Selected works by Elina Brotherus

Elina Brotherus
Femme à sa toilette


Chromogenic colour print mounted on aluminium

80 x 66 cm
Elina Brotherus’ self-portrait, Femme à sa toilette, marks a moment in her series The New Painting where she began to delve more deeply into art history and leave behind the more autobiographical aspect of her work. For those who think of her primarily as a still, solitary presence contemplating vast landscapes of pristine beauty, this sudden close-up comes as a shock, as if we opened the door to the bathroom without realising a stranger was inside. The work’s title, of course, tells us that she is thinking here of the female nude as seen by Degas, Cézanne , Bonnard and male painters belonging to the rich tradition going back to such Renaissance masters as Bellini, but I am struck by a resemblance to a nude ‘à sa toilette’ by a female painter, the Impressionist Berthe Morisot: we see the same profile in both studies, the same expanse of white flesh. Morisot’s subject, however, is still an object of delectation, whereas Brotherus isn’t really giving us a nude at all, but rather a self-portrait, a confession and admission of vulnerability rather than an image of titillation. It is best appreciated within her larger series of melancholic self-portraits set within modest domestic interiors, mattress-on-the-floor kinds of places suggesting only momentary relief on a long journey.

Text by William A Ewing


Painting by camerawork- artist's interview with Jan Kaila

Elina Brotherus is a prolific photographer who was born in Helsinki in 1972 and now also spends much of her time in Paris. She was trained in analytic chemistry before she decided to take up photography. Her early works, rooted in the documentary tradition, involved self-portraiture but more recently her interests have been dominated by formal concerns. Her practice continues to focus on the human body and landscape. While her works provoke conceptual questions, the artist insists that her interests are primarily visual. In her ongoing series, 'The New Painting,' Brotherus uses a camera to investigate the dilemmas that have challenged painters for centuries.

The early works of Elina Brotherus mainly involve self-portraiture but as her practice has evolved, it has become almost devoid of all autobiographical elements. Still studying analytical chemistry when she decided to take up photography, Brotherus was at first resistant to the idea of investigating her own emotional life. On completing her science degree, however, once freed from the rigours of the scientific thinking, she experienced a tremendous burst of creativity, which resulted in a series of self-portraits, 'Das M'dchen sprach von Liebe' conceived between 1997 and 1999.

Rooted in the documentary tradition, these photographs capture actual events and happenings in Brotherus's life as they occurred. She made 'Wedding Portraits' (1997) when she married, 'Divorce Portrait' (1998) when she divorced, and 'I Hate Sex' (1998) 'when I felt that way'. The connection between art and lived experience is key: 'Creating images shakes me up; and when life is 'shaky', I get the urge to take photographs,' she says.

Believing in the 'profound sameness of human beings', Brotherus's early works are highly personal yet delivered in a formal language that is ascetic and subdued. In 1999, she stated, 'I provide viewers with a blank screen, a surface on which to project their own feelings and desires.' Her early series often deal with love and its side effects, the absence or presence of it in its different forms.

In 'Suite Franaises 1', a series of landscape pictures, Brotherus's approach becomes increasingly abstract as she captures vast, deserted landscapes, which she refers to as 'commas' or 'breathing spaces'. She explains, 'The world contains so much mess and visual noise ' I have tried to mark off the interesting and significant fragments'. A bridge, a heavily symbolic image, appears throughout the series and is valued, according to Brotherus, because you can't see to the other side'. She says, It is the same as with a curved hillside or the horizon, which we cannot see beyond because the earth is curved. I am interested I these kinds of views, in kinds of edges of the world.

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Real Jardin Botanico - Reviews - Elina Brotherus by Barry Schwabsky

Can a photograph reflect reality? The Paris-based Finnish photographer Elina Brotherus, whose work was shown here under the aegis of the annual PHotoEspana photography festival, seems to give her answer to that question in Le Miroir (The mirror), 2000. Each of five images is dominated by a bathroom mirror that sits at a slight angle to the picture plane and occupies most of the frame; there is just enough incongruity between the two surfaces to call attention to their discrepancy. In the first image, the mirror is so steamy that the photographer's reflection can barely be made out. But by the end of the sequence you can see her pretty well, though the condensation on the reflective surface still calls attention to the surface as such. In other words, Brotherus credits her medium with a limited ability to reflect reality--qualified by the fact that it can do so via an essentially formalist attention to its own character.

No wonder the larger series of which Le Miroir is part takes its playful name from a friend's observation that "photography is the new painting." The kind of painting Brotherus has in mind in "The New Painting," 2000-, is clearly modernist and reflexive, if not abstract. This despite the fact that, in comparison with two earlier series shown here, "Das Madchen sprach von Liebe" (The girl spoke of love), 1997-99, and "Suites Francaises 2," 1999, both the subjects and their treatment are far more evocative of the classical pictorial tradition. La Femme trompee (The deceived woman), 2001, is a scene that might have been taken from Greuze; Les Baigneurs (The bathers), 2000, echoes Eakins; and Femme sa toilette (Woman at her toilet), 2000, updates Degas with a blow-dryer.

If the fixation on language shown by "Suites francaises 2" is any indication, Brotherus believes that photography must also be conceptual. In these images, which take off from the idea of trying to teach oneself French, everything has been tagged with a yellow Post-It note of its name: la chaise, les oranges, la porte, les sandales, even un defaut de la tete. Reading a photograph always has something to do with naming the things in it, but la chaise (chair) may have a different emotional and cognitive valence than its Finnish counterpart--how much more an existential quandary like contente enfin?

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Source: artforum