Teemu Mäki – Photography

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How to Be a Woman or a Man or Something Else? (2003–)

Be Your Enemy (2004–)

Relativism Is Absolutely true (2000–2001)

Self-Portrait (1995–1997)

Death at Work (1988–1994)

Christmas Never Comes (1994/1999)


hilkka eklund 1   hilkka eklund 2

How to Be a Woman or a Man or Something Else? (2003–) is a photo series where I portray women and men of different ages, convictions and professions.

In the series I try to make visible the internal and external struggle people go through when they try to live with the male and female gender roles our culture has produced. Some of us just try to fit to the expectations, some try to modify the given roles and some directly rebel against them. My premiss is that these roles have very little to do with biology and thus what I'm investigating is a cultural, social, political and philosophical struggle for identities and empowerment. Gender roles are products of culture and that's potentially both an oppressive and emancipatory fact.

The oppressing side is that as gender roles are created and defined in by social and political forces, they can be – and usually are – as unequal, as unfair as any other structure in society. A stereotypical gender role in this sense is almost automatically a prison, that restricts a person's personality and/or enables him/her to restrict other peoples personalities.

The benign and emancipatory side of the same thing is that a person is not at the mercy of his/her biological or cultural gender, one is not "born to become a man (or a woman)", but can instead understand that his/her gender identity was and continually is formed by culture and s/he can and should take the steering wheel in this process – to be an active subject, not a printout of cultural prejudice.

The other main theme in the series is mortality. For us humans, sexuality is a gift from mortality. In the spirit of Georges Bataille I’d put it like this: Only discontinuous beings, like us, who don’t procreate by splitting or multiplying themselves, only we have need and use for sexuality. And it’s only our kind of beings who have this double relationship with death. We don’t want to die, at least we tend to try to postpone it, and yet without death we would not be and would not have the kind of passions we have.

The photographs are extremely detailed, as I've shot them usually with a large format camera, using 10 x 12,5 cm slide positive film. The exhibition prints are usually of the size 160 x 128 cm or 100 x 80 cm, either dipped in plexiglass (Diasec) or mounted on aluminium with traditional wooden framing.

At the moment there are about 50 works in the series, but as some of them are diptychs, triptychs or quartets, all in all there are now about 80 pictures in the series. The number of people photographed for these works is now 64.

As the big format camera requires the models to sit or stand as still as possible, the end results in a way are quite similar to traditional portrait painting. The poses, props, somewhat allegorical compositions and monochrome color backgrounds that I've used in many pictures also relate and refer to painting, which was my first artistic discipline. On the other hand this long series of fully lit and super-detailed photographs equally belong to the tradition of documentary and topological photography.

I've been exhibiting parts of this series in solo and group shows in museums and galleries in Finland and abroad since 2004, for example in Photographic Gallery Hippolyte (Miten olla mies tai nainen?, Helsinki, 8.2.–3.3.2013), Kunstihoone Gallery (Kuidas olla mees või naine?, 7.8.–31.8.2014), Kuntsi Art Museum (Who Are You?, Vaasa, Finland, 13.2.–24.5.2015), MUU Gallery (Transgender, Helsinki, Finland, 24.5.–26.6.2018) and Mikkeli Center of Photography (Miten olla mies tai nainen tai jotain muuta?, 22.8.–21.9.2019).

At the moment I'm preparing a photographic book about the seriesMiten olla mies tai nainen ja kuolevainen? / How to Be a Woman or a Man or Something Else? — with Parvs Publishing. To be published in Autumn 2020 or Spring 2021.


An overview from Photographic Gallery Hippolyte, Helsinki, 8.2.2013.

A view from my exhibition Kuidas olla mees või naine?
/ How to Be a Woman or a Man?
in Kunstihoone, Tallinn, Estonia, 2014.

With the central panel of
The Kiss – Portrait of Katariina Katla and Anna-Liisa Kankaanmäki
in Kuntsi Museum of Modern Art (Vaasa, Finland, 2015).


