Review written by Sophie Balhetchet. Published in Photomonitor in May 2021.
"We Shall See - a photo zine by Aino Väänänen - is a restrained, disquieting response to the strange days of the pandemic. It creates an atmosphere - a mood, a sense of stasis in liminal spaces. There is a kind of beauty in the desolate images of northernmost, empty urban edges; an unwavering consideration, but little comfort.
Before Covid-19, Väänänen’s practice has focused on documenting the marginalised and excluded - trust gained through her discreet proximity resulting in compassionate, unwavering portraits and documentation of the lives of the disenfranchised. Having only just returned to live in a remote part of Finland, the virus engulfs and Väänänen embarks on a journey to capture the effects of Covid-19 in rural Northern Scandinavia, but when on the road she slowly comes to realise that what she was working on was more personal than she had originally thought. 'I had returned to the country I was born in and was having to face all these feelings that I’d suppressed when I’d left and there was no way of escaping them. I wasn't at all prepared for that. I felt I was too close to my project. I couldn’t find the words for it.'
In terms of embodied experience, Covid has altered our spacial and psychic relationships to others and to ourselves. Väänänen has found imagistic and textual equivalences in this zine for the perceptual shifts - the dislocations - caused by this pandemic. She invites others to supply their words about themselves and about her images: Max Wahlström in Helsinki writes about his shifting state of mind; Mikko Väänänen offers a poem, a couplet in Finnish. Nick Hagan in Oxford listens to disembodied voice messages left by Väänänen and writes his own riff on her road trip: Vanishing Point.
All the photographs in Väänänen’s series, she came to realise, fell into two groups; two focal lengths: 'clear and more detailed distance’, so the artist as curator wanted to extend the focal range, choosing Jason Little because of the way his black and white images of New York City capture the ‘vast emptiness’ of lockdown; and Mark Arrigo’s 'intimate distance’ - a swish of hair, cut fruit, fallen petals - a suggestion of the intense close scrutiny and saturated colours of Dutch still life painting.
The cumulative effect of We Shall See is disorientating: as if our hearing has been muffled, and our eyes must adjust to low light. The few figures in We Shall See are seen only in the far distance, or obscured by hoods and helmets and turned away from us; except for three... of Väänänen herself, taken with a remote shutter release in small towns in furthest Lapland when ‘time seemed to stand still’:
An interior: a drab impersonal room, she’s barefoot on a sofa wearing an outdoor hat; milky winter light - the gaze held but stunned.
A close-up to camera - direct, tired, present, unadorned.
And then a mid-shot of the artist turned in profile, draped in a reddish transparent curtain which seems to glow in artificial light.
Is it veil or filter?
Shroud or chrysalis?
The double meaning of the title comes into view : will we come to clear sight, or renounce to fatalism. We Shall See compels us to consider both possibilities."
- Sophie Balhetchet