Maija Tammi is a Finnish artist and Doctor of Arts whose main media is photography. She began as a journalist but expanded her repertoire from journalism and photojournalism to art photography. This background seems to nuance her art as there is a strong feeling of research and looking at her subjects from unique perspectives. She also regularly collaborates with scientists. Tammi’s work has been exhibited internationally and she has three published books.

By combining art and science she is able to create a strong yet indescribable link between the arousal of thought and imagination her work provokes in the looker and hard scientific facts. There always seems to be many sides to each theme and the idea seems to be to evoke feelings. Her work stimulates the viewer to reflect their reactions to the art be it fascination or disgust. One cannot escape what the pictures stir inside (and this is rarely what was expected).

Tammi’s conceptual work One of Them Is a Human (2007) is a thematic continuance to her previous work in terms of looking into being human and humane. On this occasion she has photographed three androids and one plausible human. All the portraits are very human like bar some telltale signs of manufacturing. The whole subject immediately creates a “oh, I get it!” reaction in me, but then I find that I begin to think more about the theme and that the more I think the more difficult it is to grasp how I actually feel about androids and moreover, what they are and will be in relations to us humans. I end up feeling insecure, confused but yet calm. This combination of feelings is strange yet it is an excellent example of Tammi’s ability to create art that arouses vast amount of feelings in the viewer but ultimately these feelings are controlled by Tammi herself. The subject creates feelings of uncertainty and a great deal of questions about technology’s influence on our lives, yet the portraits are taken in such a way that makes the subjects familiar to us. As if they were taken of humans.

Maija Tammi’s exhibition at Huuto Gallery, Helsinki, Finland. March 2017. Photograph by Miikka Pirinen.”

One of the portraits, Erica (Erato Ishiguro Symbiotic Human-Robot Interaction Project) was awarded in the Taylor Wessing photographic Portrait Prize 2017 in which it reached third prize as well as the John Kobal New Work Award, which is awarded to a photographer under the age of thirty-five.

Initially, when the photo was included in the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition and shortlisted for the award its subject created a fair amount of debate. The controversy arose from the award calling for photographs “taken by the entrant from life and with a living sitter”, which Erica clearly was not. However, this juxtaposition turned out to have a decisive influence in the result of the competition as the judges’ comments reveal: “During the judging process, only the title of each portrait is revealed. It was unclear whether the girl was a human or an android, and this ambiguity made the portrait particularly compelling. Tammi’s portrait offers a provocative comment on human evolution.”

So, it seems I’m not the only one pondering over questions that Maija Tammi encourages via her work.


Liisa- Maija Malinen


Read also Maija Tammis´ artist interview here


References: winners photographic-portrait- prize-2017-
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