Photography within the range of touch
By Pia Sivenius
Translated into English by Kaisa Sivenius

The origin of speech may be in a lie. As Saussure says, even language emerged veiled in writing, dressed not in words but in disguise. The origin of drawing and the picture, too, are veiled in shadows, but they are the veils of love.

Rousseau wrote as early as the mid-18th century that “visual forms are more varied than sounds, and more expressive, saying more in less time. Love, it is said, was the inventor of drawing. … How she could say things to her beloved, who traced his shadow with such pleasure? What sounds might she use to render this movement of the magic wand?”

“She” is Butades, a young Corinthian maiden who notices, as she is about to be separated from her beloved, that his shadow is drawn on the surface of the wall in the lamplight. Wanting to impress the beloved picture in her memory, she traces the edges of his shadow, marking its outlines. Numerous pictures have sprung out of this old story. In many of them, Butades does not see her lover at all, but with her back turned, traces his figure. Is direct seeing forbidden to the drawer? Perhaps the drawer can only draw on condition that she does not perceive but only almost touches the other’s being – as a shadow. According to Jacques Derrida, making a picture is confessing one’s love of the other’s invisibility. The movement of the magic wand that traces with utmost pleasure does not, however, drop outside the body. The desiring body of the one who traces is there, and the one drawn by the drawing is strangely present as a shadow..

When making her photographs, Marjukka Vainio often uses a photogram at some stage of her work. She exposes matter, parts of flowers or objects directly on a light-sensitive surface. The method goes back to the very origin of the discovery of photography: to light, chemistry and optical phenomena. Any light can be used as source of lighting: a roof light, sunlight, torchlight. The material object that is to be the subject of the photogram must print its shadow on the photosensitive surface. The object itself, the flower or object, must then be removed, in order that the real and the represented might touch each other, like a mirror and a mirror reflection touch each other.

Vanai’s photographs

Ground and figure are the basic pair of photography. No seeing will take place, unless some figure stands out from its ground. Traditionally in photography, the object will have to have been there, reality and the past must be present in the picture. But not necessarily visible. Seeing takes place in the dimension of difference, in discernibility. In order to reach this dimension, as Rosalind Krauss says, empirical vision must be cancelled, leading to a higher, more formal order of vision, something we might call the structure of the visual field as such. And, Krauss stresses, the structure of the visual field is not the same as the order of perception. I would say that the thing to be perceived must be reasoned off the visual field, like a material object is removed in order to make the photogram visible. Only then can the picture’s true range of touch appear..

If we accept that seeing is a form, we can work the concept of ground further. The ground is neither in the background nor is it there to support the things to be photographed. In the works Vanain kaupunki (The Town of Vanai) and Vanain maa (The Land of Vanai), the ground is seeing, a mental image of the locus, the spirit of the place. The ground – intimate knowledge of the town and the surrounding country, expert knowledge of the flora and the movement of light – appears in the picture as a light touch, the feel of the place. It has become a base or foundation. Being in the world, in the Heideggerian sense, is the ground of imagination. The flowers are photographed against the ground, the ground against the flowers, and it is there. The photographs show the flowers there. We see the flower from the front, from behind, and there.


The picture must be distinct, off, in front of the eyes and discernible. To be discernible requires the mark of difference, a brand, a distinguishing feature. It cannot be touched, or grabbed in a hand. Yet the difference can be processed by hand, by experimenting with solutions, colour materials, exposures and masks. The final print of Vainio’s photographs is usually unique, because of the complexity of the process. In this it challenges the mechanical reproduction typical of photographs. The difference in tone conveys power, intensity, even violence and the passion of the picture.

The tone does not follow a train of thought, but leads astray and into the depths. With this I do not mean incomprehensibility, or that reason should be incapable of reaching a phenomenon or a tone. Reason reaches the meaning of the phenomenon, and language links different signifiers into a chain of meaning. Yet the pictures have been disenchained, they are unenchainable. Vainio’s photographs speak of a rotation or a cycle: a flower past its bloom, a tuber nourishing life, a bud awaiting its consummation, a flower voluptuously open. They are full of consolation for the cycle of life. Yet at the same time, each picture breaks the cycle, and time has passed by something.

Even if there be a stage, either a dying, simmering, bursting or blooming stage that reason or memory enchains with the next stage, yet each picture deals with congruence with oneself. The philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy speaks about another sameness (une autre mêmeté), which is not the sameness of identity or meaning.

I would not call this sameness magic; I would rather say that it is magnetic. In Vainio’s photographs everything, by the force of both nature and the spirit, must be linked to its opposite as a condition for its existence. Or, as is often the case, even as an instrument of its existence. The photographs are sometimes provided with lead frames, with the purpose of including an element opposite to the photographic figures that emerge from light or darkness.

The visual angle of the roots

Roots are generally not visible, but once made visible, they speak of the nature of the flower and its superterranean parts. The direction need not always be so that something is brought to light out of darkness. We might also imagine that roots in their darkness see what there is on the “surface”.

The root does not see, but might it imagine the above-ground? Could the above-ground draw the root on condition that it, too, does not see – as if the drawing were a confession of love addressed to or directed at the invisible? The poet Tomi Kontio writes in his poetry collection Taivaan latvassa (At the Crown of the Sky), 1998

     The tree in the garden gave up its eyes,
The roots now hold its dreams, under the leaves.