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Prize-winning photographer Maija Tammi looks for new ways to depict sickness in photographic art

Doctoral thesis ”Sick Photography. Representations of Sickness in Art Photography” is examined 12th December.
'Unlimited Number of Cell Divisions' (2014), a work by Maija Tammi, consists of used radiotherapy masks. Photo: Marc Goodwin.

'I am interested in subjects and areas where looking at a photograph approaches its limits. Depicting sickness in art involves ethical questions about what kinds of pictures may or may not be shown. The disgust or revulsion that may be sparked by the pictures raise the question about why some pictures are so difficult to look at. Both questions reveal what we are like an how we would like the world to be', says photographer Maija Tammi (Master of Social Sciences) about the topic of her doctoral research.

Tammi's research indicates that most previous photographic works depicting sickness focus on the experience of being sick. With her own work Tammi searches for new ways of dealing with sickness. Tammi's artistic research gave rise to two separate work ensembles: Leftover (2014) and White Rabbit Fever (2016). 

Leftover consists of photographs depicting used radiotherapy masks, and a piece of sculpture consisting of 170 radiotherapy masks.  'As a whole the work seeks to deal with illness from outside the patient's experience, on a general level, and to guide attention to the statistical prevalence of cancer and its cultural construction', Tammi says.

White Rabbit Fever presents two timelines: a sequence of a decomposing hare and sequences of the endless growth of biologically immortal lines of cancer cells. 'The work deals with the idea of illness and seeks to indicate the vacillating nature of the boundaries between life and death', Tammi explains.

Each of the two works include both a wider exhibition and a book: (Leftover/Removals, Kehrer Verlag, 2014, and White Rabbit Fever, Bromide Books, 2017).

An installation connected with the wider work White Rabbit Fever is at the Galleria Lapinlahti. Photo: Miikka Pirinen.

Examining the definitions of life and death got Tammi to look at areas which gave rise to a portrait, ”One of Them Is a Human #1”, which was awarded in the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize competition. The work depicts the android Erica developed at Osaka University. 

'In my latest work I have focused on biological immortality, clones, and the definitions of life. Among other things, I have photographed hydras, which are small immortal aquatic animals. In addition I produced the work "One of Them is a Human", which deals with questions of being alive and being human', Tammi says.

Buy the book from the Aalto shop.

More information:

Maija Tammi; maija (ät) maijatammi.com

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