EQUALS (1996)

Photogravure Portfolio
12 photogravures
Seven folded sheets
Metal box with a silk-screen printed logo
Edition of 10 copies

According to the text in the portfolio, Puha’s early, subtly toned series of photogravure prints, Equals (1996), is based on a dream that Puha had just had. It is about two snakes, a grass snake and a python, and their relationship, in which they each eat the other, while, at the same time, through the fable being about the end of a couple relationship. The series of picture shows the relationship between its protagonists via dreamlike images, sensitively and, at the same time, boldly. In the pictures, alternately, and occasionally together, two beefy, naked men appear in various faun-like postures. We notice in the pictures that Puha has not just scanned images from a Classical sculpture collection. The Adonises of Robert Mapplethorpe’s and Bruce Weber’s photographs have presumably contributed familiar imagery, too. The homoerotic undertone of this picture series is evident in the images through which Puha brings to the fore the genre that he has made his own.

The figures in the pictures in the Equals series do not flirt directly with the viewer: the poses seem to occupy another space, the eyes closed, shielded by the sidelighting, with the embrace scenes seen from behind. To my mind, the fascination of these pictures series lies in their intimacy, in their tasteful inhibitedness. The black-and-whiteness of the pictures offers the subjects of the photographs protection. The meanings of the Equals series are divided between the individual pictures. The images refer to similarity, equality and uniformity – and, on the other hand, to defiant preservation of individuality. The two men, with their gestures and postures, partly act as mirrors of each other. This can occur between the individuals, in a kind of mirror-identification: I love my own self-image in you. Some of the images are negative, some are positive images of the same pose. The satyr-like postures, the figure in the foetal position, and the mutual intertwining and interlocking interpret reminiscences from the course of the relationship, concealed within dreamlike images.

Jacques Lacan, in his famous article about the mirror-stage, about the event in which a child understands its own separateness and begins to form an image of itself as an individual agent in relation to other people and to visual presentations, wrote: “We have only to understand the mirror stage as an identification, in the full sense that analysis gives to the term: namely, the transformation that takes place in the subject when he assumes an image – whose predestination to this phase-effect is sufficiently indicated by the use, in analytic theory, of the ancient term imago.”

One way to think of this is that we are constantly updating ourselves for the surrounding visual culture – artists in particular do this when seeking their own visual and discursive ways of being. Puha, in fact, describes his way of working as follows: “In my artistic work I investigate and analyse the life of the modern individual – especially their body image, identity, gender roles and consumer behaviour. The starting points for my works are, almost without exception, personal experiences and feelings. Added to that, I draw influences from popular culture and everyday aesthetics.”

The questions posed by the Equals picture series are fundamental, if quietly aesthetic. Puha’s relationship with the people he photographs can, in fact, be described as a post-masculinist sensibility. The pictures act more at a distance than Puha’s subsequent forthright, camp-spirited excursions, albeit seasoned with humour and a critique of consumer culture. Leevi Haapala, Museum Director, Kiasma (Full text available on the book Tero Puha:Almost Human – Works 1995-2010.)

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