In June 2003 I did a photography workshop, BE YOUR ENEMY, for children and teenagers in eastern Helsinki. It was funded and organized by KIASMA (Contemporary Art Museum) as a part of their subURB festival of urban culture. In the workshop I the task for each participant was to make a self-portrait in three photographs, in other words, a triptych. In the first photo one was to pose as one's idol. In the second photo one was  just to be and reveal unpretentiously the mundane normal self. In the third photo one was to pose as one's enemy. I helped and guided and a team of three pros (a photographer, a make-up and wig specialist and a costumer) helped each participant to fulfill his/her visions. In the end I myself did the assignment too.

Over forty triptychs have been made in the Be Your Enemy workshops that I've conducted with art historian / curator Arja Elovirta since 2003.

Kuntsin Modernin Taiteen museon tiedote BE YOUR ENEMY -näyttelystä helmikuussa 2015:

"Ole vihollisesi -sarja alkoi Kiasman järjestämästä lasten ja nuorten valokuvatyöpajasta vuonna 2003. Lapset ja nuoret tekivät siinä kolmiosaisia omakuvia Mäen ja Arja Elovirran ohjauksessa. Kolmiosaisissa omakuvatriptyykeissä tekijän ihanneminä on aina vasemmalla, arkiminä keskellä ja painajaisminä (tai vihollinen tai inhokki) oikealla.

Ensimmäisen työpajan tuloksista innostuneena Mäki ja Elovirta järjestivät neljä työpajaa lisää vuosina 2003–2005 Suomessa ja Venäjällä. Työpajojen tuloksista koottu laaja näyttely on ollut esillä kahdeksassa taidemuseossa Venäjällä (Pietari, Moskova, Novosibirsk, Petroskoi, Arkangeli, Murmansk) ja Suomessa (Vantaa, Tampere). Kuntsin modernin taiteen museossa kuvat tulevat esille laajempana valikoimana kuin koskaan aiemmin.

Teoksissa näkyy miten erilaisia käsityksiä meillä on moraalista, politiikasta ja siitä, mitä on hyvä elämä. Roolileikin varjolla kuvien tekijät saivat mahdollisuuden olla tavallista rehellisempiä ja uskaliaampia ja kertoa avoimesti mistä unelmoivat ja mitä pelkäävät, keitä he unelmissaan ovat ja keitä painajaisissaan. Yleisöllä on sama mahdollisuus, sillä kun näkee muiden ihanne- ja inhokkiminäkuvia, innostuu ehkä pohtimaan myös omiaan.

Näyttelyn aikana Vaasassa järjestetään myös uusi Be Your Enemy -työpaja, jossa syntyvät teokset ovat esillä Vaasan Taidehallissa 21.3.–12.4.2015.

bye-saara-luoto-idol-400pt.jpg  bye-saara-luoto-normal-self-400pt.jpg  bye-saara-luoto-enemy-400pt.jpg

Saara Luoto's Be Your Enemy -triptych; her self-portrait as her idol (farmer), as her normal self and as her nightmare self (school shooter).

bye-iiris-iskala-idol-85pt.jpg bye-iiris-iskala-normal-self-85pt.jpg bye-iiris-iskala-enemy-85pt.jpg
bye-saara-luoto-idol-85pt.jpg bye-saara-luoto-normal-self-85pt.jpg bye-saara-luoto-enemy-85pt.jpg
  bye-arja-elovirta-idol-85pt.jpg bye-arja-elovirta-normal-self-85pt.jpg bye-arja-elovirta-enemy-85pt.jpg 

Testing Your Ideals and Identity



A work in progress (2000–). Photo diptychs about how everything is relative.




(In These Pictures the Artist Teemu Mäki Personifying the Divine Purposes of Life)

Photographs, texts, a mirror, 1995–1997, overall size 400 x 400 cm. On text panel on in the pile of photocopies: THE SACRED DISHWATER, which has been translated to Finnish, Russian, Bulgarian, German, Danish and Italian. The theme is another biblical task: "Name your essential roles – or modes of being – the ones you can't deny or escape. Learn to embrace them, to the extent that you can call them divine."

