Renja Leino: About the DIGITAL INVASION, Some thoughts taking
out from my report to IPRN Changing Faces after the recidency
in J.E. Purkyne University in Usti nad Labem, Tzech Republic 2005.
...I felt, that the use of the mobile was in fact the most logical choice to use in my attempt to
study people where ever I was, spontaneously or in a more controlled circumstances. The content of my work
handles the digitalised human being –so latest technology was most convenient to my purpose to emphasise
the content of the work “Absent Minds”. People are staring in my images - they become like faces in foreign
landscapes, absent minds in front of these pixel boxes. In my imagination their brains are slowly been absorbing
by the screen… Where are their minds when the machines so totally are catching their full concentration?
The digital invasion has already happened. There is no way to turn back time to the point before the
digital era. We see this kind of staring faces that I show in my series “Absent Minds” all around us. They
are like new archetypes of human faces. They are recognisable, like signs.
At homes can connections be open to work by e-mail and by mobile. This is a new norm; we are available
to reach at any moment. The private is no longer private, at homes there has to be taken decisions to close
the digital invasion out by closing the connections. When this technique well is in hands at homes it is
natural that children just regard them as a natural thing. They are curious and fearless with them. The
fact is that we are dealing with a completely new invention -just a few years old- and that it creates
new forms of behaviour and habits; our children take it for granted.
Handling all this surrounding technique demands complex skills. To learn these techniques is quite
demanding for an adult. Look at children – they learn by playing. They grow up surrounded by different
techniques. Normally playing at the computer is considered to be good for children as they also learn
new skills and will have better chances later in life in a computerised world. Education to working
culture has to start in early age because of the complexity of our time.
Central question is also who manages to overview the content that comes in to our living room.
Children are good customers of computer games –Entertainment industry is huge. Digital technology
also brings war scenes and catastrophes to our homes by television and by computer in real time.
The children in my images are necessary in my attempt to visualise the situation we are living in:
required skills regarding the computer are the same at work and in private space. Is childhood sacrificed
for profit making in the long run? Because computers are the most important tools in communication –
regarding different working practises but likewise gaming, DVD-technology and private communication –
they become part of the furniture in private homes.
Even social life has changed since the age of computers; there is no necessity anymore to be only
in one place to work in several professions. Having sunbath and to work goes almost hand in hand –
the private and common/ public have begun to mix up. We have lost our intimacy and our innocence
considering the private in this digital era; the mobile phone as a hybrid of communication – also
visual communication – is a mini computer to take along when ever needed. This is bringing unexpected
discoveries for individual understanding, skills and practices in private/ public. Social barriers are
arisen in our countries and the world around us because of the knowledge and skills to use these media.
An interesting question is in what extent a lack of equipment and computer skills is influencing personal
perspectives in the long run in this global economy? In our culture, who can manage with out the newest
technology, with new programmes? In an even wider view: how can a country manage if not having up to
date skills and modern equipment in its use?
Another intriguing problematic to polemisize is to ask the question made in the beginning:
to what extent technology, required skills for it and the developed practices are making the border
between private and public transparent, or are these two to be mixed socially as something new?
Our children are prisoners of the screen no matter about the nationality.
Interview with Agnes Matthias, November 2005:
Please describe your experiences with commissioned work –
did it give you the chance to develop something different from
your former projects?
The commission came at just the right time. I was finishing a
long term project called “Life of Bubble”. A new work
had been developing in my mind during the last year. When I got
the commission to the Czech Republic I was ready to start working.
Of course I hesitated before my first journey – I am not
a straight documentary photographer and therefore I could not
think of working in this way for my contribution to the 'Changing
Faces' project. But I had been thinking about the enormous changes
in working culture and had also experienced them myself. So I
decided to make an attempt at handling this phenomenon both conceptually
What was your picture of the country you were travelling to?
How did reality affect the photographic work in your host country?
I had not visited the Czech Republic before, so I took information
from the internet, I visited homepages of artists, I read a little
about the country, its history and literature. I had received
great emails from my hosts so I felt welcomed. What really hit
me the very first morning in the country was that when arriving
at the academy everybody was busy in front of computers. It was
exactly the same situation that I had left behind in Finland and
that I had observed at the airports during my trip. Up in the
air some people were working with laptops above beautiful white
clouds. All this encouraged me to work on the issue of digitised
human beings. In other words, I aim to use faces with staring
eyes in this series as a metaphor for the changing character of
Where would you see the advantages respectively the disadvantages
of working in a foreign country? Was it a challenge or hindrance
for your photography?
While abroad all senses are open and seeing is fresh. Having
time to think without being involved in normal daily routine is
valuable. It is possible to concentrate completely on work and
to enjoy everything new.
On the other hand language was a problem; that only few people
speak English was a real hindrance for working. I had to leave
out some ideas for this time; to visit computerised homes felt
difficult to work through. Besides, summer was not the best time
of the year for the work I was doing because people were mostly
I was also working on other ideas during my residency –
some hundred images different from the 'Absent Minds' series are
still waiting on negatives and digital files for my attention.
Did you get in touch with traditions and current trends of local
photography? Was that of any impact on your own project?
