Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty


The second part, Sleeping Beauty, is a study of ageing, of the logic of old age and the art of giving things up. It is from among old women that she finds the fairy godmothers for Sleeping Beauty, people with the capac­ity for sharing their experience and wisdom freely with others.

Sleeping Beauty deals with the frailty of existence and the strength of man. The series had its start in several discussions with women of 75 to 90 years of age in the winter of 2003. The result was silverised imaginary portraits of wise aged women. In them Ms. Partanen sounds the secret of active old age, the elixir of life, the stone of wisdom. The works combine the traditional manually processed black-and-white image, the icon silverising technique and the illusion of tridimensionality characteristic of Ms. Partanen’s photographic art.

Artwork from the series Sleeping Beauty, 2004, mixed techniques, size 78 x 120 x 6 cm.

Who is Sleeping Beauty?

To learn more about old age, Jaana Partanen began visiting the old women repeatedly to chat about the things that were most important to them: their life his­tory, its joys and sorrows, its fulfilments and pains. They also spoke to her of friendship, sexuality and literature, as naturally and straightforwardly as only a person who has lived for nearly a hundred years can speak to another person.

These conversations helped the artist to form a pic­ture of the personal qualities of each of the women. Each had her own source of inner strength and her own means of coping with all the trials that befell her. One would approach them with a sense of humour, an­other with humility, and so on. These were the means that had helped them to cope earlier in their lives, and they relied on them in their old age, too.

It was through these conversations, too, that the Sleeping Beauty sequence began to take shape. She photographed the women in their own home surroundings, using black-and-white film, large-sized negatives and studio lighting, as this seemed as obvious for photographing old people as snapshots had done for families with children. They then discussed ideas for their presentation and modified the pictures accordingly. Again the original backgrounds were cut away to leave only what were regarded as the essential elements.

Artwork from the series Sleeping Beauty, 2004, mixed techiniques.

Is this what the end of life is like? Can one not be happy in old age?

Teos sarjasta Ruusunen, 2004, sekatekniikka, koko 58 x 115 x 4 cm.

Artwork from the series Sleeping Beauty, 2004, mixed techniques, size 63 x 63 x 3 cm.

We feel ageing in our bodies and it is visible to others, but the soul does not age, it merely matures. A long life gives one a new breadth of vision and teaches one to be more tolerant, more kind and more liberal. Jaana Par­tanen’s Sleeping Beauty grew in the wisdom of her fairy godmothers, from the gift of their experience of life. The women she photographed remained her friends after the work was completed, even though the new times brought new projects with them. The theme of old age in fact left her in peace only after the Crystal City had seen the light of day.

Crystal City

2004, three-part video installation, looping

Crystal City is a video installation that deals with the beauty of frailty. It is formed of old, used and gilded glass ware with cracks, scratches and fissures. In the video work dishes fall, crumble, grow together and rise again.

On the video white fingers cased in gloves step cautiously ahead in ruins of broken pieces. The work has its origin in the Iraq war that shook the world, the destruction of an old and fragile culture. Crystal City cuts the same aesthetics of destruction as the Again (Uudestaan) video work: man builds and time breaks up, again and again.

Crystal City, video installation, Iisalmi, 2004. Photo © Hannu Miettinen

Crystal City, video installation, Finnish Museum of Photography, Helsinki, 2007.

How easy it is to break something that already has cracks in it

Crystal City, video installation, Kouvola Art Museum Poikilo, 2018

Is our life just one big misunderstanding?


Jaana Partanen

Partanen & Lamusuo Ltd