About the Photographer
German, b. 1976
Birthe Piontek’s series, The Idea of North (2008), originated from her ten-week artists’ residency in the former Gold mining town Dawson City in Yukon Territory, an isolated place in the wilderness of northern Canada. The project takes its title from pianist Glenn Gould’s famous radio show from 1967 for which he recorded the voices of five individuals describing their experiences of Northern Canada. Piontek, like Gould, is attempting to capture the essence of a place through the individuals who live there, to leave an impression, to reflect its intricacy, and to discover where the reality of the place brushes up against archetype and expectation.
Portraiture is the foundation of Piontek’s work. All of her subjects are shot alone, resulting in images that automatically convey a sense of isolation and sometimes loneliness, even oddity. She is frank about having been inspired by David Lynch, specifically his television series Twin Peaks. Like Lynch, Piontek demonstrates an aesthetic preference for portraying people in dramatic light and endowing each composition with a sense of eerie foreboding. Her subjects appear well-worn, their expressions contemplative. Their clothing and makeup are sometimes bizarre or ill-fitting. There is often a palpable sense of idiosyncrasy. As a cast of characters, they represent a broad range of ages, occupations, and situations, but set within Piontek’s aesthetic some similarities emerge: they appear more eccentric than mainstream, more strong than weak, more at peace than troubled.
In describing the series, the artist says, “The work is about the North, the idea we have of the North, but in the end it is about a place we seek most of our lives. It is a place we carry inside, and if we’re lucky enough, find in ourselves. It’s the place where you feel the sense of belonging, freedom, quietness, and happiness, or simply just have the feeling of being content. The North attracts a lot of people who are actively looking for this feeling, and a lot of them seem to find it here.”
Birthe Pinotek completed her MFA from the University of Essen in Communication Design and Photography in Germany. Her work has been exhibited internationally at festivals and institutions such as Focus Festival, Mumbai (2017), Aperture Foundation, New York (2017), Flash Forward Festival, Boston (2016), Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (2016), and Museum for Applied Arts, Gera, Germany (2010). Her project The Idea of North won the Critical Mass Book Award (2009) and was published as a monograph in 2011. She was nominated for Foam Paul Huf Award (2008), the AIMIA AGO Award (2014), and was shortlisted for the Edward Burtynsky Grant (2016), among others.