Laura Nissinen – lecture

Having been aware of the Abstract! 100 Years of Abstract Photography, 1917–2017 exhibition, curated by Laura Nissinen, is was great to take part in her online lecture for the course in July.

The course information relating to Nissinen stated: She holds a BA (hons) in Photography from the University of Sunderland, an MA from the Helsinki University of Art and Design, and is near completion of a PhD at Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture in Helsinki. Since 1998, Nissinen has worked as a press photographer and journalist, photography teacher and lecturer, and as a photo-based artist and researcher.

I became aware of Nissinen in 2017. In fact it is a year to the day that I wrote my previous post: – but now having heard Nissinen talk about her background and work, I felt as if I was listening to myself speak at times.

I too have worked as a journalist and photographer and, as Nissinen says in the lecture, her friends have referred to her as the “mad science woman”; similar to how mine have described me. She refers to herself as a “curious cat” and that is something I can most definitely relate to.

And her desire to gain more from her photography is reflected in my decision to start the MA. I wanted to find my photographic roots again.

Her passion for research is also an element of my MA that ties back to my own natural nosiness. Harena Now has required vast research into the global sand crisis. Without it, for me, the beauty of the abstract images I make gains power through the background story.

Nissinen’s own abstract images are created in a variety of ways such as Aleatory Variable. For this the work developed out of water damaged negatives. And rather than be sad about this damage, Nissinen saw it as an opportunity for change.

As part of this series, Nissinen also burnt black and white film with a match. Again, I felt a connection between my use of expired black and white paper.

I haven’t gone quite as far as using urine as Nissinen did in This Ones for You, Andy. But I am keen to find new ways to create new work in future.

Nissinen points out her disagreement with a MoMA Highlights 1999 quote in relation to abstraction. The quote she uses states: “Completely indecipherable photographs are quite rare and usually quite boring”.

As my research is also seeking to understand how abstract images can be used to promote individual/social change for the better, and to counter act any potential “turning away” from distressing subject matter, I also disagree with the MoMA quote.

If we learn to really look and peel back the layers, I do not feel an image always has to be so self-explanatory no further inquiry is needed.

Viewers at my Harena Now shows commented on how the visual lure of my work drew them to it, and when learning of the reason for the images existence i.e. a response to the global sand crisis, it added a deeper layer for them.

I agree with the idea that science photography has shaped abstract photography. Taking my recent discovery of cathodluminscence and its similarity to the results I make is an example of this.

Nissinen also shared examples of how abstract imagery is used in non-gallery settings, particularly the work of Finnish artist, Nanna Hanninen.

Fig. 1: Hanninen, 2009. Electric powerplant of Kuopio: Version in Red 2009
Print on polymeric pvc film clear with uv inks, permanent installation on glass
Kuopio Employment Office, Kuopio (FI)

Given that had I had the finances to do so, I would have created an outside installation for my work, I found this fascinating. It is something I plan to look into in future – and hope to connect to organisations with vision and the desire to not always play safe with art.

We had the opportunity to ask Nissinen questions as part of this lecture.

I asked how she felt people responded to abstraction in photography, particularly when it is imbued with ethical, theoretical, philosophical points of view.

In response she said representation and abstraction are neighbours, not opposite; it is just one way to be. But mostly people were puzzled or found humour in her work, along with: “Abstract photography demands knowledge. You can not create abstract images without knowing how to work against the system.”

Having never been one who fits easily within ‘systems’ perhaps this is why I am naturally drawn to working in ways that try to push the usual way of seeing the world around us, and the impact our species is having on it.


Figure 1: HANNINEN, Nanna. 2009. Available at: [accessed July 31].


Abstract! 100 Years of Abstract Photography, 1917–2017Available at: [accessed July 31].

Nissinen, Laura. 2018. Falmouth Flexible online lecture. Available at: [accessed July 31].