Sandra Kantanen

Sandra Kantanen (born 1974, Helsinki, Finland) trained both at the Helsinki School of Photography and the Central Academy of Art in Beijing. Sandra Kantanen writes, ‘I have been trying to understand Photography by dissecting light, what is in front of the camera? Where is the picture being recorded? Is it a picture of reality? What is real? I started combining photography with painting to see what photography is not. Landscape ended up being my backdrop to address these questions. I went to China to study Chinese landscape painting. I climbed up and down their Holy Mountains for many years to find a picture that was inside my head. The Chinese landscape tradition contained a unique way of looking at nature that was in stark contrast with the state of real nature in China today. Eighteen years later I am still photographing landscapes but have learnt to see pictures closer. The Forest smoke works series is photographed just five minutes from my home. The way I work now is more intuitive, and at the same time more complex. I follow the weather, light, time of day, time of year. I see details in the dense forest more clearly. I have very recently discovered snow for my pictures. To me the snow works like a kind of paint of nature. Wherever I go on this narrow peninsula I stumble upon remnants from the war - it was left scattered with landmines. I have staged these forests with smoke bombs. The psychedelic colour of the smoke detaches the landscape from reality, forcing the viewer to look closer. I wonder if trees can carry a memory’.

Her photographs literally look as if she is painting with light. One senses in her work old values of a slower way of life, her interest in Tibetan Buddhism – yet the hints at chaos with the occasional wash of colour, the blurring, the distortion, the mix of techniques that would have been heresy to traditionalists, seem to accept that there are flaws not only in man-made thinking patterns, but in nature itself, and even in her ‘idealised’ vision of it.

A former pupil of the celebrated Helsinki School of Photography, two major monographs on her work have been published by Hatje Cantz in June 2011 and May 2019.