What is the difference between self portraiture and photographing oneself? The artist as a model or an image of the artist?
In photographing nudes, portraying the male body at times masculine and at times with more feminine traits, Kari Soinio plays with gender roles, often showing femininity in masculinity. In his long term artistic practise Soinio has addressed masculine myths through the guise or the trope of the hero. This character has served as a proxy to show the man in the wilderness or in the safety of home, being himself or trying to be something (s)he doesn't quite know. The naked hero can be, at times, seen as a caricature of self-sufficient male identity. In Soinio's series it's imperative and critical to strip the hero out of his clothing to show his vulnerability, bluster and comical nature.
Using himself as a model, Soinio positions himself somewhere between self-portrait and storytelling, into a sphere where he can direct actions and play roles and characters. It's central to the ideas in Soinio's work to exist in his images as a character and to a lesser extent as himself.
In this show Soinio has included self-portraiture and documentary by incorporating close-ups of his face, hair and eyes. By creating a fragmentary self-portrait and by adding poses printed in natural and essential colors Soinio challenges differences between these image types and between his own positions within the gender spectrum of male and female.
In my photographic portraiture of the male body, I study masculine corporeality, body language, sexuality and identity and look at the ways perception and recognition operate through visual representations. My auto-portraiture-based work takes a critical look into masculinity and femininity in maleness, showing ambiguous bodies with traits of both and in doing so addresses and challenges masculine complacency and self-importance.
The complexities of male self-consciousness and body image are a continual source of ideas and interest for me. The tension between a sense of vulnerability and expressions of strength in masculine cultures are scrutinized in my work and I am particularly engaged in the gendered notion of heroism and the cultural icons of male heroes.
Playfulness has been a big part of my masculine project. As has gender ambiguity, which has been the backbone of the project.
As the sixth installment of my project on masculinity dealt in part with athletism and the ideas of ideal man, I also made an inverted version of Gérôme's idealized orientalist image of a young woman. Over the years I have made several more or less subtle, more or less faithful art historical references in my auto-portraiture work.
The hero endeavours to maintain control over his body and mind, he wants to be beautiful and admired. In admiring art and in looking at himself through the eyes of others, the hero strives to strike a balance between desires and fears and tries to attain something impossible. He is confused by the claim of a sound mind in a sound body.
The hero is enjoying the sun on warm rocks, and is thinking about the image he makes and his predecessors. He faces the rising sun and watches the changing light. Standing in the evening sun, he feels sadness.
Much of my art has focused on subverting traditional constructs of masculinity. Using myself as the model, I have sought to question received notions of manhood, the male body and the very act of viewing and seeing itself. I have been creating these images for more than twenty years, and my exhibition the Domesticated Hero, continues to explore the themes addressed in my earlier series.
The Domesticated Hero presents my character, already familiar from my earlier works, in a new environment. Formerly pictured in natural and urban settings, he now retreats to the intensely private setting of the house and garden. The freedom and sensuality of nature is brought into the tightly managed and well-hidden domestic sphere. The home becomes an interior landscape, the reflection of a dialogue between masculinity and femininity, sexuality and sensuality. One moment we see our hero flirting with the camera, the next plunged into despair.
Domesticated Hero was the fifth installment of my on going project on masculinity. Photographed entirely in domestic setting, either in my own or relatives homes or at the family summerhouse.
The surroundings allowed me to deal with the traditionally unmanly sphere and feminized setting of home as the ambiguous backdrop of our hero's privacy.
The photographs in the series The Scent of a Man introduce hero to a new location on a rocky bed of moss beneath open skies. There our hero lounges, listening to unseen voices. He emerges from the water and feels the sun on his skin. The hero steps ashore and disappears behind the rocks. He lies on moss-covered stones and takes in the northern scenery. He can be found in the Iceland of sharp rock and soft moss and the Finland of dark waters and blue skies. The scenery and the character enter into dialogue in the images. Although he rises from the waters like Väinämöinen in Kalevala and hearing the words of the elves, the man does not dominate his environment in the manner of a hero.
The hero and nature/landscape appear interactively in and out of focus. When the man emerges from the water, the image sharpens and the person becomes an image of his environment. Around him, there begin to appear the signs of civilization - how will our soft-contoured hero rising from the reeds cope with the (modern) world? With bluster or with understanding?
The Scent of a Man examines perception and its expression; the images are akin to alternative nature photos. Will the images communicate sounds, smells, and sensations to the viewer?
In a sense, The Scent of a Man is a retroactive introduction to my previous exhibition Return of the Hero. As in my earlier projects, I continue to ponder human identity. How do we want to inhabit our bodies and how do we relate to our surroundings and history? Are we a part of nature or its master?
