Jorma Puranen (born 1951) has become known for his works that arouse considerations spanning the past and the present. His subject matter has ranged from illustrations of scholarly works and ethnographic photographs to historical portraiture, with points of departure often found in archives or museums. Puranen has an undisciplined approach to archives, fragmentary rather than systematic. His method has also proposed fictive interpretations of his themes.
For his new series, Museum Meditations, Jorma Puranen photographed old glass negatives and the retouching made on their surfaces. Many of these negatives are of well-known Finns of the 1940s and 1950s. Puranen placed glass negatives in strong light, making the retouch visible to form an almost drawing-like network overlaying the accurate photographic document. He does not consider glass negatives merely as documentation of the past but also as material objects with their own life-spans.
Retouch, the technical improvement of photographs, was an important tool for creating the image of a good life. Markedly retouched photographs seem to crystallize simultaneously the promise of a better future and melancholy recognition of losing all such hopes. The images that once took part in creating the modern now look ruined and dream-like.
In Jorma Puranen’s work, the photograph becomes a place for readdressing a fluid past. His photographs are both of the past and the present. In Roland Barthes’ terms, “there and then” becomes an existence of “here and now”.
In Puranen’s photographs, the reflection of light serves to mediate the images and functions as their metaphor. It has often covered or blurred our access to images, thus adding layers of uncertainty to historical objects. It could be said that reflection as such is Puranen’s theme. In fact, he appears to be saying that light is the only reality to which the photograph has access. Light coming from in front of the camera.
The series Landscapes in Full Colour is a continuation of his works in which direct views of landscapes are prevented. Puranen’s work has more to do with the manners of representing landscapes and their histories than with landscape depiction as such.