Claire Aho: Studio Works, The Photographers’ Gallery, London

Claire Aho: Studio Works, The Photographers’ Gallery, London

Claire Aho has produced a prolific output, covering editorial, advertising, fashion photography and reportage. From this substantial body of work the selection of photographs exhibited at The Photographers’ Gallery were taken between 1950 and the late 1960s. In the early 1950s, Aho opened a commercial studio in Helsinki. Here she undertook every aspect of the image making process: casting, styling, lighting and developing. This exhibition focuses on her studio work.

When inherited feelings about culture and commerce in those with an industrial heritage are put aside, the composition of the various scenarios is extremely inventive. These compositions when considered outside a commercial context at least hint at the surreal, especially taking into consideration the form of the compositions. An almost overwhelming continuity throughout the work is the intensity of colour. Another is the arrangement of pattern.

Use of intense colour is exemplified in Untitled. (c. mid 1950s) – a photograph that focuses on a bunch of flowers. Pink and purple here are so intense that they glow against the plain background. Owing to this intensity, the entire composition has an unreal quality. This hints at three qualities imparted by all of the work on display: health, opulence and elegance. Paula Coffee and Erikois Beer (c. mid 1950s) speak of these qualities through the use of intense colour and the beauty of the models. Particularly striking here is the form of the compositions, which is finely balanced. Against black backgrounds the female models are captured from surprising but balanced angles holding trays with the items advertised.

Intense colour and female beauty impart unreal health, opulence and elegance in Untitled (1960). Here, a female model looks directly to camera. She wears an elegant, aquamarine ball gown. She seems to be situated in a forest. Here, the unlikely nature of the situation coupled with the intense colour generates the unreal opulence desired.

The same intensity of colour is employed to impart opulence in the photographs in which items of food are captured. In National Eggs at Breakfast campaign (c. mid 1960s) the form of the composition is most striking. A dinner gong stands on the table top in focus and in the foreground to the left. Out of focus, in the background and to the right stands an egg in a cup and crockery on a placemat. The focal dynamism and balance of the composition, taken with the intensity of the colour, grabs the attention of the viewer. Valio Ice Cream (c. late 1950s) features four photographs of ice cream sweets. Again, the use of intense colour seems to make sweets glow with unreal perfection.

In From Cotton Rhapsody catalogue images (1958), Aho employs ingenious methods for displaying complex, patterned materials with extra geometrical complexity. The use of striped material, both in garments, and then as interrelated visual context, comes across with balance and grace. Such comes from the arrangement of the compositions. Outside of this fashion catalogue, this method is employed to the effect of fascination in Fayer Chocolate (c. early 1960s). Here, a female model is shown wearing a black and white striped dress with elegance. She is seated and holds up a wrapped chocolate bar, the wrapping of which is of similar black and white stripes. The unnatural, unreal uniformity of the pattern in both cases is balanced by the curvature of the human form.

Claire Aho: Studio Works, until 21 July, The Photographer’s Gallery, 16 – 18 Ramillies Street, London W1F 7LW.

Daniel Potts

1. Claire Aho, 48.5 x 67 cm, © JB, Courtesy of The Photographers’ Gallery, London.
2. Claire Aho ,16 x 12 inches, © JB, Courtesy of The Photographers’ Gallery, London.