The Scent of a Man explores themes familiar from many of my earlier exhibitions: the corporeality of man, masculinity and femininity, sexuality and sensuality, and relationship with nature and the environment.
During my entire career I have been fascinated by the themes of identity: corporeality and place, the sense of belonging somewhere, happiness and fear, insecurity and safety. Regardless of the subject I always consider a photograph´s narrative structure and shape. Form and content must be as one; the right realisation must always be found.
I have explored sexual identity and the depiction of the human body in different ways. In the series Mirror (1989) and Mother Nature´s Son (1994) I pondered the male body, sexuality and sensuality. In the first Triennial of Finnish Photography (1992) I also treated gender-related role models in my series Why Don´t Boys Play with Dolls. At that time I approached the subject from the child´s viewpoint. Subsequently I have also been interested in the significance of landscape and location in the building of a national identity; these themes were emphasised in the The National Landscape project (1997).
Return of aHero exhibition expands upon the themes of "Mirror" and "Mother Nature´s Son": a consideration of male corporeality, masculinity and femininity. Here a "liberated man" wanders in the Finnish landscape. The figure and landscape enter into a dialogue in the pictures but it is not a question of a conventional narrative in which man dominates his environment. The hero and nature appear interactively in and out of focus. The image sharpens and the person becomes an image of his environment. Around there begin to appear the signs of civilisation: felled clearings, a log raft, a dock, a forest path, power lines. How will our soft-contoured hero rising from the reeds cope with the modern world? As in my earlier projects, I continue to ponder human identity. Who are we? What do we want to be? How do we want to inhabit our bodies and surroundings?
In Mother Nature's Son (1994) the Hero steps into the foreground to pose and the landscape remains a mythical background and a symbolic mirror for him.
When the man, the Hero, steps into landscape its role and status change. It becomes a background for his actions. It becomes a road.
The landscape turns into something being exploited and it loses part of its nature as a scene. The hero captures the space and is outside in the landscape enjoying himself in the sun and the wind. The landscape takes to being a device for his desires and actions. He feels he is one with the nature.
I have explored sexual identity and the depiction of the human body in different ways. In the series Mirror (1989) and Mother Nature's Son (1994) I pondered the male body, sexuality and sensuality.
In mirror, which would become my degree work at Lahti Polytechnic photography program, I worked for the first time earnestly with auto-portraiture or self-portraiture, if you will. Using myself as a model, more for the convenience and mutual understanding than for any other reason, I could get exactly what I wanted with unlimited time with my model. Obviously, as a young artist to be, I reflected a lot of myself and my feelings and experiences in the work. However, from the very beginning I did think beyond myself into more general and intellectual ideas about gender and identity.
City of Ghosts combines architectural photography and street photography. City of Ghosts discusses both the permanence of the city and the constant social, political and financial changes in it. It also looks into architecture and the fleeting nature of human life.
As the first set of City of Ghosts images looked into the beauty of older architecture and anonymity of its denizens, the second volume looks more into the role of new glass towers in old neighborhoods and their impact on the city and life in it.
Livability is a crucial issue in a city of constant change. Geographical constrains of real estate city and their impact on ordinary peoples' lives are in the center of my attention here.
City of Ghosts shows where I come from in terms of looking at landscape / cityscape as a wide concept of place of identity.
As a conceptual landscape series A Way by Numbers shows a personal itinerary, a rudimentary map, between two points. In this case the series follows a path between my former home and former studio.
A Way by Numbers is based on a simple observation of geographical codes on the faces of each flight of stairs in the NYC subway system. Via those codes and other everyday codings I mark routes through the city.
Using house numbers, apartment numbers, subway car numbers, manhole numbers, etc. I mark these personal routes.
A bridge is a symbol and facilitator of travel and movement. It is arguably one of the greatest inventions of humanity.
However, when we travel across a bridge we usually fail to notice the part of the world below. We see the landscape around us and the road in front of us but are indifferent to what is under our rolling wheels. The area beneath a bridge is often invisible and it follows different laws of landscape and place, it is unique in its views and its uses. That place down there is not on maps, nor does it show on aerial photographs. It is an area where even the sounds transform.
I am looking into some basic traditions of landscape art. What constitutes a landscape image? What are the most important aspects of landscape art? Three main issues interest me most. First, the fact that there is almost always an open sky in a landscape. The uninterrupted sky seems to be a requisite for a real landscape. Second, the pastoral tradition, a view of nature. And third, there is also a very strong sense of perspective which is often enhanced by an elevated point of view.
