Last Updated on 11/17/2017 by Joy Celine Asto
One of the strengths of conceptual photography is its appeal to the imagination through story-based imagery. In this day and age where everything has already been done, a concept doesn’t need to be something perplexing or completely unfamiliar. The most moving concept can also come from a distant past, as today’s featured photographs by Finland-based Mika Suutari demonstrate.
The concept behind Mika’s latest body of work, as the title Times of Epidemics suggests, is actually pretty straightforward. It recalls or reimagines what it must have been like to be a doctor during an epidemic in the medieval ages. Still, it proves interesting for anyone who has not yet heard of the Black Death or Bubonic Plague, more so the titular doctor in this set.
Perhaps, the most iconic or enduring image of one of the darkest times in human history is the plague doctor. These medical physicians who treated victims of the plague donned a special costume that we often only see during the Carnival of Venice: bone-white mask with glass eyes and a nose that resembles a bird’s beak (filled with herbs and aromatics as protection against the “bad air”), a dark, heavy robe or overcoat that served as a protective suit, and a cane to examine and direct patients without making direct contact with them. Different from the town physician, they were only allowed to treat plague victims and not allowed to interact with the general public to avoid spreading the disease.
Now, it becomes obvious why Mika chose to build her concept around the Black Death. These details alone make fascinating elements for Mika’s visual narrative.
Mika has a penchant for shooting during the most dramatic times of the day, either in the misty mornings or the eerie evenings. This preference definitely shows — and works — in the setting for Times of Epidemics. From here on, we can piece together its story. A plague doctor makes these solitary walks close to the town where he was hired, making sure to avoid contact with people who are free of the disease. The result is a dramatic visual tale born out both history and imagination.