Photographs by Sanna Kannisto. Text by Steve Baker.
Aperture, 2011. 96 pp., 100 color illustrations, 11x11".
The first major monograph by Finnish rising star Sanna Kannisto, Fieldwork explores
the dialectics of nature and culture in both artistic and scientific contexts. Since 1997,
Kannisto has spent several months per year living alongside biologists in the rainforests
of Latin America. Adopting elements of her companions’ scientific methods,
she developed her own form of visual research, extending her depictions of flora and
fauna beyond the confines of the natural sciences. Breaking away from the conventions
of nature photography, which typically presents specimens in isolation, devoid of
context, Kannisto’s work addresses the acts of staging and image-making. Her photographs,
with their biologically correct titles, show not only the breathtaking beauty of
her subjects, but also the tools used to achieve the would-be image at center—the
black drapes, the difficult “neutral” lighting rig, the seamless white background. Signs
of a scientifically standardized process—graph paper, rulers, test field markings—are
also included, appearing strangely out of place amid the lush green foliage of the rainforest.
The core practice of the natural sciences is to collect in order to inspect closely
in the service of public knowledge. Collecting implies taming and containment, traits
shared to some extent by photography. With her gentle humor, Kannisto recognizes
and utilizes the constraints of science and art alike, investigating the concept of truth
in photography to challenge how we view and “know” the natural world.