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Terje Abusdal: „Slash & Burn”

Finalist 2017: Terje Abusdal

Tradition and mysticism, provenance and belonging, facts and fiction: Terje Abusdal’s long-term “Slash & Burn” project draws a picture both mysterious and impressive of the Forest Finns, an ethnic group in Norway who live in close touch with nature.

In the south-east of Norway, along the border with Sweden, there is a sparsely populated morainal landscape with a great amount of forest. The area is known as ‘Finnskogen’, Forest of the Finns. It was settled by Finns between the end of the 16th and middle of the 17th century. Coming from Savo in central Finland, they slashed and burned the untouched, coniferous forests, to create new agricultural land for cultivating rye. Nowadays, most Forest Finns earn their living as lumberjacks, foresters and farmers. Their original culture and language has largely died out, with only a few traditions, rituals, rune songs and memories of shamanic customs remaining. 

“I took certain elements of the past – fire, smoke and shamanism – and introduced them into the story.”

Terje Abusdal began to work on “Slash & Burn” for his final assignment at the Danish School of Journalism – and it evolved into a long-term project. During the three years he spent researching, he increasingly immersed himself in the traditions of the Forest Finns – who have now been officially recognised as a national minority in Norway. How is it possible, however, to photograph something as immaterial as culture – especially one that has nearly died out? Using this question as a starting point, he increasingly blurred the line between reality and fiction. “I took certain elements of the past – fire, smoke and shamanism – and introduced them into the story.” Accordingly, documentation and imagination are interwoven into his images in a manner that is both confusing and organic at the same time. They exert a suggestive power, a particular mysticism – the result of a “deliberate attempt to create a fictional universe, a magical world.”

Abusdal also wanted to explore the question of identity, migration and belonging. How many generations does it take to drop the status of immigrant? At what point do you belong to a country, to an ethnic group? And is that decision based on biology, blood, philosophy or history? The photographer explains that, “In fact, the only official criterion for belonging to this minority is that, regardless of your ethnic origin, you simply feel that you are a Forest Finn.”

Terje Abusdal

Born in Evje, Norway, in 1978, the photographer works mainly on independent projects in the intersection between fact and fiction. In 2014 he studied Advanced Visual Storytelling at the Danish School of Media and Journalism in Aarhus, followed by a number of Master Classes (with Simon Norfolk and Aaron Schuman). In 2015, Journal Forlag published his first photographic book, “Radius 500 Meters”. Appearing in a number of solo and group exhibitions, his work is largely focussed on questions of identity and belonging. Abusdal lives in Oslo. 

Photo: © Marie Sjøvold