The Importance and Future of the Past

Photographer and visual artist Raakel Kuukka (b. 1955) has remarked: “Perhaps I became a photographer because I was so conscious of the importance of the past. I was also prone to feeling homesick.”

Photography has long been marked by an interchange between its truth value and its endless fictive or even poetic potential. Photography allows us to documentarily speak the truth in a very special way, while on the other hand it provides endless opportunities for lying. In these cross-pressures photography has once again risen to the fore in visual arts. One pioneer on this front in Finland has been Raakel Kuukka who began her career in the 1980s. She still belongs in the small group of strong women artists who have reworked the female identity and women’s everyday life into a key thematic – as well as the questioning and breaking of stereotypes.

Kuukka’s work has mostly centered on the history of her family and close community: the memories and the tensions that live on through them. More recently, she has moved closer to the present and to the verge of the future by bringing in her daughter’s growing process and identity, characterized by a Finnish-African encounter of cultures. Thus Kuukka’s topics have extended from the yard of her childhood home in Southeast Finland to practically the whole wide world and its big questions.

Kuukka’s temporal and thematic progression is remarkable: from a Karelian evacuee’s journey to the streams of people worldwide. When Kuukka’s daughter, Rebekka, puts on a Southeastern Finnish regional costume, only to soon switch it for a batik dyed Ghanaian outfit, we can envision all the everyday dimensions of identity politics, apart from the global dimensions we see on television.

Kuukka does not however only document her subjects. Her work process is slow, and often even meditative, which is visible in the end result. Through the slow process – some subjects she doesn’t return to until many years after recording them on film – the reflective and often poetically beautiful images gain a whole new kind of depth. Instead of a statement, they take on the form of an aphorism, with a deepness that can open up to every viewer even if the premise of self-identification might appear to be different. With Kuukka’s works it is easy to relate to how a human being may perceive her place in the world.

Otso Kantokorpi