I’ve been now a couple of days in Helsinki (Finland). A great time with photographers, curators, gallerists, etc., but that’s another story. To stick to something specific, I think this is the first time I have seen a proper retrospective of the work of a living photographer.
Most often, when I see something classed as a ‘retrospective’ in the UK it tends to be a mishmash of the images of a photographer, without much sense, and sometimes just picking the ‘best of’. I’m only exagerating, but I bet that a google search would be revealing to the reader. What I saw at the Raakel Kuukka exhibition at the National Museum of Photography is completely unlike anything I’ve seen in the UK.
First of all, the space is enormous. The main gallery space of the museum must be in the order of hundreds and hundreds of square meters, like a warehouse. It indeed is located in what used to be a very large cable factory. This space is divided in different ways to accomodate each exhibition, and this time it has walls, corridors and so that divide it into maybe twelve or fifteen almost virtual rooms. Every series of work by Kuukka seems to be represented, and in full. There are literally hundreds of photographs in a dozen series, from very large prints from the change of the millennium in a series about Kuukka’s daughter, to traditional 16×20” silver halide prints from the 80’s, and everything in between. There are projections, multiple TV screens pumping short films, dimly lit new prints from Kuukka’s garden. For a naive visitor like me it is hard to conceive that I could be missing any remarkable piece of work. This is just insanely BIG and given time one can get to see the work’s development and the different ideas the author works with.
But where in the UK are the spaces that could give a photographer such a retrospective? Sean O’Hagan just wrote that Chris Steele Perkins is overdue a retrospective. Where is even big enough to hold thirty prints from The Teds, twenty-odd prints from The Pleasure Principle, twenty big prints from Fuji, fifty or sixty prints each from Africa and Afghanistan, a few dozen more prints from England collected over the years, and a good set of current and early work that didn’t make it into a book?
“Perhaps I became a photographer, because I was so aware of the importance of the past. I also had a tendency to homesickness. Later on, photographing came to be associated with a desire to construct the script of my own life; photography was a way of investigating concepts of identity and I used photographs as a means of communication. I also tried to update rigid, stereotyped images of women and identities.” Raakel Kuukka