Marjaana Kella: Reversed Portraits

Woman In a Patterned Chemise, 1997/2002 and Grey-haired Man, 1997/1998
© Marjaana Kella

I believe I first glanced at Finnish photographer Marjaana Kella’s Reveresed Portraits series in an issue of Source Magazine sometime last year. I find myself continuously looking this work up again — in awe at the images themselves, but also very intrigued by what they begin to say.

The closest I’ve come to placing a finger on why exactly I’m attracted to this particular body of work is that, in part, they’re working in a very similar way as my own series Middle Names. Though the work is undoubtedly different, some of the ideas that I was thinking about when creating the series may have some resonance with Kella’s portraits. The images are restrained, blank, and there’s no view of the eyes — “souls” — of the sitter, yet they become strangly emotional and ask for a unique and careful inspection. And then it was what Kella says about the suspense between the ‘internal’ and the ‘external’ in her portraits that really gets me curious (in conversation with Jan Kaila, 2002):

A photograph is dumb and still. That’s why we can observe what’s on display in a very special way. At the same time, we can observe what hasn’t been displayed in it, but which can be guessed at: I mean clues or possibilities that can be found inside the pictures. A photograph is a lot like the image that we see, the image that light draws on our eyes and from the eyes on our brains. But what does this still reflection have to do with so-called reality?

I think a photograph has a reference-like relation to outer appearance, which as such reveals very little about what is inside or about the density of beings.

On the other hand, this is exactly the reason why a photograph can create its own ‘reality’ and broaden our understanding of the world in general.

My photographs are kind of studies of perception and experience, or of the interface between people’s external and internal spaces. I think this is why my pictures make the impression of having been distanced. Since the photograph is my instrument, however, my pictures have to present something through which I can show what is not being represented. That’s when the different surfaces and their relationships emerge, and that’s where I hope to find the suspense between the external and the internal. My different topics can be seen as different methods in my study of these questions.

If you find this body of work interesting, make sure to see this series, where Kella photographs people during a state of Hypnosis.

I’m wondering what’s next from her.


Leave a Comment