Full of fire, smoke and shadows, Terje Abusdal’s photographic series poetically captures the mysterious world of the Forest Finns.
The Forest Finns left Finland in the early 1600s and settled in a forest belt along the Norwegian-Swedish border. They were slash-and-burn farmers who set fire to woodlands to create fertile soil for crops. The culture, as it existed four centuries ago, no longer exists. However, people still feel a connection to it. “Being a part of this minority is more a state of mind rather than a set of defined characteristics”, the Norwegian photographer, Terje, explains. “The official criterion for belonging is that you simply feel like you are a Forest Finn”.
Forest Finns have long been associated with magic and eastern shamanistic tradition. Rituals, spells and symbols were used as a practical tool in daily life. They believed that all things, dead or alive, possessed a spirit and could be communicated with. “These customs are long since gone”, Terje tells us, “but there is something ethereal lingering among the trees”.
The visual language that these images evoke is haunting and foreboding. The photographer captures those eerie moments where nature seems to be calling to us from a world beyond. Ghostly messages permeate his photographs. Floating mist and raging fire, red branches and a snow-white deer standing against a shadowed forest, all hint at a spiritual realm.
These natural anomalies conjure up a sense of mystery. “I realised that my photographic methods had to become more experimental if I wanted to tell this story effectively”, Terje comments. “I started to mix facts and fiction”. He took elements from the Forest Finns’ original culture, namely fire and smoke, and mixed it into his images. Several photographs he set alight, with dark and frightening results. These landscapes appear as if they have been touched by a poltergeist, eyes are burnt out, hollow and empty, light spots spill like blood across the trees.
Terje creates a magical, ethereal world, mixing history and cultural heritage. The portraits he captures are strange and unsettling; he freezes pockets of time, snapshotting a period gone but not lost. “Most Forest Finns today wear their heritage like a badge of honour”, he explains. “They strongly identify with their past”. This spirit is captured within his series, and with these striking photographs, it is unlikely that their traditions will ever be forgotten.