Review: Icy Prospects by Jorma Puranen


Book Reviews, Photobooks


It might come as no surprise to see that a Finnish photographer would produce a portrait of arctic landscapes that involves ice. More specifically: a portrait of the arctic landscape using ice itself to create images. Even more specifically - and actually accurately: a portrait of the arctic landscape that looks as if everything was frozen in ice. In reality, the images in Jorma Puranen’s Icy Prospects were produced by painting wooden boards with high-gloss acrylic paint and by then photographing the light reflected from their surfaces.

It has lately become fashionable to compare photography with paintings, or to talk of “painterly photography”, and Icy Prospects surely invites such comparisons. Of course, it might invite also the kind of scorn that someone heaped on this work when I linked to the photographer a little while ago, and a blogger complained about how - supposedly - contemporary photography only produces “boring landscapes”. Boring they indeed are - if (and only if!) your idea of a landscape photograph is to provide you with eye candy, a quick visual thrill that does not require any further reading. However, once you start to study these landscapes, a whole new world is opening up, regardless of whether you begin to realize the variety of effects caused by just one technique (reflection) or whether you start to see the differences in compositions and the effects that has on the mind.

A smaller number of images in Icy Prospects show reflections of the surfaces of paintings. The occasional gem notwithstanding, these lack the visual power of their “icy” counterparts, since the technique never manages to move beyond visual gimmickry. But this is a small complaint about a book by a Finnish photographer that opens up a different photographic world. Finland has a very vibrant photography scene, and I’m very glad Icy Prospects - not the first book about Finnish photography done by German publisher Hatje Cantz - expands our view of what contemporary photography is about.

Icy Prospects, photographs by Jorma Puranen, essay by Liz Wells, 144 pages, Hatje Cantz