The pictures are titled:
1: Self-portrait as Bataille's eroticism.
2: Self-portrait as a culturally male. Weightlifter.
3: Self-portrait as a culturally female. Femme fatale.
4: Self-portrait asan artist. Photographing my dead grandmother (father's mother) on the day of her burial.
5: Self-portrait asyou. The mirror.
6: Self-portrait as a procreator of life. Helping my wife to give birth to our daughter.
7: Self-portrait as a devourer of life. Meat my brother.
8: Self-portrait as a rational verbalizer. The Sacred Dishwater.


A multipartite work in progress since 1988, photographs, texts and a mirror.

An early overview of This Is My Family, a part of Death At Work, Museum of Photography, Helsinki, Finland, 1993, 165 x 1000 cm

Excerpts from This Is My Family and from other chapters of Death At Work. Click on the images to see the larger versions:


DEATH AT WORK is a multipartite work, not a series. I wrote about its construction principle in 1994:

"Most of my photos are multipartite works and consist not only of photos but also of texts. I have meant the texts and images to be of equal value. The texts are inside the works, they are not press releases, background info or introductions to the "actual" works, the pictures. Neither are the images illustrations of the texts, instead, the content of the work is meant to be built from the collision of images and texts.

Multipartite work is not a series, series being a very common concept in the tradition of photography. A series usually consists of  a set of variations on a theme. Typical names of serieses in photography are titles like Irish landscapes, or Prostitutes of St. Petersburg. From a serial work you can pick an extract and it can stand on its own, even though it is thought that the full meaning of that extract only becomes visible when the whole series is shown. I have not made serial works at all, instead I have made multipartite works, that rely completely on the idea of montage, on the idea that a collision of pictures produce a meaning that can be far removed from the meaning that any isolated picture could have. That's why you can not show extracts from a multipartite work."

There are approximately 70 pictures in the whole work, at the moment. About 75% of the pictures in this work are black and white photographs, most of them  40 x 30 centimeters each (with passe-partout and  frame 73,5 x 56,5 cm). They are printed on fiber-based Ilford Multigrade 1k photographic paper and treated with selenium toner for maximum archival quality. The color photographs are usually sized 73 x 56 centimeters each (with frame 73,5 x 56,5 cm). They are cibachrome prints. As the work is so large, it has never been exhibited in its entirety, even though it's meant to be an undivided whole. The compromise I've made has been exhibiting extensive "chapters" of it, the most frequently shown chapter has been This Is My Family.


A photo and a text. Occasionally exhibited with an audio CD of music, Ein Tod Folgt dem Andern, thus forming a triptych. The size of the photo and text panel is 40 x 30 cm (74 x 57 including the frame. My atheist/relativist version of the Ten Commandments of the New Testament. I only came up with nine anyway. This piece was central to my early work: its photo and/or text popped up again and again in various installations, performances, musics, videos and multidisciplinary pieces.

  A piece of music by Teemu Mäki and Max Savikangas.
(6'30, included in the double CD: Max Savikangas – Extraterrestial, UUCD102, 2003)
The lyrics of the music are a modified version of Christmas Never Comes:

"A death follows another death. Christmas never comes.
The presents have already been given.
Everything you can own is inside your skull.
Know your enemy from your friends:
You don't need any thing that you don't already have.
You are not dying of hunger, so how meaningful your life is to you
depends, not on what you do but on what you think.
Consumerism's comfort doesn't make you come but says instead:
"Don't worry, be fatty, you're not ill, you just need a sleeping pill!"
Christmas is a celebration and promise of eternal life and happiness...
...but only mortality gives us the possibility to project personal purpose
and meaning onto our lives in a meaningless world.
And to be alive is to be in pain.
Death at work    =    life."