Mervi Autti | Doctor of Arts

Doctoral dissertation

ETSIMESSÄ NEITIKULTTUURI. 1900-luvun alun valokuvaajanaisia Rovaniemellä (2010) [Women on their Own: Single  Female  Photographers  of  Rovaniemi  at  the  Beginning  of  the  1900s]

In her doctoral dissertation, Mervi Autti, D.A., examines the lives of two photographer sisters, Lyyli (1898–1950) and Hanna Autti (1901–1996), who lived in Rovaniemi, on the Arctic Circle. Autti's sources are the sisters’ album photographs. She examines their lives using a microhistorical approach in different ways: the research text, a photograph exhibition and a historical documentary.

In the methodological part of the thesis, Autti develops ways to interpret historical photographs. Her approach is to enlarge details aided by modern digital technology. Through contextualization, their character as representations – rather than reflections of “reality” – emerges. Photographs tell about people’s values and aims, as well as the ideals of each period and culture. Alongside normativity, differences and contrary elements can be seen as illuminating the age in which the photographs were taken. Moreover, photographs can produce history, or be part of history, if they are emotionally strong and/or are distributed widely.

In the beginning of the 1900s, working in the different fields of photography gave women room to draw out the conventional social roles and to emancipate themselves by moving. Rovaniemi, “neither a village nor a town”, was itself undergoing change. In terms of microhistory, Lyyli and Hanna Autti were typical exceptions, although being a female photographer was not exceptional. In her multidisciplinary research, Mervi Autti counts the work of a photographer and assistant as female professions comparable to those of nurse, teachers, postal official and maid.

In addition to having a profession, “Women on their Own” expands the concept of singleness to include all the opportunities women had, as well as the resistance they encountered. Unmarried women lived in a liminal state. The Misses Autti were so-called new women whose photographs call also into question the conceptions of the North as a peripheral and backward area. Their pictures both challenged and complemented the image of the Northern centre. Locally, the photographs dismantle the iconic cliché of Rovaniemi in ruins, an image associated with the Lapland War in the collective memory of the region’s inhabitants.

Mervi Autti defended her doctoral dissertation at the Faculty of Art and Design on 8.5.2010. 

"Auttin neidit" [The Misses Autti]

The photography exhibition ran from 3.5-8.9.2002. It was the main exhibition of the summer at the Provincial Museum of Lapland and for the celebrations marking 10 years of the Artikum House. The exhibition, which consisted of approximately 70 photographs and the interior of the 1920s Autti hall, functioned as a starting point for Mervi Autti's research and an immersion in the primary research material. The exhibition was made in co-operation with the Provincial Museum of Lapland.

"Auttin neidit ikkunalla" [The Misses Autti at the Window]

Mervi Autti directed and wrote the script for a half hour long documentary film consisting of old photographs and archival and fictional films. The script for the film is based on microhistorical research, but writing it has also in itself furthered her research by involving a dedicated exploration of the materials used in the film. What was begun in in the photography exhibition, gained new depth both in terms of the material and her research. "The Misses Autti" has also distributed to the wider audience in Finnish television and several film festivals. The documentary was produced by HDP Films.

Publication details:
Autti, Mervi: "ETSIMESSÄ NEITIKULTTUURI. 1900-luvun alun valokuvaajanaisia Rovaniemellä (2010) [Women on their Own: Single  Female  Photographers  of  Rovaniemi  at  the  Beginning  of  the  1900s]" Enschede 2010. 287 pages. Musta Taide. Acta Universitatis Lapponiensis 116. ISBN 978-952-5818-12-3

Mervi Autti, D.A.