Sofia Okkonen’s tactile photography reflects on the beauty and fragility of the world

The Helsinki-based photographer lenses topics such as biodiversity, motherhood and pollination.

Date
18 August 2021
Reading Time
4 minute read

Over the last year, Helsinki-based photographer Sofia Okkonen has been reflecting on the fragility of the natural world. And, as the IPCC report announced its global climate projections, this inquest comes at a vital time: things are looking pretty bleak, what with the increase in floods, fires and rising temperatures across the globe. In response, Sofia has been using art to look at the “chronic anxiety and recovery from apocalyptic outbreaks” – topics such as insect infestations and the collapse of the earth’s biodiversity. “The decline of pollinators and the shrinking bee populations as a result of biodiversity loss are intertwined in the work’s background with issues of public debate on fertility, reproductive pressures, the budding fever to have a baby and the looming, doomed visions of the future,” she tells It’s Nice That. “How do we safeguard interspecies partnership and coexistence? What is good and true?”

Sofia has always nurtured an interest in the field of photography. After receiving an MA from the Aalto University School of Design and Art, she went on to work in a studio and on commissions for fashion and commercial projects. Over time, she garnered attention for her output and ended up participating in group exhibitions across Europe, including Villa Noailles in France, Organ Via Photo Festival in Croatia and Vienna Design Week, among others. Most notable is a solo exhibition named Rose, held at the Finnish Museum of Photography in 2017, with works looking at the performative nature of gender, which she regards as “one of the most important steps in [her] career path”. This – alongside various studio projects and working with clients such as Monocle, Marimekko, Flow Festival Galeries Lafayette, Gender Equality Price and Finavia – has impacted the aesthetic of her work over the years. “Although I have been working in the field of photography for a long time, I still feel like I am at the beginning of my career,” she adds.

At first glance of Sofia’s portfolio, you’re immediately hit by its tactility. Her colour and tones give the work an almost vintage feel, as if torn right out of a 90s fashion magazine. And other times, it’s hard to work out whether the image is a painting or photo. This can be seen throughout her past works as well as the new. In Rose, she looks at gender and the “manifestation of stereotypically feminine qualities through the posing of young anonymous female characters”. Visually, the imagery is strikingly rustic through its grainy texture, but this is paired harmoniously with a vibrant colour palette of deep red, mustard yellow, stark black, dusty pink and green. “The simple studio space emphasises the position and mental landscape of the future depicted,” says Sofia. “She is not outside confronting the world, but a prisoner of her own interior.”

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Sofia Okkonen: Rose (Copyright Sofia Okkonen, 2016)

Throughout the entirety of her practice, Sofia has long drawn a lens on her own relationship with motherhood, procreation and children; “my desire to attach and love”. She adds: “At the moment, my artistic work is also inspired by the materiality of photography and the process of turning the image into a physical object.” Because of this, Sofia has started to experiment with processes and digitally printing her work on a canvas. “I have also recently been inspired by butterflies and butterfly metamorphosis; turtle eggs, the cyclical nature of the female body, fertility and its symbolism, the colour pink, Greek islands and reality shows where women drink and fight.”

In her more recent body of work, Honey, Please, she’s delving into the topics of environmentalism and sustainability, which arose after witnessing an abundance of baby faces on her Instagram feed and fertility treatment advertisements popping up on Facebook. Naturally, babies under the age of one became her muse, posing on set with their mothers – all of whom are either friends of hers or acquaintances. “My encounters with babies involve a kind of wonder on my part. I explore and watch, I stroke, I experience tenderness and simultaneous alienation,” she notes. After developing the imagery, the final phase of the project involved transferring the images into the physical realm via two-metre tall creatures made out of fabric. “As a whole, the juxtaposition of babies and insects is based on the idea of interspecies and dependency (for humans – the insects will be fine) and thus an attempt to put the species on an equal footing for consideration.”

There’s plenty to unpack in Sofia’s photography – the type of work that evokes thought from the viewer about her choice in materiality and process. But as we start to query her methods, more so should we begin to look deeper at the topics she explores. Art can be crucial when it comes to spreading awareness in the digital age, and Sofia’s work is no exception to that. “I wish my work could touch dimensions of the mind that words cannot reach,” she concludes. “With all the visual bombardment, the mere fact that the viewer stops and quietens down in front of my work or my image is an achievement.”

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Sofia Okkonen: Rose (Copyright Sofia Okkonen, 2016)

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Sofia Okkonen: Rose (Copyright Sofia Okkonen, 2017)

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Sofia Okkonen: Rose (Copyright Sofia Okkonen, 2016)

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Sofia Okkonen: Collection photo for Maria Korkeila (Copyright Sofia Okkonen, 2021)

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Sofia Okkonen: Honey, Please (Copyright Sofia Okkonen, 2020)

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Sofia Okkonen: Honey, Please – Baby on a Pedestal (Copyright Sofia Okkonen, 2021)

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Sofia Okkonen: Honey, Please (Copyright Sofia Okkonen, 2020)

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Sofia Okkonen: Rose (Copyright Sofia Okkonen, 2017)

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent the last seven years as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.

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