Sandra Kantanen (born 1974, Helsinki, Finland) trained in photography at the Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture, Helsinki and later at the Central Academy of Art, Beijing, where she studied painting. 


Sandra Kantanen's photographs depict a natural world in metamorphosis. In her practice photography and painting unite to continually destabilise the eye. By mastering light’s most subtle photographic qualities and blending in alternative digital processes, she creates images that perfectly balance a meticulously crafted chaos of colour, distorting, blurring and brushing..  Kantanen’s recent series of distorted still lives of Flowers bring nature within the confines of the studio. Made with the use of a large-scale scanner and long exposures, they evoke the explosive colours and compositions of historical Dutch and Impressionist floral paintings. The distortion emphasises the allegorical movement of time, a pointer to both the art historical reference and nature’s slow dissolution.


'Sandra Kantanen's work is intrinsically linked to both photography and painting. The areas reminiscent of brushstrokes emulate the signs of a painter's physical presence. On the other hand, the marks alluding to ink blots bring to mind the mechanical action of a printing press. At the same time, these marks neutralize the moment in which the photograph was literally taken from this world. The relationship between the photograph and physical reality in front of the lens begins to falter.....The subject under consideration is the defining feature of photography: the medium's relationship to reality, its translucency.' (Marjaana Kella) 


'I have been trying to understand photography by dissecting light, what is in front of the camera? Where is the picture being recorded? Is it a picture of reality? What is real? I started combining photography with painting to see what photography is not. Landscape ended up being my backdrop to address these questions. I went to China to study Chinese landscape painting. I climbed up and down their Holy Mountains for many years to find a picture that was inside my head. The Chinese landscape tradition contained a unique way of looking at nature that was in stark contrast with the state of real nature in China today. Eighteen years later I am still photographing landscapes but have learnt to see pictures closer. The Forest smoke works series is photographed just five minutes from my home. The way I work now is more intuitive, and at the same time more complex. I follow the weather, light, time of day, time of year. I see details in the dense forest more clearly. Wherever I go on this narrow peninsula I stumble upon remnants from the war - it was left scattered with landmines. I have staged these forests with smoke bombs. The psychedelic colour of the smoke detaches the landscape from reality, forcing the viewer to look closer. I wonder if trees can carry a memory'. (Sandra Kantanen)


Here 2022 series of works “Herbarium” presents familiar and exotic plants with microscopic precision. The plants are photographed with a scanner and the resulting images are processed to a size that makes the smallest details stand out. The almost unnatural precision of the images manages to uncover something about the structure of nature.


Kantanen's work is represented in significant public collections including J.Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; Brooklyn Museum; New York; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki; Fondazione Fotografia, Modena; The Museum of Photography, Seoul and Helsinki City Art Museum. Two major monographs on her work have been published by Hatje Cantz, 2011 / 2019. In 2023, a solo exhibtion of her work Smokeworks was held at Turku Art Museum, Finland.