Kehler Verlah has issued a new book called “Slash & Burn,” which tackles a mostly faded culture on the border between Norway and Sweden. Slash and Burn is an artistic documentary by Norwegian photographer Terje Abusdal documenting the wolrd of the “Forest Finns” in Norway
Finnskogen – directly translated as The Forest of the Finns – is a large, contiguous forest belt along the Norwegian-Swedish border, where farming families from Finland settled in the early 1600s. The immigrants – called Forest Finns – were slash-and-burn farmers.
Terje Abusdal became interested in documenting the culture when he was a student at the Danish School of Journalism. What began as his final project in school soon expanded, and he would eventually spend several years immersing himself in what was left of the culture.
History of the Forest Finns in Norway
This ancient agricultural slash and burn method of farming, burning down parts of the forested area. It yielded bountiful crops but required large areas of land as the soil was quickly exhausted. Population growth eventually led to a scarcity of resources in their native Finland and, fueled by famine and war, forced a wave of migration in search for new territories. They started settling in a forested area in southeast Norway near the border with Sweden. The families who were making their new homes there were farmers.
Why do we like documentary photography? Because it tells us stories, it shows us the human face of the unknown. We like it because it elegantly paves the way for us in the dark hoods of Norway, into the world of the “Forest Finns”.
Magic and mystery
The Forest Finns had shamanistic roots and were often associated with magic and mystery. Today there is only one person in Norway who is 100 percent Forest Finn, trying to preserve some of their traditions and rituals. His name is Jan Oddvar Storberget.
Rituals, spells and symbols were used as a practical tool in daily life; that could heal and protect, or safeguard against evil. Abusdal’s project draws on these beliefs while investigating what it means to be a Forest Finn today, in a time when the 17th century way of life is long gone, and their language is no longer spoken.
Followed the Finns in the hood for three years
Over three years the photographer followed the Finns in the hoods, he knocked at their doors, talked to them, took their portraits. From Svullrya, the capital of the Forest of the Finns, he drove long hours to retrace the migration route of this people from Finland to Norway. When making the photographs, Abusdal tried to incorporate some of the mystery that has surrounded the Forest Finns.
Half staged half instantaneous, half posing half natural, half color half black and white, half graphically modified half not. Terje doesn’t follow any pre-conceived standard in his photography. Mainly self-taught, he defines his visual language as “free”.
Writer Aron Shuman on Slash & Burn – the World of the “Forest Finns” in Norway
In the book, writer Aaron Shuman addresses some of this: “Throughout Slash & Burn, the conventional clarity of the photographic image is often blurred and obscured — by smoke, mist, vapor, dust and darkness — which transform the solidity of the world we think we know into something much more ethereal and atmospheric….
And in a sense, when it comes to this field, Abusdal’s artistic approach is in itself a form of slash-and-burn cultivation, in that through various forms of photographic disorientation, deconstruction and destruction, he creates a new, fertile layer of information and meaning; photographic ashes which are rich with the nutrients needed for newfound notions of personal understanding and cultural identity to grow.”
Related: First Inhabitants in Scandinavia
Slash and Burn is a timeless piece, refreshed by an enthusiastic storyteller. Terje Abusdal is winner of Leica Oskar Barnack Award and Nordic Dummy Award in 2017. He was also finalist at the Luma Rencontres Dummy Book Award 2017, at Unseen Dummy Award 2017 and Alec Soth’s Juror’s Pick at the Magnum Photography Awards, among others.
World of the “Forest Finns” in Norway, written by Tor Kjolberg