Artist profile: Maija Tammi

Maija Tammi:  “Any tiny disturbance in one’s state of being is a success”

Maija Tammi, photograph: Miikka Pirinen

Photographer Maija Tammi is a Finnish born, internationally esteemed photographer whose work is known for its scientific approach to life and death and the unseen in between. Last November Maija Tammi gained acclaim by her photograph One Of Them Is a Human #1 (Erica: Erato Ishiguro Symbiotic Human-Robot Interaction Project), which was, somewhat controversially, awarded at one of the most prestigious photography awards in the world, the Taylor Wessing photographic Portrait Prize 2017 (Third prize and John Kobal New Work Award).

Tammi’s background is in photojournalism and in 2017 she completed her doctorate in 2017 from Aalto University, School of Arts, Design and Architecture. Her work has been exhibited worldwide in group exhibitions in the US, Germany and the UK and her solo exhibition White Rabbit Fever has toured to Finland, Italy and Japan. I wanted to learn more about this fascinating artist and what drives her. I was lucky enough to get an interview from her in the midst of her busy schedule.

Why do you do what you do?

I desire to do art but most of all I feel very lucky, and that is something that drives me to give something back to the society in the form of art. I am very aware of my privileged position as a white, Scandinavian artist, who has an extensive grant system available, safety net from the state, and a large circle of very supporting friends and family.

Could you tell me a little bit about your background and how you have arrived to this point in your career?

My background is in journalism and photojournalism, which are both things I still sometimes do. Through sort of a coincidence I ended up making a practice-based PhD in Arts. I get pleasure and also inspiration from academic research, which is entangled, with my artistic practice. Gaining more understanding (academic or journalistic) makes art making even more fascinating and rewarding. I see, both art making and doing research, as investigative practices.

Describe your creative process.

I create in two different ways, mostly in parallel; both take a lot of time but in different ways. Sometimes I develop the concept so far into detail that the execution (the actual shooting of photographs or video) is very brief. Other times I take a looser approach, a theme or a theory I want to investigate and the actual physical making is exhaustive as I start photographing or taking video of everything in all the imaginable ways and then simultaneously start editing down and finding what it is I want to say.

As I look at your art I get the idea that your work is essentially a study to humanity. Your photographs raise various kinds of feelings and make one think. What do you wish to adduce through your work?

I am fascinated by the physical and abstract places where seeing approaches a limit. When we turn our gaze away or feel like we are seeing too much, I find that reveals a lot of our thinking and generally being in the world. That is why I am drawn to themes of mortality, immortality and bordering instances of them, like sickness.

What do you want to achieve or bring about through your art?

If I am able to make viewers rethink, reframe or find new ways of thinking about living, being human or being in the world, I am extremely happy. Any tiny disturbance in one’s state of being is a success.

How do you choose your subjects?

For me making one artwork gives birth to the next one, and they all circle around the same themes, taking different forms or perspectives, sometimes also challenging each other, hopefully evolving towards a fresh understanding of life.

Who or what has had the greatest impact on your career as an artist?

There are many curators and collectors I am deeply grateful for, but the biggest impact has been other artist in different media. For example the movie Five Obstructions reframed my thinking of making quite profoundly.

You have a great deal of experience from the international art world and your photos have been exhibited widely. How have you build your international career?

Attending festivals, competitions, and conferences, humble networking, and a lot of luck.

What next? What can we look forward to from you in the near future?

I am still engulfed in the theme of biological immortality (not getting old), and I am currently working in collaboration with a professor of biology Robert B. Silver with Hydra, which are small fresh-water creatures that never age and can also clone themselves. The work also looks at the science making and questions our superiority as humans over other creatures.

I, for one, cannot wait to see more of Tammi’s work in the future. For information and pictures of Maija Tammi’s previous art I highly recommend her website:

Read also a blog post from Maija Tammis´ exhibition ” One of them is a Human


Interview by Liisa-Maija