Anni Leppälä and the photographic image

Lo ok    for         wha  t   is     ph o   to          gr aph y

With each photography met, found; one thinks : ‘that’s it!’, and at the same time knowing that “this “is”, and “not yet”. But thinking this, always comes down to the building of the photographic body, the corpus. A body made of images, and images making body. So thus, this is, for my part, what I see with Anni Leppälä (born in 1981) ; a very peculiar attention both focused with a great tenderness, like en even caress on the whole surface of the image, added to a certain non-profane chromatic quality tonality. That what holds me in Leppälä. Sometimes a very few things, a slight shifting, or move, so as to show the still imponderable mystery part which remains in the so-called “visible”, of which we too often deplore the exhaustion, by the supposedly full theological power ot the consumerist global system. But that is so wrong and naïve. On the Fisheye website, we find this quotation from Leppälä:  « Le mystère et la fuite reflètent la nature voilée de la réalité elle-même ». Since I read this on a French website, it is translated. So, I suppose that Leppälä says something akin to this: “Mystery and escapism reflect the veiled nature of reality itself”.

As always, suffice to know how to watch, and take. After, ‘to take’ does not necessarily mean to directly shoot.

Taking reality for a mystery. Perhaps, “reality” and “mystery” have always been synonymous. A photographer had to say this to us.

Anni Leppälä, ‘ Looking at the Forest’, 2007, 48 × 64 cm, Galerie Les filles du calvaire, Paris

Here, this is not mysterious; it’s strange, and bizarre. Several impressions, mixed, without order: like a mask put down on the ground, simple as that. But once I’ve said that, all the strange atmosphere has gone; no ? And once I’ve thought this, can I think about something else? Yes. A walk in the forest, and, suddenly, this piece of a face, laid on the ground, with its vegetal eyes, staring at us: the forest is looking at us. But, in the left eye, I see a figure, from behind, naked (legs, bottom, lower back). Don’t you ? (Maybe it’s a phantasm, since some phantasms are directly linked to vision). And this is where it comes bizarre again. And, this black background, are we talking about it? A half night masked face, illuminating when passing by? Black all around, and yet again, in the eyes (or should I say ‘eye-sockets’?). Mystery (comes back). A good image, may mean with a few, sometimes a trick, but not a magician kind of, but a trick from the trade and aptness. Finally, I have the feeling that Leppälä produces mystery, some curious, from simple things. Instantiation :

Anni Leppälä, Persons Projects Gallery, Berlin

This might seem insignificant, but, in some ways, I would say the opposite. What if photography would relearn us, sometimes, to see or resee what we do not watch any more, like a vertebra, under the skin? I think this is, I believe, one of the iconic “messages” with Leppälä; to see what is above/underneath, and conversely, and, until how far things extend, or overflow? I come back to this photo, and I look again. Let us start from the background. Really red. Purple red; but, notice it, not all over, and gliding toward black (one more time), in the low bottom side. Coming to contrasting with the magnificent ginger hair. I believe that Leppälä use often this model. Now, notice how this young woman has her hair done. All is brushed on the left side. Why? To let free the right shoulder. Better: To clear what I would call the melodic line from the left side to the right side of the shoulder. It’s about underlining the body rhythm, a mutted silence, quiet, but visible; this bare back, of which the right side is more indented than the other side. And then, going down the vertebra, and up to the right shoulder blade. Some might think that the photograph would have been quite the same without any clothing. I do not believe so. The fabric, also dark, creates a frontier between the purple red and the light skin, almost melting, on the right side, into a thin chromatic zone, unidentifiable, you see?, this place where we cannot decide between ultramarine blue and purple red? With the clothing, the image contributes to produce a volume, a soft rhythm, from the flat red up to the clear ivory of the skin, raised by the vertebral column.

Anni Leppälä, ‘Light (profile)’, 2012, 33,5 x 24 cm, pigment print mounted on aluminium frames

Could it be simpler ? Minimal, shall we say, as long as the adjective “minimal” has something to do with the figurative, the directly reflected. Here ↑, we come very close to the limits of the asbstracted real. How not thinking about a certain crossroad between realism and abstraction? You might judge that this is quite abstract indeed. Yes, but not enough. Not enough for what? For it not to be totally unreclaimable for rationalization (it’s not a rude word), meaning: If I ask you what you are tempted to see, you will probably answer: “a kind of an unfinished profile”. Yes. How come that with such a few luminous trace we are nevertheless so prompt to “see” an anthropoid profile? Answer: We are used to it; and as soon as childhood (who really looks a stick man?), and more deeply, since the archaic phylogeny of our brain (to recognize from afar what comes closer); the visual cortex (we see with the brain) which discriminates far better the horizontal lines than the vertical ones. I think that this image fits rather well with Leppälä’s photographic philosophy, which consists in underlining the edges, frontiers, margins, whithin the image; inside and (like) above.

Anni Leppälä, ‘Hand (reclining)’, 2017, pigment print, 25.5 × 34 cm, Purdy Hicks Gallery London

I instinctively, profoundly believe the following: photography, is what rends present, something that painting does not allow. Painting does not rend present, it absorbs the onlooker (see the notion of “absorption” in M. Fried). In a way, the photography “comes” toward us, when painting does bring us inside; and this process is not reflexive (another good reason for never comparing equally painting and photography). Above, almost nothing. But this suffice, since this “almost” is nourished. By this: There is like a stereoscopic effect in this image (reminding that this process was invented as soon as 1844). It is my belief that Leppälä makes in here a sign toward the history of photography, something by the way rather rare among photographs, since most of them are occupied with forging their own language (this is understandable). And with this sign (toward the past), and if I’m not wrong, we have here a first clue of a mental feeding. U. Ecco, before many (Opera Aperta, 1962), once said that we consume artistics products. Nourishes me, also, this beautiful passage between the red fabric on the wall, which seems to rebound around the arm; and look at this white thread (?)… on what? The edge? But it’s a curve. “Because the feminine body doesn’t end with lines. In this, sculptors might come closer to the truth than us. Nature entails a suite of plumpness which wraps one with another” (Frenhofer). A line so as to delimit what cannot be. Leppälä is a reader, and I guess that she might have read Le Chef-d’œuvre Inconnu (The unknown masterpiece). Shoot! I’ve just drawn a parallel with painting! Yes. But notice that: a parallel not in regard with the painted but with the said, added with a fictive character (Balzac speaking). Nourishes me also this beautiful hand, as detached from the background, and, once again, this passage from the left side into the clear, to the very dark somber of the hem, so dark that we do see but a few, if the roots of the knee, sheathed with black, the rest sinking indistinctly. As a result, we go upward, and we notice this black triangle shaped by the cutting of the red cardigan on the little black dress, exactly at the border of the frame.

To be continued…

Léon Mychkine