Artist and Her Model Photographs by Elina Brotherus. Text by Susan Bright & Timo Kelaranta Published by Le Caillou Bleu, 2012.
After 15 years of making self-portraits, Elina Brotherus notes on the back of her new monograph, Artist and her Model: "It's a strange feeling to look back at the work done and to look at that young person I used to be. What has happened? What has changed? The apartments, the boyfriends; the face has grown older."
And what else has changed? Not the style of her self-portraiture, which has remained pretty much constant; Brotherus from the front, Brotherus from the back, Brotherus against some stunning natural backdrop, Brotherus at home, on her bed, in her bathroom or with a partner or a model. Sometimes she's dressed and sometimes she's naked but really she stays the same; same hair, same expression, same body, blonde, skinny and ever so wan.
Except when you start looking harder and closer and then she changes. And the titles kick in and a quiet sorrow pervades through the book. The later work shows, as Susan Bright writes in her introductory essay, "...a woman all too versed in being able to communicate and articulate herself but still having battles with sex, the pain of love and waiting for her life to shift... The photographs deftly illustrate how enervating the process of trying to conceive can be."
In 'Anonciation 5' we see Brotherus sitting on the edge of her bath, toes curled under her feet, hands clenched into fists, her face showing weariness and sadness, a being eroded by the steady drip of disappointment and failure.
On the other side, there's the hopefulness and joy of 'Les Baigneurs,' where Brotherus sits naked in a perfectly winding stream. It's dull and misty and a man is holding her hand. Is she pulling him in or is he pulling her out? Whichever it is, Brotherus is smiling, never mind the cold. And it does look cold.
From her early work there's the fragility of the 'Divorce Portrait,' where Brotherus' red-raw face sits oversized on her delicate shoulders, the title providing the narrative of anguish and release. Sandwiching the 'Divorce Portrait' are 'I hate sex' and 'The first day of the rest of your life.' Here Brotherus is introspective, all cigarettes, bare floorboards and a mattress without a bed.
The landscapes are beautiful, the pictures fill with art-historical and, more interestingly, personal detail. It's the intimate moments that make the book, the little cracks that are quite crushing in what they reveal.
Colin Pantall is a UK-based writer, photographer and teacher - he is currently a visiting lecturer in Documentary Photography at the University of Wales. His work has been exhibited in London, Amsterdam, Manchester and Rome and his Sofa Portraits will be published as a handmade book early next year. Further thoughts of Colin Pantall can be found on his blog, which was listed as one of Wired.com’s favourites earlier this year.