Marja Pirilä - Pictures, Art, Photography

Marja Pirilä

Background Information about Marja Pirilä


About the Work

Marja Pirilä’s atmospheric series “Like a Breath in Light” casts a spell on the viewer. The images present Finland’s lake Nässijärvi in the many moods of natural light. They can be seen as emotional landscapes, whose essence evokes memories of Caspar David Friedrich and the romantic idea that nature presents a mirror to the soul.
Clouds, water, and endless expanse – everything seems to blend, almost dissolve, into one another. The topographic features of the landscape recede and the image space is flooded with a light that shines, depending on the time of day, in glowing red, warm honey yellow or melancholy blue-violet. These emotionally-charged photographs, captured by the artist using a self-made pinhole camera, appear almost as abstract paintings. The monochrome aesthetic and the use of light as a distinct artistic tool lead to parallels with the Colour Field Painting of Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman.
Despite their art-historical allusions, Pirilä’s works are deeply personal. As we gaze upon the landscapes, we are invited to project our own interpretations, and to follow their mood in a meditative trance.

About the Artist

Finnish artist Marja Pirilä gained international recognition for her diverse use of the camera obscura, a tool she has applied to a range of different projects since the 1990s. The theme of her work is always light, whose multi-faceted forms and effects she explores artistically. Her influences include the oeuvre of Cuban photographer Abelardo Morell, who turns darkened rooms into cameras obscura – an approach Pirilä adopts and expands to the concept of mental landscapes in her series “Interior/Exterior”. To Pirilä, working with light also means working with the influence of light on people, on their emotions and their dreams.


Pirilä’s oeuvre is dedicated to the camera obscura and its miniature form - the pinhole camera. The artist explores the possibilities of the medium in her works, focusing her attention not only on the images she creates, but also on the construction of these viewing machines. Together with photographer Petri Nuutinen, Pirilä has built numerous cameras obscura, which can be found on display in both museums and public spaces.
The principles of optics, recognized since antiquity, served as an aid to the renaissance painters who sought to portray perspective. In 1826, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce produced the world’s very first photograph with the help of a camera obscura. As a metaphor for vision, this historical medium has lost none of its relevance, even in contemporary art. It allows artists to explore and experiment with human perception itself. Not least, this gentle, slowed-down method of image production serves as a counterbalance to the instant photography of the digital age.

Daniela Kummle


1957Born in Rovaniemi, Finland
Studied at the University of Helsinki and the University of Arts and Design, Helsinki, Finland
Lives and works in Tampere, Finland


2010Art Award of The Arts Council of Pirkanmaa, Finland
2008Werstas Award, Finnish Labour Museum, Tampere
2002State Art Prize, Finland


The Finnish Museum of Photography, Helsinki, Finland
The Finnish State Art Collection, Helsinki, Finland
Art Museum of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina
City of Turku, Finland


Solo Exhibitions

2015Marja Pirilä. Carried by Light, Almlof Gallery, Malmö, Sweden
2014Carried by Light, TR1 Kunsthalle, Tampere, Finland
2013Milavida, Gallery Katve, Artikum, Rovaniemi, Finland
2013Interior/Exterior, Nordic Light Festival, Norway
2012Herbarium, Gallery Ibis, Vaasa, Finland
2011Speaking House & Interior/Exterior, Gallery La Chambre Claire, Rennes, France
2010I am, Gallery Heino, Helsinki, Finland
2007Speaking Light, National Centre of Photography, St. Petersburg, Russia
2005Interior/Exterior, Finnish Institute, St. Petersburg, Russia
2002Interior/Exterior, Turku Art Museum, Turku, Finland
2001Interior/Exterior, Studio Marangoni, Florence, Italy

Group Exhibitions

2015Within/Without, C. Grimaldis Gallery, Baltimore, USA
2014Nature and More, Kunsthalle Rostock, Rostock, Germany
2014Poetics and Light, New Mexico History Museum, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA
2013Photography into Art: Hannula & Hinkka Collection, Finnish Museum of Photography, Helsinki, Finland
2012Mazzano! – 20 Years for Art, Museum of Estonian Architecture, Tallinn, Estonia
2011Bodies, Borders, Crossings, Governors Island, New York City, USA
20115. Triennale der Photographie, Hamburg, Germany
2009(De)konstruktionen, Fotogalerie Wien, Vienna, Austria
2007Mapping the Unknown, Overbeck Gesellschaft, Lübeck, Germany
2005To Look or to See, Finnish Museum of Photography, Helsinki, Finland
2004Facing East, Bournemouth Photography Festival, Bournemouth, UK
2004Contemporary Finnish Photography, House of Photography, Prague, Czech Republic
2003Photography & Video Art from Finland, Center of Photography, St. Petersburg, Russia
2001Time in Mazzano, Kunsthalle Helsinki, Finland
1999Light, Finnish Museum of Photography, Helsinki, Finland