Elina Brotherus

Posted on November 23, 2014


On the 12th of November I attended a Study Group meeting in London to listen to an artist’s talk by Elina Brotherus. The talk was held at a gallery in Mayfair – quite a prestigious location!

The group was quite small around 20 and in giving her talk Elina moved around the gallery space talking about specific photographs. This offered a unique opportunity to both see the artists work and listen and watch her engaging with it.

The work on show was from a new series called 12 Ans Apres  in which Brotherus revisits the place of her first residency as an artist in Chalon-sur-Saone in France, when she was 27. She is quoted as saying that  she ‘wanted to see how it would affect me to be in that same place again, after the passage of all those years. It was like an experiment or a time machine: I wanted to confront myself with my younger self, at the very beginning of her career’. The work on show included photographs from the original series Suite franchises and her latest work. There were also some landscapes from her  New Painting  series.


Brotherus’s early photography was largely autobiographical, often made in the aftermath of life changing events, such as her divorce. I studied her work some time ago whilst completing the OCA Advanced course, see posts here.

Brotherus moved from photograph to photograph giving the back story for each work – she seemed quite emotional even sad when talking about her photographs. I asked her if photography was a cathartic process for her. She  said that it was not, rather it helped her to look on her situation objectively and see that it was no different to that of many others. She also said that periodically she takes the time to reflect and to write down a statement of where she was in her life, the good and the bad. She recommends this approach to her students – it can provide a productive source of ideas for future work.

Brotherus seemed very happy to exploit multiple outlets for her work. On show were large exhibition prints, books and a video display. She is also very happy to look again at work and re-present or re-contextualise it. She is currently working with a Dutch book designer to produce a book which presents many photographs from past series in a new way – reformatted in terms of scale and resequenced. She seems to look upon her photographs as raw material for constructing and reconstructing work.

She made a sharp distinction between her autobiographical work and the work in which she uses herself as a model, such as The Artist and her Model. In the latter she appears only as a model and these works use photography to explore conventions in landscape, portraiture and genre painting. I asked whether in her landscapes with figures the place was intended to inform the reading of the portrait of the person in the image. She said that this is not the case and that the figures were placed in the landscape largely to invite the viewer to step into their shoes and contemplate the scene before them. In many of these images the cable release can be clearly seen, so we are offered an image of of a landscape being contemplated by a figure who is clearly also the photographer, who is contemplating both figure and landscape…. Her landscapes (with and without figures) are quite beautiful.

'The New Painting' book cover ©Elina Brotherus

‘The New Painting’ book cover ©Elina Brotherus

Brotherus seems to have an uncomplicated approach to her work. She does not over theorise and allows themes to emerge rather than sticking rigidly to a plan. She stated that it is ‘ Much better to work more and think later’. She also feels that it is better to allow time (up to two years) before editing work – don’t rush to judgement. She regards work made two years ago as her latest project for presentation.

This was an excellent study visit – one of the best I have attended. Seeing and listening to the artist alongside her work was so revealing. Brotherus was generous with her time and came over as very genuine. I had the impression that she was speaking from the heart and not simply restating her press releases! Thanks for the opportunity OCA!