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Seeing through Scandinavian
exceptionalism: Tina
Enghoff’s photography

by Louise Wolthers
Hasselblad Foundation, Gothenburg

Excerpt from Journal of European Studies, 2017

The whole article can be seen at:
http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0047244117733896

In the three works Seven Years (2010), Migrant Documents (2013) and Isolation (2017a), Danish photographer Tina Enghoff addresses the visual and social marginalization of immigrant women caught in abusive relationships, homeless migrants who live outside the welfare system and prisoners in solitary confinement. The article discusses how her projects probe established ideas about Denmark as an ideal Scandinavian welfare state, ostensibly with a high level of social equality and transparency, as well as low levels of injustice, crime and punishment. It is also argued that a photographic practice like Enghoff’s offers original and productive negotiations of questions of representation and visibility embedded in the social documentary genre.

Through her work, Danish photographer Tina Enghoff (b. 1957) addresses practices of social sorting and the management of marginalized subjects. She probes established
ideas about Denmark as an ideal Scandinavian welfare state, ostensibly with a high level of social equality and transparency, as well as low levels of injustice, crime and punishment. At the same time, Enghoff uses this subject matter to negotiate questions of representation
and visibility embedded in one of the most debated and interesting media-specific genres: documentary photography.
Enghoff has worked consistently with minorities to address issues such as citizens’ rights, social displacement and exclusion in projects that formally and conceptually
expand the documentary tradition. These issues are raised in relation to the complex visual and legal status of her subjects, who can often only be seen and identified at substantial risk since their stay in Denmark is unauthorized or in jeopardy. Refraining from portrayals of recognizable faces and bodies, Enghoff uses the camera to point to how diverse positions of power and privilege work through and within different modes
of exposure, scrutiny and control. I will explore this using Enghoff’s project Migrant Documents (2013), an earlier series of photographs, Seven Years (2010), and her most recent series, Isolation (2017a). I argue that Enghoff’s photographic methodology uses and comments on the state’s strategies of camouflage, forensics and surveillance. These strategies reflect discriminatory policies and structural inequalities that are otherwise rarely made apparent in the public narrative that emphasizes Denmark as a country of
social inclusion, equality and transparency (Smith, 2012). Ultimately, I interpret Enghoff’s photography to redress the state’s use of photographic representation and to
help create spaces for critical discussions of public policies, rights and civil communities in Denmark and, by extension, today’s Europe.

To be continued...

Author biography:
Louise Wolthers is Head of Research and Curator at the Hasselblad Foundation. She most recently
completed the research project WATCHED! Surveillance, Art and Photography, an edited publication
and a touring exhibition 2016–17. Her current research is in photography and human rights,
which includes the exhibition and publication Kent Klich: Gaza Works (2017), and an upcoming
photo-historical project focuses on photography in the interwar period. She lectures and publishes
extensively on photography, art and visual culture in edited volumes and journals such as photographies
and Photography & Society.
Copyright 2013 © Tina Enghoff