Susanna Majuri’s dream-like parallel universes

A woman dressed in black flies amidst a flock of ducks taking off, another floats above a snowy mountain, all the while water blurs and distorts their figures. The landscapes in Susanna Majuri’s photographs are magical and vivid in colour. They can be described as a ‘dream recounted out loud’.

The Spotify playlist put together by Valokuvataiteen museo includes songs named by Susanna Majuri in interviews, as well as excerpts from records whose cover art is shot by the artist.

These photographs are currently exhibited in Suomen valokuvataiteen museo K1 (Finnish Museum of Photography) in Helsinki. Rakkaus (Love) is a retrospective exhibition that displays pictures from Susanna Majuri’s entire career, from the early works to her most well-known pieces.

Susanna Majuri (1978-2020) was a Finnish fine art photographer based in Helsinki. She is regarded as one of the most important and creative contemporary photographers in Finland. Water is a central element in Majuri’s work and she is best known for her underwater pictures where a background image is submerged at the bottom of a pool, giving the illusion that the characters are swimming inside both the water and the painting, for example next to a polar bear. The scenes are so surreal that upon first inspection it looks like they are created using an editing software instead of a digital camera. Susanna Majuri’s photography is inspired by things she admired and loved. Her favourite colour was that of water and Nordic, especially Icelandic nature was cherished by Majuri and therefore it is also a central element in her work.

« I’m still searching for my origins. I follow the water. Sometimes only a trickle can be perceived. Water is a path, a feeling of home, our beginnings.« 

– Susanna Majuri

The exhibition space is divided into two sections, one of them currently hosting Susanna Majuri’s photography and the other exhibiting Chilean artist Cecilia Vicuña’s work. Rakkaus organises the artist’s photographic work in a semi-chronological order – it was particularly interesting to see Majuri’s earlier work that is quite different from her more recent work in composition and setting. I was especially fond of the series of photos from 2007 where a woman in red is photographed above water this time. Although Susanna Majuri has said that red, for her, was the most difficult colour to work with, the vibrant shade contrasts beautifully against the grey, glacial ocean.

Apart from photographs, the exhibition also displays Majuri’s photography book ‘Sense of Water’ and a 18-minute documentary film on the artist. Information on all the material is available in Finnish, Swedish and English and there is also an audio guide. The colour theme of the exhibition is adjusted Majuri’s cool, blue colour palette, and as the visitor approaches the end of the exhibition, the space becomes darker, as do the tones in Majuri’s more recent work. The characters are no more floating in water, but appear to submerge in its depths. This shows the duality of water as an element; it can be calming and appealing under certain circumstances and mindsets, but menacing and overpowering under others.

Susanna Majuri: Salme (2007) Photo: Ville Sallinen

For the artist, photography was a way to portray personal topics and emotions through a fictional narrative. Storytelling was a form of escape for her, as well as a method of comprehension. « Susanna Majuri’s art shows that photography is also a fascinating tool for creating imaginary worlds, just like literature and music are, » says Anna-Kaisa Rastenberger, exhibition curator at Valokuvataiteen museo.

« With fiction, we can understand and become understood. I enjoy the stories inside of the literature and music. We can borrow moments from other stories and fit them in with our own moments.« 

– Susanna Majuri

Rakkaus with Susanna Majuri’s photography is on view at the Finnish Museum of Photography until the 14th of January. 

Cover photo: Susanna Majuri: Kultakolikot (2009)

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