Work To Be Done | Photography exhibition review

By Luisa De la Concha Montes

★ ★ ★ ★

Last weekend, Ffotogallery launched their latest exhibition “Work to Be Done”, a visual meditation on gender stereotypes in Europe. The collection showcases the work of Beta BajgartJohan BävmanKatrina NeiburgaMikko Suutarinen, and Nella Nuora.

The exhibition starts with Johan Bävman’s “Swedish Dads”, a series of portraits depicting dads that have decided to take time off work to be with their children for six months or longer. The focus of Bävman’s work is intentionally dichotomous; on one side it aims to depict the fathers as natural subjects in the home environment, but on the other, there is a tint of awkwardness, humour and performance in the photographs. Bävman’s portraitures aim to make the audience question their own notions of paternity and family: Do we see these images and read them as unskilful and clumsy because the subject depicted is a father, and not a mother? Do we read them as unusual because we are accustomed to see a female subject performing these tasks?

Bävman’s vision not only allows us to ask ourselves these questions, but it also triggers an emotional reaction of nostalgia and remembrance. His pictures let us see ourselves reflected in these images, which makes us remember our own experiences with our fathers, creating an emotional journey that helps us think about the boundaries of paternity. This is further emphasised by the fact that each photograph is captioned with the amount of time each dad has for paternal leave, making it all about the imposed temporality of the father-child relationship.

There is one picture that specifically caught my attention: it depicts a dad sat on what it seems to be the floor of a partially finished kitchen. He looks directly at the camera while his child looks at the toy in the father’s hand. The reason why this photo made me stop was because the folds on the t-shirt the dad is wearing make it look as if it says “I am a womb”; it doesn’t matter whether this was intentionally done by the photographer or not, what matters is that the phrase resonates on the viewers like a statement that sharply sums up what Bävman’s work is really about: the subversion of the gendered notion of childcare.

The following collection is titled “Midwife”, this documentary project, conceived by Nella Nuora follows the work of Mikko Tarvonen, as he works as a midwife –a job that is generally associated with women. Nuora’s photographs find the ideal balance between acting as a visual medical record of what goes on in the maternity ward, and as a social record that aims to reconstruct the notions of gendered medical roles. One of her strongest photographs depicts Mikko’s shoes. On the right, we can see his work shoes, on the left we can see his normal day shoes, and in the middle, we can see him wearing a pair of colourful socks. In such simple terms, Nuora managed to depict his identity through the dual roles that he has to play every day, as a civilian, and as a midwife.

The next section is the longest collection of the exhibition, “A Women’s Work” by Beta Bajgart is a series of portraits depicting women who have chosen a career path in unusual or predominantly male professions. This collection uses similar visual tropes to August Sander’s People of the Twentieth-Century (which was recently exhibited at the National Museum), so it can be read as a modern reconstruction of Sander’s photographic tradition. By setting each woman in the work environment, and with attires that reflect their tasks, Bajgart creates a mosaic narrative that subjects the notions of femininity to a completely innovative reading. From a rally driver to a chess player, the variety of careers that Bajgart has chosen to depict make the audience aware of the great number of jobs that are still male-dominated. However, her depictions also serve as a visual document of how far the women’s rights movement has come.

The layout of the exhibition works in such a way that Bajgart’s work can be read as a preface to the following collection, “Truckers” by Mikko Suutarinen. This collection doesn’t focus on multiple narratives of womanhood like Bajgart’s does; instead it expands on a single case study, the lives of female truck drivers in Finland. The deliberate use of dimly lit scenes and long exposures immerse the viewers into the nocturnal world of truck drivers; emphasising the expansiveness and isolation of the road. By intercalating portraits of the drivers with images of the landscapes and of the driver’s day-to-day life, Suutarinen manages to depict the subjects intimately, proving that female intimacy does not have to fall into the stereotypical notions of sexuality to be effective.

The final collection is the most experimental of them all. Katrina Neiburga’s work consists of a video installation that can be divided into two sections; the first consists of black and white shots of the interactions she has with customers as she acts as a taxi driver, and the second one consists of informal interviews she held with female taxi drivers. All of the fragments are taken in the moving environment of the taxi, and the angle of the camera allows us to get a glimpse into the city through the windows of the car; making the viewers feel like they are being taken somewhere. When these fragments are seen as a whole, her work serves as an eclectic visual dialogue that opens up conversations about the intrinsic sexual politics that exist in the act of driving, and the issues that arise when driving becomes a profession.

The reason why this exhibition works so well is because it imitates the nature of the current debates around gender roles; there is not a strict answer on how we should shape our modern-day societies after the advent of feminism, neither is there a single narrative that can truly encompass the complexity and challenges of subverting gender roles. Instead, since we are currently living in a historical moment of de-construction and re-structuring, it makes sense to have an exhibition that visually documents the tensions and challenges of gender. The name itself, “Work to Be Done” it’s not simply a reference to the professions and jobs depicted, it also serves as an underlying metaphor to the unfinished nature of social debates surrounding gender roles.

This exhibition will be open at Ffotogallery from the 28th of February until the 4th of April.