I want to see the views under and around the bridges as potential spaces for something rather than showing something actually happening there.
City of Ghosts combines architectural photography and street photography. City of Ghosts discusses both the permanence of the city and the constant social changes in it. It also looks into the beauty of architecture and the fleeting nature of human life.
Karoliina posed for me as a child in 1992 for a project on gender roles (Why Don't Boys Play With Dolls?). When she became pregnant as a grown woman, we documented in real life two of the images which she had play acted earlier. They were made for a show in Kiasma, museum of contemporary art in Helsinki. (Un)naturally was curated by Marja-Terttu Kivirinta & Leena-Maija Rossi.
The Beautiful City shows cloudy dreamlike images, like distant memories. These elliptical, out of focus images lead us from a beautiful city street to an anonymous housing estate. Somewhere along the way we might contemplate on what we see when we see a landscape. Individual landscapes turn into general experiences. Through these images I deal with issues of identity and place, belonging to something and reaching for something else. Is it the city street or the asphalt yard of the housing estate where I belong to? The oval ground glass is connected with old ladscape paintings and early photographic portraits, both signs of attachment and ownership. This is how I mark my world and memories.
The bourgeois sleep well. They dream of bright sunshine at the porch of the villa. They dream of a yacht in a gentle wind. They dream of golf courses and a perfect family. They dream of security.
But when the bourgeois sleep badly their dream is disturbed by surveillance cameras, the police, iron bars over the windows. The dream is interrupted. The bourgeois wake up into uncertainty. Life is never enough.
A Bourgeois Dream is a series of images about hopes and nostalgia. Through misty, out-of-focus and dreamlike images - but in a way quite documentary - Kari Soinio deals with dreams and ideas of good life. But does a fullfillment of the dream require us to submit ourselves to be subjects of control, observation, self-control and security systems? Into the images of bourgeois idleness and inactivity intermingles the reverse side of the dream: fear of loss, fear of falling, violence, poverty and death.
A Bourgeois Dream shows us both sides of the dream, in images which are of a perfect round shape. They function as peepholes to both unattainable and undesirable. You are welcome to look through them.
National identity is strongly based in language and mental images. Those mental images are intertwined into physical images, drawings, paintings and photographs. The representations of finnish landscape on paper and canvas have been as strong building blocks of finnishness as literature. Those images have burned in our minds not only the idea of our connection with nature but also certain landscapes. Those landscapes are recognized through slightest hints and shortest glimpses. Even if we hadn't seen them in real life. Aulanko. Olavinlinna. Koli. Saimaa. Archipelago sea. Punkaharju.
National landscapes depict their subjects in a new way. The images are gentle and soft as the oldest memories. In their out of focus nature they offer us a limited but certainly strong enough hint for recognition.
What we see when we see a landscape? They ask. What makes a landscape Finnish, or national? How does a photograph create reality? How do we remember, with what kinds of images?
National landscapes also states a question of why has photograph been connected with a demand for and an obsession of sharpness throughout its history.
An ambulance with lights flashing driving down a street in New York. On the image a text: Love and Support. On the other side a family eating behind a kiosk in Moscow with a text Crime and Punishment. Script, the second Triennial of Finnish Photography at Art Hall in Helsinki in 1995. The piece with curved sides has two images with brass texts and a brass frame.
The Finnish Museum of Photography was celebrating its 40 years of existence in 2009. The Works, Deeds -exhibition celebrated the 40 years of museum by exhibiting the works of ten remarkable Finnish photographic artists. All of the works in the exhibition were shown for the first time.
Why don't Boys Play with Dolls? was made for the 1. triennial of finnish photography at Art Hall in Helsinki in 1992. The show was called Postmorality and it was curated by Arja Elovirta (editor in chief at Taide -magazine 2006 - 2008, Director of Kerava Art Museum 2009 -). The pieces dealt with roles and expectations between genders. A boy and a girl was photographed in several gendered roles. The characters were larger than life paperdolls in a frame. In each of the pieces were objects connected with the role they were playing.
The series is part of a larger project of mine on identities. I have dealt over the years with sexuality, gender, nationality and place, social models etc. Projects such as Mother Nature's Son, National Landscape, A Bourgeois Dream and Return of a Hero all deal with matters and questions of identities.
Why don't Boys Play with Dolls? was later curated by Sue Davies for Admissions of Identity -show at The Sheffield Art Museum's Mappin Art Gallery in 1998. During the next year the pieces were shown in Budapest at The Ludwig museum's Identity and Environment -show. Postmorality was seen in Sofia, Bulgaria in 1996. Two of the pieces were shown at Kiasma, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki in show (Un)naturally in 2009.