Exhibition Review: Claire Aho, Minimalism With A Wink

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Claire Aho, Advertisement for Viikko Magazine, 1959

Claire Aho was was a colour pioneer in commercial photography running her own studio in Finland. The Photographers’ Gallery in London explores Aho’s work between the 1950s and 1970s revealing a photographer with a sophisticated  eye for the telling power of detail.

Who?

Claire Aho, a pioneer of Finnish colour photography. Director of The Photographers’ Gallery Brett Rogers says that Aho’s “pioneering vision and innovative approach to colour re-energised editorial and fashion photography in Europe during the mid-50s and late 60s.” The press release also compares Aho’s work to “contemporary artists such as Roe Ethridge, Michele Abeles, Owen Kydd and Bryan Dooley whose staging of the image serves to re-examine the language of editorial and advertising photography.” In other words, Aho’s images makes us aware of how images are constructed.

Claire Aho, Untitled,  c. early 1960's

Claire Aho, Untitled, c. early 1960’s

What?

The work focusses on her studio work between the 1950’s and 1970’s – Scandy-Modern. Aho strips the image back to the product, the model, the colour. The images have the feel of a tableau, a silent scene in a play where actors are motionless, that notion referred to in the press release as “the staging of the image”. It’s knowing. I’m not familiar with the economic and social sate of post-WW2 Finland but Aho’s work has a self-conscious consumerism. The images feel like pastiches of the language and codes of advertising and editorial images. Elegant, sophisticated and eccentric.

Decisive Moment?

The exhibition begins with Aho’s Fashion work, in images that mash linear, graphic severity with dresses that bustle freely from the waistline.

Claire Aho, From Cotton Rhapsody Catalogue, 1958. Courtesy Photographers Gallery.

Claire Aho, From Cotton Rhapsody Catalogue, 1958. Courtesy The Photographers Gallery.

 

Minimalism with a wink. A wholesome, colour-co-ordinated and angular kind of domestic futurism. Perhaps because Aho was a pioneering woman in a male-dominated industry, she brought a subtle psychological spin to the advertising templates aimed at women.

 Claire Aho, From Cotton Rhapsody Catalogue, 1958

Claire Aho, From Cotton Rhapsody Catalogue, 1958

 

But it’s the moment when nature is revealed in all its photographically manufactured, artificial, beauty. Who needs flowers? Say it with pictures.

Claire Aho, Untitled, c. mid 1950's. Courtesy, Photographers' Gallery

Claire Aho, Untitled, c. mid 1950’s. Courtesy The Photographers’ Gallery

Trend?

There is some engaging naturalistic kids and family commercial photography at the moment. But there’s also work by photographers such as Megan Maloy, which explore heightened, highly expressive emotions of children, and while wholly engaging, her images also ask questions about what we expect from portraiture. A hard trick to pull off.

Aho’s product images, in this case a fridge, gives the theatre of childhood an oddly fairytale feel not through dress-up but simply through a reduced colour palette – Red, White and Green. And it makes the Fridge which occupies the corner of the image with its whiteness and ‘cyclops eye’ feel bizarrely animate – a Doctor Who character. There are smart, simple ways of pushing advertising photography of domestic life into interesting spaces.

 Claire Aho, Compressor Refrigerator, c. early 1950s. Courtesy Photographers Gallery

Claire Aho, Compressor Refrigerator, c. early 1950s. Courtesy Photographers Gallery

Which Image? Which Room?

There’s a woman wearing a pattern for a dress, peering out of the corner of her eyes at a man kneeling beside her. He too, peers out of the corner of his eyes, up at the woman, his arms flexed fully holding a pole above his head. He is a human hanger. I would choose this this picture, and hang it by my bedroom wardrobe, reminding me that  style isn’t about ‘cool’, it’s about fun.

Claire Aho, Courtesy The Photographers' Gallery

Claire Aho, From Cotton Rhapsody catalogue, 1958. Models, Unknown female & Rami Sarmasto. Courtesy The Photographers’ Gallery

 

One question for the Image Maker?

It says on your website that while running your studio you “remained in complete control of the space, commanding every stage of the production from casting, styling and construction of sets to liaising with designers, manufacturers, magazines and advertising agencies.” Is that degree of control and management of the creative and production process what it takes to get a great image?

Claire Aho l Advertisement for Me Naiset (We Women) Magazine, 1959. Courtesy The Photographers' Gallery.

Claire Aho l Advertisement for Me Naiset (We Women) Magazine, 1959. Courtesy The Photographers’ Gallery.

Claire Aho runs at The Photographers Gallery London until July 21

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