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Esko Mannikko

At White Cube, 44 Duke Street St James, London SW1 until 5 September

The Finnish photographer Esko Mannikko documents ordinary people and their environments, writes Claire Price. His subjects are often poor, like the woodsmen in his best-known photographs, who subsist on hunting, fishing and trapping in the bleak birch forests of Northern Finland.

There is an almost confrontational dignity in the faces of Mannikko's subjects, which conveys the harsh truths of harsh lives. To achieve this directness Mannikko lives with his (often isolated) subjects for extended periods, participating in their daily activities to a degree which makes the images more like the result of a collaboration.

Mannikko's Finnish studies underline that he is also a master of composition. His use of colour and contrast adds a painterly quality to the work, a feature that is reinforced by his tendency to display his work in old picture frames found in junk-shops and flea markets.

The diffuse light falling over a cluttered table at the end of a meal highlights a partly-eaten fish in an enamel bowl. The composition is reminiscent of a Dutch still life and seems too perfect, as if arranged or manipulated - but, unfashionably, Mannikko simply records the lives of his subjects unaltered.

His photographs are rich with the observation of people's heroic attempts to modify the harshness of their environment - a Coca-Cola sticker or a car-battery poster decorating a wall, fishing nets hanging from a beam waiting to be mended. Mannikko imbues identity as much through the objects that surround the individual as in the people themselves, loading meaning into the detail of these sparse environments. The symbiotic relationship between these people, their spartan homes and their natural environment is made inescapable.

Claire Price is an architect and writer in London

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