Ananya Tanttu


December 2017

Interview conducted, edited and transcribed by Kush Linfield.

K - We are going to be featuring some of your work in our upcoming issue titled Adorn. When I say the word “adorn”, what comes to mind?

A - Somehow I associate the word with an offering that you make. To adorn is not a mundane decorative action. Rather than make something more beautiful than it already is, it is simply to honour the beauty of something.

K - When we approached you to feature on the next issue, you mentioned that by complete coincidence you already had a project in the works titled Adorn. Could you speak on that?

A - That’s right. I had spoken to another Finnish artist, who works with ceramics and textiles, about a collaboration on the same theme. With my photography I was hoping to bring a human presence to her work. Much of her recent work has been inspired by forms in nature and the ornamental structures you might find in a forest (like foliage). We were planning on incorporating that into the adornment of the human body rather than a space.

K - I understand that you were raised in a very artistic family. Both your parents are respected creatives in their field. How has this contributed to your work?

A - I was and still am very blessed to have so much support and inspiration and a family that never questioned artistic pursuit. There was never that usual parental line of questioning: “Is that going to be profitable? Can you make a career out of this?” In that sense I never had to compromise.

“There was a time when I always had a camera on me and every moment was a potential moment to photograph something or someone.”

K - Was there a specific moment in your life that made you realise that you wanted to pursue photography?

A - I saw this question on your phone earlier and was glad because I knew I could at least answer one question. When I was 15 I spent a summer in northern Italy working on a film set that mainly consisted of friends and family. Naturally the atmosphere was joyful. I had taken one of my parents digital cameras with the idea to play around with it when I had the chance. I didn’t have any grand aspirations. But the more I was trying to capture certain moments or details, the more frustrated I would become not being able to perfectly capture what I wanted. The more frustrated I became, the more fascinated I was with the whole process.

K - You’re saying that the frustration of not being able to create actually drove you further? It is often the other way round with impatient people such as myself.

A - Yes in a way. Of course there were highlights, mini moments of success, that made me feel like “I got this!” and gave me the encouragement to go on. I think if it was all frustration, I wouldn’t have bothered. So as soon as I got back home I ended up testing out most of the various cameras lying around the house. I spent the following years training my eye and just taking way too many photos. There was a time when I always had a camera on me and every moment was a potential moment to photograph something or someone.

I - At that time, what served as a guideline for your photography? Whether it was a photographer or a feeling, what inspired you the most?

A - Around that time I did see some exhibitions that made a big impression on me but it was only as I got older that my inspirations became more clear cut. The main thing that really drove me was the desire to simply create an original image that was true to my experience of the world. Not necessarily in an individualistic way. I wasn’t aiming to tell a story. It wasn’t a journalistic reportage of my life. I just happened to be taking pictures of my family and friends because they are central to my existence. Some people would definitely see those photos as a very romanticised, rose-tinted portrayal of youth. And in a way they are. Maybe that is also part of my intention.

I - I have only now realised that a strong element in your work is that feeling of frustration. Do you think it is still present to this day?

A - More than before. It’s not always a good thing. But it’s a different kind of frustration. It’s a frustration of not being able to reach certain subtleties that I feel I can’t even articulate. I don’t even know what it is that I’m trying to capture sometimes. So it’s a matter of trying to reach something that’s not just a “good photograph”, one with all the elements in place, but one that speaks to the viewer in a way that they may not even understand. I'm not looking to create images that speak to you through concrete symbolism like something politically charged or overly provocative. But photos that may resonate with someone even if they are of a very personal origin.

“I am always striving to give beauty and meaning to my own life but none of it is my creation. I’m only a spectator to it all. I am someone who is occasionally given the opportunity to bring some of this beauty into a little spotlight.”

K - Could you name one or two photos that may have achieved what are you talking about?

A - I think it would make sense to talk about a body of work rather than one specific photo.

K - For example, your series “Fate”. That’s a personal favourite of mine.

A - The first thing my professor said about Fate was, “Do you realise that this topic is not visual?” Because even difficult, abstract concepts that have been frequently depicted over the years have developed a certain kind of imagery that we are familiar with. We are used to the kind of images that are linked to sexuality, for example. But something like Fate has much less attached to it. Only a fraction of people even believe it exists. Especially in Nordic culture which is so far removed from any kind of belief in anything. Nature is the only thing that some really believe in; which is beautiful. But the idea that there is something conscious that guides us through this life is unheard of. The possibility that we can perceive the material world around us as presenting symbols to guide or hinder us is something I wanted to explore. My intention was to awaken more questions than give any answers because I never expected to find or have any answers. That was stimulating because it was an exploration that could continue to evolve and mature for as long as I’m creating. It’s an ongoing process.

I - If you could choose just two photos from this series, which would they be?

A - The two staircases was a random and intuitive pairing that I particularly like. But I'd rather not explain them. I'd prefer to let the images speak for themselves. With most of my work I never felt that I was some kind of mastermind or that it was completely my doing. I feel like I’ve only ever been guided and pointed in the right direction. So very often I find it hard to claim ownership or even put my name under the work. I am always striving to give beauty and meaning to my own life but none of it is my creation. I’m only a spectator to it all. I am someone who is occasionally given the opportunity to bring some of this beauty into a little spotlight.

K - Ananya is an uncommon name, particularly in the West. Its meaning ties nicely into our discussion. Could you translate it for us?

A - Ananya in Sanskrit literally means “oneness”. It can be used to describe the oneness that one can achieve with the universe. It may be a little ambitious but I hope to one day be able to convey this feeling of oneness and the wonderment of existence with my photos.  

K - I would argue that you have already achieved this. Thank you Ananya. We are very excited to embark on this journey alongside you and honoured to welcome you to our roster of artists.