When the Blackbirds Return

Laura Konttinen

2019 - 2020

Salem, Massachusetts, United States

"When the Blackbirds Return" is a collection of images from my journey to a strange little town looking for a long-lost house.

It all began when I found a photograph from my late grandmother’s album. The photo, taken in 1920, depicted a house in a small American town, where my grandmother was born to a Finnish immigrant family. This little town became only a dormant memory in my family passed down in brief anecdotes and not much else. I, however, started to nurture an obsession to the house – I treasured it as a nostalgic, second-hand memory, a mystery heavy with hidden meanings waiting to unfold. Now, almost 100 years after the photo was taken, I took it upon myself to find the house again and explore the ethereal mystique surrounding it.

The series documents my journey in Salem, where I find flourishing abandoned cemeteries, blank facades only made of absence and coincidentally, the very same blackbirds that appeared as messengers of death in a story told by my grandmother. And finally, my journey ends at the house where everything started a century before.

Instead of building the illusionary images with Photoshop, I create my works by constructing surrealistic maquettes for the camera by hand. Each image is assembled over several days or weeks with delicate craftsmanship using photographic prints, pages from vintage books, clay or even 3d printed polymer objects. Through carefully considered camera angles and lighting, the miniature constructions turn into illusions of a wondrous world, where stories and memories flourish, unrestrained by the passing of time.

"Making of" videos of this project: https://vimeo.com/458998869 and https://vimeo.com/459422488

The project was realised in the scope of Parallel Platform and with the support of Alfred Kordelin Foundation.

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  • "The Air is Heavy with Awnings", 2019
    Cemetery triptych 1/3

  • "Hidden in Nostalgia", 2019
    Cemetery triptych 2/3

  • "Blackbirds", 2019
    Cemetery triptych 3/3

  • Original photo from the artist's grandmother's photo album, circa 1920, from Salem, Massachusetts, unknown photographer

  • "Framing of a Street", 2019

  • "Witch Hill", 2019

  • "Cave Without ", 2020

  • "Leather Fields", 2019

  • "The Great Fire of Salem", 2020

  • "The House", 2019