Thursday, 12 June 2008

Harri Palviranta

Harri Palviranta©

While I was at Photoespana last week i met up with Harri Palviranta at the french embassy in Madrid for the opening party of Agence Vu. Harri is the winner of Descubrimientos 07 and he was at Photoespana with a personal exhibition "Battered". I mentioned to him about and after a chat and few drinks he agreed to talk to us about his projects. Here is our conversation via email.

PH39 - Your portfolio contains a mix of landscapes, portraits, reportage and documentary projects that sometime appear so different from one another, is that the case? How do you structure your research for such a wide range of work?

Harri - My artistic trajectory hasn't been straight forward, true. But as I look back to my own work, I see two thematic paths which I seem to keep on being interested in: the first one is issues relating to male being and identity, the other is issues relating to violence. In some
works, for example in "Battered", these themes come together. You are categorising my work through visual generic terms. I mainly work from thematic backround and choose the ways of telling in realtion to that. I am not a portrait photographer, neither a landscape one. I try to approach the topic with most suitable photographic methods available.
The other issue is, how my wide artistic practises relates to my research projects. As you know, I am preparing my PhD at the University of Art and Design Helsinki ( In my research I am asking whether certain photographic artworks and the ways they are received and understood by the audience can be studied from communicative perspective. From its groundings communicative perspective assumes that if there is communication happening at all,
there needs to be something the “sender” and the “receiver” shares.
Following this the main question in my research is how do the artist’s and viewer’s perspectives and significations relate to each other. Further I ask what are the differences in interpretations and how can they be explained. I am conducting the study (it includes questionairies, qualitative interviews and writings by school classes) in gallery surroundings during the exhibitions and with the artworks that are made by myself. I am conducting the study with three different bodies of work. First one was "Prison sheets", second one is "Battered" and the third one
is still to be made or in progress. So I am not doing the research with all of my work. The thing that ties together the series is the issue (violence) and the photographic/artistic practise or
perspectice (documentary works).

Harri Palviranta©

PH39 - Your work has looked at practises of violence in different ways and in your projects violence is often part of the story being crude, direct or subtle. How do you edit your work, how do you select the ones to show?
Harry - Editing process is an interesting one indeed! I am rather rational in ways I create or embark a project, then I seem to be just going for it, little later when I have some pictures done I start reconsidering my approach and topic and challenges that has appeared. This become a cycle. I quess that is the time I start the editing process also. Then with the final edit it is quite intuitive. I have a tendency of getting little bored with too great repetition, both when making and watching art, so I try to maintain a fresh blow within the series, to built some variation inside it. I am aware of demand to built coherent series, but I wish to maintain possibility for the variation as well. I think the final edit is something that goes visually well together, that has variation in it, that offers possibilities to variety of argumentative approaches. The edit also always changes according to
exhibition place.

Harri Palviranta©

PH39 - In "Badscapes" you deal with historic and contemporary war sites, how did you research start for this subject, and would you consider it an ongoing project?
Harry -This theme keeps on interesting me, but as it is an issue that has been photographically studied rather widely (Simon Norfolk, Paul Graham, Paul Seawright, Ari Saarto amongst may others), I try to keep my hands off it! This project of mine, "Badscapes" and "On Violence", that started 1999 had rather personal starting points. In Finnish history and contemporary Finnish landscape there are a lot of places, both concrete landscapes and mindscapes, that are regognized and also celebrated through and bacause of their war ralated connotations. I bacame interested in this ceremonial orientation and the normality building processes that the places represented. I still have few projects going on that are related to this issue. On the other hand,
I would not like to repeat me over and over again.

PH39 -In "Battered" you went out in Turku, a stutent town not far from where you live, sometime on your own and with police during weekend nights. How did you look for subjects and what kind of reactions did you get from the people living daytime Turku?
Harry - When I started the "Battered" project I was actually living in Turku. It is a town of some 230 000 inhabitants including the surrounding areas. I had done many of my previous projects far away from my home so I thought that maybe I should look at my home ground as well. The topic is very self evident in Finland, no one just had done it before. Of course it was difficult to execute. Most nights I was just wasting my time, I didn't come accross any fights. Once you look at them, they become hard to find. And then sometimes you can see many of them during the same night. And certainly I was not able to photograph all the people I saw beaten up, no way. Some people regognized me during the daytime, but it was not a trouble or benefit either. And when the work came public, when it was exhibited for the first time in Helsinki, Finland, it caused a some sort of media reaction and discussion. Then some people regognized me again. Of course then I was living in Helsinki. There are some controversial issues in the work, some ethical questions can be
raised. Minor waves aroused in Finland.
Harri Palviranta©
PH39 - In your street style social documentarism has probably taken you into some awkward situation. Do you explain to people what your project is about or maybe not? Tell us of some of the problems if any, you have run into? Harry - When approaching people with my camera I made it clear that I am photographing them. I never photographed people without a verbal consent. I explained them briefly who I am and what I am doing, and then took the pictures. All the people in the photographs are aware that they have been photographed. There has been some questions whether all the people fully comprehended what my aim was, but this is an issue always. The ethical controverises I mentioned link to this one here. I kind of trusted that the people I photographed were adults and in their full understanding. None of them were fully drunk or unconscious. In Finland it is legal to photograph everything that happens in public space, including people. When publishing pictures there are then some more restrictions.

PH39 - In the past few years more photographers have developed fine art documentary project. You said to me that you consider yourself a socially orientated photographer, can you see a boundary between social documentary and art photography, how you see your work fitting into this?
Harri - This generic categorizing between documentary and art photography is an interesting one. It is kind of a comparative synonym to realistic and fiction. Or to documentary and post documentary. These divisions and separations, they all both amuse and annoy me. I know photographers / artists that do not want to get affiliated with photography festivals or galleries because these are not contemporary art related events or locations, according to their taste and understanding. These same photographers / artists happily take their work to Paris Photo or Berlin art fairs. Here they choose commercialism rather than uncommersially oriented festivals. My position as socially orientes photographer or artist is a reflection from this: I understand art having multiple possibilities in contemporary societies, one of them is a critical voise. I do not want a situation, where art's attractivity gets defined only through its commercial success. Art possesses qualities beyond commercial values, this is certain both from historical or contemporary point of view. To put it another words, I see a kind of boundary between documentary and art photography, also between press and documentary photography or between high quality aesthetic and more thematically oriented photographic art etc, but I would like to see them all alive and well, none of them being descriminated. It just can be that somehow many contemporary artists are afraid of political orientation or biased perspectives, that global economy has redused them to mere economical agents.
I wish art could be more than just a joy.

PH39 - When i met you in Madrid last week we talked about your Phd research at the University of Helsinki, surely a great opportunity to focus more on future projects. Would you mind telling us more about it?
Harri - University of Art and Design Helsinki ( is very high quality University level art and design school, I would say. In photogarphic art it has a BA program, a MA program and an ever developing PhD program. Altogether the photography education in Finland is very high level. The University of Art and Design is going through a great change just now, it is to be changed to foundation owned university instead being only state funded. More likely this means more money, and more research vacancies and funding to practise based art research projects. It is a good place to work. My funding goes until end of 2011. I am a part of larger project called The Doctoral School of Communication Studies CORE. It has researchers from various disciplines.

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