PGDB Shortlist: Esko Mannikko

It was seeing the work of Elina Brotherus which won her the 2000 Finnish Photography Prize that first prompted me to take a deeper look at Finnish photography, and to write a feature about it at the start of 2001. Before then I think most of us had thought of Arno Rafael Minkkinen as the only Finnish photographer. Esko Männikkö was not among the almost 30 photographers I mentioned in my feature, nor did I feel it necessary to add him when I revised it a few years later.

This isn’t an opinion that the work on show at the Photographers’ Gallery would cause me to revise. There is something deeply wrong when the most interesting thing I could think of to write about is the frames (and these are not very interesting) and the fact they are hung without space between them, apparently his ‘trademark.’ Though not it seems in Berlin.

But I have actually changed my mind rather about him as a photographer, not because of the pictures on show, but for the book ‘Mexas‘ (1999) included in the corridor display at No. 5. This must qualify for some kind of award for the worst colour repro in recent years, looking like a comic book version of poor inkjet printing. More like the kind of thing we got in the 1950s than modern publishing. For $75 I expect more, although Photo-Eye, where you can see a few pages from it, thinks differently, writing “The printing, done in Finland, is lush.” But despite this I found the work impressive.

At least one of the pictures from this book is in the show, ‘Simon, Batesville’ and on the wall – like the other works – is impeccably printed there. In fact the most positive thoughts I had about his work on the wall was about the quality of the printing, particularly in the still life works.

Batesville, Texas, near the border with Mexico is the location for many of the pictures in ‘Mexas’ and in particular some very impressive panoramas (as Gary Michael Dault remarks in one of the two introductory essays, “The panoramic works are the key“.) My advice is not to waste too much time looking at his stuff on the wall, but to take a good slow meander through the pictures in this book.

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