Fieldwork, the first major monograph by Finnish rising star Sanna Kannisto, explores the dialectics of nature and culture in both artistic and scientific contexts. Since 1997, Kannisto has spent several months per year living alongside biologists in the rainforests of Latin America. Adopting elements of her companions’ scientific methods, she developed her own form of visual research, extending her depictions of flora and fauna beyond the confines of the natural sciences.
The core practice of the natural sciences is to collect in order to inspect more closely in the service of public knowledge. Collecting implies taming and containment, traits shared to some extent by photography. Breaking away from the conventions of scientific documentation, which typically presents specimens in isolation and devoid of context, Kannisto’s work addresses the acts of staging and image-making. Her photographs, with their biologically correct titles, show not only the breathtaking beauty of nature, but also the tools used to achieve the would-be image at center—the velvety black drapes at each side, the difficult “neutral” lighting rig, the seamless white background. Signs of a scientifically standardized process—graph paper, rulers, test field markings—are also included, appearing uncharacteristically absurd, strangely out of place amid the lush green foliage of the rainforest. With her gentle humor, Kannisto both recognizes and utilizes the constraints of science and photography alike, investigating the concept of truth in photography to challenge how we view and “know” the natural world.
Sanna Kannisto (born in Hämeenlinna, Finland, 1974) studied photography at the University of Art and Design in Helsinki. Her work has been exhibited at venues in more than twenty-five countries around the world, including Centre Pompidou, Paris; Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris; Fotomuseum Winterthur, Switzerland; and the Finnish Museum of Photography, Helsinki. She lives in Helsinki.Steve Baker (essay) is emeritus professor of art history at the University of Central Lancashire, UK, and has written widely on the representation and use of animals in contemporary art. He is the author of The Postmodern Animal and Picturing the Beast: Animals, Identity, and Representation.