London, Nelli Palomaki: Midnight Sun
Andréas, 2010 Copyright/Courtesy of Nelli Palomäki
Dora at 7, 2009 Copyright/Courtesy of Nelli Palomäki
At 27 with my dad, 2009 Copyright/Courtesy of Nelli Palomäki
Dorothee and Anais at 23 and 25, 2009 Copyright/Courtesy of Nelli Palomäki
Viola and Elsa at 10 and 9, 2009 Copyright/Courtesy of Nelli Palomäki
Julia turning five, 2009 Copyright/Courtesy of Nelli Palomäki
Ladan at 26, 2009 Copyright/Courtesy of Nelli Palomäki
Anni Maria at 24 with Donna, 2009 Copyright/Courtesy of Nelli Palomäki
Elsa at 10, 2009 Copyright/Courtesy of Nelli Palomäki
Viola at 11, 2009 Copyright/Courtesy of Nelli Palomäki
At twenty-six #3, 2008 Copyright/Courtesy of Nelli Palomäki
Vlad at 17, 2009 Copyright/Courtesy of Nelli Palomäki
Becky at 23, 2011 Copyright/Courtesy of Nelli Palomäki
Nelli Palomäki’s exhibition at Next Level Projects in East London is the second solo show from Midnight Sun, the gallery’s summer programme dedicated to Finnish contemporary photography. Midnight Sun previously featured the work of Sasha Huber (1st-27th July 2011) and Tuomo Rainio’s in the current venue (2nd-29th September 2011).
I was introduced to Nelli Palomäki by a mutual friend at the opening reception. I was very eager to know more about her work and we arranged to meet a few days later, just before she left for Finland. Our talk turned out to be very emotionally charged as the riots that were seriously shaking up London inevitably affected our casual get-together.
Nelli moved to London to earn an M.A. degree in Photography at the London College of Communication in 2010. Prior to that year, she was awarded the Victor Fellowship by the Hasselblad Foundation. Her work is part of major private and public collections such as the Helsinki City Art Museum, Hasselblad Foundation and the Musée de l'Elysée.
At Next Level, the photographer presented Elsa & Viola: a selection of black and white portraits from which emerges her striking ability to achieve intimate and intense portraits.
Nelli’s approach to photography is very natural and unpretentious. She doesn’t fit into any category—she can be described neither as a conceptual photographer nor as an aesthete. She is genuinely interested in people and their lives, and photography is the means she chose to investigate and honour the beauty and the complexity of human beings.
She doesn’t want to create, but rather tell, a story. She frankly admits that she doesn’t engage her imagination in her work. On the contrary, she shares her achievement with the people who contribute and experience the moment of the portraiture with her. Nelli unexpectedly offered me the most suitable statement in one of her last emails “…one of the most wonderful things about portraiture is the connection I build with some of the people I photograph.”
Nelli’s work is fruit of an intimate “conversation” between she and the sitter. It is a real encounter and an exchange that involves not only the sitter but the photographer herself. The anxiety, the insecurity and the awkwardness of opening up to each other is captured in the time of the portraiture. It all vanishes, leaving space to the inner world of the person whose story she is “telling” through the camera and her vision.
Nelli never carries a camera with her—“...sometimes its presence haunts me”—she likes to be free from the pressure of photographing. She wants to enjoy the view of the world developing in front of her and be able to let her gaze wander and get caught. While in the beginning she used to work in a studio, she then realised that a professional location was affecting her sitters and chose instead to work in the most intimate of the spaces—her own bedroom. She opens her personal space in order to establish a bond of trust and allow people to tell their story.
Among the many run-ins, the one that particularly struck me and, I believe, perfectly reveals the way she works is the one with Anni Maria and her dog, Donna.
The photographer met Anni Maria in the Spring of 2009 when she was walking home across the park in the early morning. Anni Maria had lost her dog and asked Nelli to help her find it. Nelli eventually saw Donna run in the dark and somehow managed to catch her.
Sharing the loss and return of the dog instantly established a connection—that soon turned into a close friendship—between the two women who spent the next few hours incessantly talking about their lives over a glass of wine at Anni Maria’s flat.
Nelli went back to the flat later that day to take Anni Maria’s and her daughter’s portrait but instead ended up photographing her with Donna. At a certain point, she became aware that the portrait itself didn't matter anymore. Still today, that image remains in her memory as a record of that special period of their lives. Years later, Anni Maria left the country but the two are still in contact. “...Anni Maria's portrait is still my favorite, it reminds me why I'm doing the thing that I'm doing.”
Next Level Projects
58 Hanbury Street
London E1 5JL