Finnish Photographer Jaakko Kahilaniemi Leads an Impressive Crop of Unseen Talent Award Nominees

    Working with British artist Isaac Julien, the five nominees contemplated the question of what makes photography distinct today.

    Alexey Shlyk (l) and Jaakko Kahilaniemi (r), winners of the 2018 ING Unseen Talent Awards.

    Since its introduction to Unseen Amsterdam six years ago, the ING Unseen Talent Award has become one of the most prestigious awards for young photographers in the world. The careers of previous winners, including Andrea Grützner in 2017 and Thomas Albdorf in 2016, have blown up since their respective wins, landing their names on many a “artists to watch” list.

    Now we can add another name to those lists: Jaakko Kahilaniemi. The young Finnish photographer (b. 1989) was crowned the winner of the 2018 ING Unseen Talent Award Jury Prize on Thursday evening at the official kick-off for this year’s event.

    Jaakko Kahilaniemi, Fistful Of Peace (2018). © Jaakko Kahilaniemi.

    He was chosen from a shortlist of five nominees, each of whom was tasked with making a new body of work that addressed this year’s theme: “New Horizons: Exploring the promise and perils of the future.”

    “We see many artists looking through trying to see what’s going to happen to our society in the future,” says Emilia van Lynden, artistic director of Unseen Amsterdam. “Photography is a very accessible medium to be able to tell those stories—that’s why this year’s theme feels so salient.”

    The five artists were coached by this year’s resident mentor, renowned British photographer and filmmaker Isaac Julien. Julien worked with the nominees over the course of several months, meeting with over video chat to discuss their works in process.

    The main thing that came out of this process was a conversation about what makes photography distinct today, in this moment where everyone is a photographer,” says Julien, who’s also showing work at Unseen. “The problem with photography is this idea that it’s still a unique experience within contemporary art. That uniqueness has been eroded, and these artists are aware of that. They’re all looking at the history of photography and are very aware of the big questions. They’re also aware of the current moment. There’s a kind of sensitivity to being part of a generation that’s bombarded with images. They realize that they have to somehow make their images unique in some way.”

    Eva O’Leary, No Whip (2018). © Eva O’Leary.

    Kahilaniemi, who is based in Helsinki, explores environmental issues in his work, namely the commodification of nature. The body of work he created for the Talent Award, “Nature Like Capital,” features landscape photos overlaid with computer-made graphics that hint at the human history behind the scene. With the prize, he will be given $11,775 (€10,000) toward a new project.

    The environment has long been a subject of interest for Kahilaniemi, the son of a forester. When he was eight years old, the artist inherited 100 hectares (roughly 250 acres) of Finnish forest land. The responsibility would, in the years that followed, prompt him to reexamine the relationship between humans and the natural world.

    “Through my work, I came to realise [sic] how humans are using nature as capital,” Kahilaniemi said in a statement. “This year’s theme, New Horizons, brings me to the idea of future—how I could interact with future. People are starting to think more about their environments.”

    Alexey Shlyk, Methane trap (2018). © Alexey Shlyk.

    Kahilaniemi was chosen by a jury composed of Chris Bedson, senior art director at Calvin Klein; the FT Weekend Magazine’s director of photography, Emma Bowkett; Sanne ten Brink, the chief curator in charge of the ING Collection; Florian Ebner, the chief of photography at the Centre Pompidou; artist Fiona Tan.

    This year’s nominees make up a diverse group. Alexey Shlyk, (b. 1986) from Belarus, also has an environmental bent to his practice, focusing on the second lives of recycled materials. Shlyk was the second big winner of tonight. He was awarded Unseen’s Public Prize, as voted on by people online, and will receive a commission to create a new piece for the ING Collection.

    David Biro, Front End No 13 (2018). © David Biro.

    Pauline Niks (b. 1982), the only Amsterdam-based artist of the bunch, takes a conceptual approach to documentary photography. For the award, she explored the world of homemade firearms, particularly those created on 3-D printers based on models freely available online. While Dávid Biró (b. 1992), a Hungarian artist, makes images that look computer generated. His work “looks at how we can trust media, how to trust the images that have been disseminated and how to be able to read them,” says van Lynden.

    Finally, Eva O’Leary (b. 1989)—a recent Yale MFA graduate who splits time between New York and Ireland—traffics primarily in portraiture, examining the performance of identity, especially in young girls. Earlier this year, she was awarded the Hyères Festival photographie grand prix—the latest in a long list of accomplishments for the promising young artist. O’Leary is also showing with Meyohas Gallery at the Fair.

    All five of the artists’ works will enter the ING collection.

    Pauline Niks, Homemade AR 15 (2018). © Pauline Niks.

    Unseen Amsterdam is on view September 21–23, 2018.


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