My hosts made it possible to meet a lot of local artists during
both stays in the Czech Republic. Together with my hosts I visited
several exhibitions, including both huge Prague Biennales and
we often had lively discussions on the art field. In Ústí
nad Labem, at the academy of J.E. Purkyne University, in the Department
of Art and History of Art, and in Prague I had a chance to see
student works. I have a long experience in art education so it
was really interesting to see what the young ones are doing in
the Czech Republic. I liked the atmosphere of working at Ústí
academy very much. There is a strong trend towards digitalisation
and conceptual photography. I found this interesting. It is also
close to my way of thinking so I felt comfortable continuing to
work within these surroundings. I have even included some students
from the academy in my images. “Boy in Wonderland”
brings back many warm memories of my friends in Ústí
When having my public artistic presentation at the university
I also showed some images done with a mobile phone during my residency.
The positive reactions I got from the audience – mainly
art students – encouraged me to continue with this project.
Part of me was still worrying about using a mobile phone, regarding
the technical quality of the images – at that time I had
not done any big proof prints yet – although I felt that
this was the right media to use for visualising my ideas.
At the end of my second visit I also had a public space presentation
at the Billboard Gallery Europe: at the academy we produced two
huge images with the size 2,5 _ 5 m, that were presented on billboards
in front of the academy in Ústí nad Labem. It was
a most interesting experience to see my own works in a city landscape
gathering an audience other than one from the art world. This
fresh way of presenting art gave me a lot to think about; it also
convinced me to work with large size images.
Please describe the process of developing your photographic concept
within the overall theme of Work? What approach did you choose
to get an insight into social and economic structures of your
As I had already been thinking about the technological invasion
via computers into our workplaces and into our homes I felt that
it was a good idea to continue developing this issue even if I
felt uncertain about what I was expected to do. My main problem
was how I could find an adequate solution for visualising this
topic. How could I solve the formula from concept to images, how
could I be clear enough and at the same time leave space for viewers’
My knowledge of the Czech Republic came mainly from the Internet
and from discussions with people I met and of course from what
I experienced when travelling around. Internet cafes are a common
phenomena almost everywhere. I could also deal with my work connections
in the Czech Republic in most places by emails and by mobile phone.
Were do you see the connection between your series on “Absent
Minds” and today’s working culture?
The digital invasion has already happened. There is no way to
turn back time to the point before the digital era. We see this
kind of staring faces that I show in my series “Absent Minds”
all around us. They are like new archetypes of human faces. They
are recognisable, like signs.
Emails, documents and images are sent within seconds to the other
side of the world. In factories processes are controlled by high
tech. In working culture all these techniques have in a way even
accelerated time; perspective of time has changed – and
not all of this is to be considered positive. Time for making
decisions is getting rare. Compare getting back a letter with
trying to get back an email after pressing a button, it is impossible.
There is heavy pressure to get things done as fast as possible.
Handling all this technology surrounding us demands complex skills.
To learn all this is quite demanding for an adult. Look at children
– they learn new skills by playing. They grow up surrounded
by different technologies. Normally playing on the computer is
considered to be good for children as they will also have better
chances later in life in a computerised world. Education for working
culture has to start in early age because of the complexity of
our time. The central question is also who manages to oversee
the content that comes in to our living rooms. Children are good
customers of computer games – the entertainment industry
is huge. Digital technology also brings war scenes and catastrophes
to our homes via television and via computer in real time. The
children in my images are necessary in my attempt to visualise
the situation we are living in: required skills regarding the
computer are the same at work and in private space. Is childhood
sacrificed for profit making in the long run? Because computers
are the most important tool in communication – regarding
different working practises but likewise gaming, DVD-technology
and private communication – they become part of the furniture
in private homes.
Even social life has changed since the age of computers; there
is no problem in being only in one place and still being able
to work in several professions. Sunbathing and working almost
goes hand in hand – the private and common/public have begun
to merge. We have lost our intimacy and our innocence concerning
the private in this digital era; the mobile phone as a hybrid
of communication – also visual communication – is
a mini computer to be taken along whenever needed. This is bringing
unexpected discoveries for individual understanding, skills and
practices in private/ public.
Social barriers are rising in our countries and the world around
us because of the knowledge and skills to use these media. An
interesting question is to what extent a lack of equipment and
computer skills is influencing personal perspectives in the long
run in this global economy. In our culture, who can manage without
the new technology, and new programmes? In an even wider view:
how can a country manage if it does not have up to date skills
and modern equipment to use?
Taking pictures with a mobile phone is a very recent photographic
approach, taking pictures casually, as a kind of snapshot, as
you did, however has a long tradition. Where would you situate
yourself within the visual field between new digital photographic
technology and pictorial traditions?
I work conceptually using a strategy of taking snapshots. The
use of the latest digital media is the most logical one for emphasising
the content of my work “Absent Minds”. A mobile phone
with its incredible multimedia is a wonder of technology. To my
surprise I learned to love pixels and their visual looks, and
the mobile’s own strange way of organising light and colour.
To see these large images produced from a small file is almost
to see paintings. You can see how the digital image is constructed,
how a colour is built. I find this fascinating. For me this has
been a discovery of a new world. On the other hand, it is important
to remember that technique is just a method.
Did the commission give you new impulses for future projects?
Absolutely. I will continue working on this issue. New images
and videos are developing in my mind. Some videos are at the finishing