed rather than being a voyeur or a visual exploiter.

The international success of Finnish photographic art has had a major effect on how photographers can make a living, including policy regarding stipends. The findings of the research at TAMK University of Applied Sciences are a new tool for photographers for those engaged in exporting this art form and for other actors. The findings provide a new, concrete basis for critical discussion on the content and quality of photography past and present.

The findings can also be utilized in the design of teaching in photography in higher education. In this research polytechnic students participated in the multifaceted analysis of works of photographic art and the texts on them. What is interesting in the research is especially the method by which certain successful works of photographic art were copied:  a new picture, so-called pastiche, was created from this using humour and exaggeration. The research was carried out during the period 2005-2008 as part of the research and development work of TAMK University of Applied Sciences. Suonpää’s research formed part of the Finnish Museum of Photography project Pohjan Tähdet (Stars of the North) examining the internationalisation of Finnish photographic and video art. The project was funded mainly by the Academy of Finland.

More information:

TAMK University of Applied Sciences
Dr. Juha Suonpää    
Tel. +358 400 120 544
University of Helsinki, Christina Institute for Women's Studies, Faculty of Arts
University Lecturer Leena-Maija Rossi
Tel. + 358 9 1912 3229

Feel free to use all news. Photographs copyright Kalle Heiska.
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