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My Hellsten


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A few years ago I fell deeply in love with the white mountain cows of Tännäs, the village of my grandparents. This is a small village in the province of Härjedalen, in the north of Sweden. During the summer and the early autumn months, the cows and their calves move around on a fairly large area with meadows and a forest. I became curious and fascinated by them and I soon felt an urge to investigate what they where doing, for example in the middle of the night in the forest. Since that first summer I am following them with my camera during days as well as nights, from early summer until the first snow falls, usually in October.

After having spent so much time with the cows they have gotten used to have me around and I have come to know them as individuals and discovered how different they are from each other in terms of character and temperament.

The project is ongoing and I am looking forward to continue photographing them.



My Hellsten was born in 1976 and lives in Stockholm, Sweden. She graduated with a BA in Graphic Design and Illustration from Konstfack University College of Arts, Crafts and Design in 2003 and she received her MFA from the same university 2005. During 2002 she studied one semester at California College of Arts, San Francisco, USA, as an exchange student. Since graduation she has been working both with graphic design and photography.

Her work has been exhibited in Sweden and internationally. In 2007 she was selected for Peek 2007, Festival of emerging photographers, by Art+Commerce, New York, and a selection of the photographs was presented in Capricious Magazine #7 edited by Art+Commerce. In 2008 she exhibited at the Backlight International Photographic Triennial, Tampere, Finland, and in 2009 at Fotofestiwal, International Festival of Photography in Lodz, Poland. In 2009 she was nominated for the Leopold Godowsky, Jr. Color Photography Award, and in July 2009 her work will be shown at the Voies Off Festival in Arles, France.


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My Hellsten


Editor’s Note: Please only one comment per person under this essay.. Further discussions should take place under Dialogue..

Many thanks… david alan harvey

55 thoughts on “my hellsten – fjällkor”

  1. Funny, touching, novel, visually very appealing. This is real top quality work. I freely admit that I am most jealous. Magnificent. Thank you and good luck.

  2. Hmmmmmm!!?
    A Calender?
    Some sweet pictures in amongst these, and fair play for traipsing around after them….but ..where does it go?
    But maybe it doesnt have to go anywhere. Shooting something that fascinates you because you want to.
    Hard to argue with that, but hard to sell the idea also maybe.
    [thinks again]
    But then again……………

    good luck.


  3. Viewing this essay I couldn’t wait to read Jim’s comment :)

    I knew there would be comments saying how great this essay is.
    I know Jim…I know…it’s a crazy world.

    I’d love to go to this village and hang out with the cows myself. They’re lovely :))
    It’s a cute concept but I’m not in love with some of the execution.
    Lots of strong light…why??? Does harsh lighting make it more artsy?
    I like the artist statement. Nice idea. Keep shooting.

  4. ermm..wow…how very peculiar. Some very nice images in there.

    “I became curious and fascinated by them and I soon felt an urge to investigate what they where doing, for example in the middle of the night in the forest”

    Well, judging by this investigation, one would conclude the cows like eating, sleeping, and generally sitting around staring into space. Who would have thought?..

    nice pictures :)

  5. here’s me thinking cows were just delicious , cute and witty but I don’t think that the out of focus technique is working for you , great work though

  6. How delightful.

    Great fun, oddly sweet and moving. Am I wrong My that you are using a point and shoot camera? I LOVE point and shoot cameras.
    I love 3,7,and 14, but especially #3. WONDERFUL photograph.

    I have to say that I think the series needs some time, a lot of fleshing out. There is more forgetable stuff here than memorable stuff. But I love the project, and the sentiment.

    Domestic animals have amazing and beautiful presence . So much a part of human experience, yet so overlooked . Finally, someone drawing from their deep personal intuition and humanity instead of gravitating to safe cliche’ subject matter.

    Bravo and congratulations.

  7. I really like it. Kinda like On the 6th day, in that its farm animals. Though I love the flash treatment here. Very funky. I would say I prefer this direction than the AIDS/Homeless/Orphans/Psych Patients/etc etc etc stuff that simply bores me these days. This? Maybe it doesnt need t go anywhere, not everything has to go somewhere, it is what it is and I think its interesting, different, atleast from the usual stuff one would expect. And to be honest, all the stuff that wants to go somwhere always seems to go in the same direction.

  8. Nice going, My, for following your passion. And that’s what comes through for me in this project–your love of each individual cow. I must say #7 and #15 are my special favorites. I’m also quite taken with the snow shots. I expect that, as you pursue this exploration further, a good number of the images in this edit might be replaced but that’s always the way with long term projects. You might want to dial your flash down a bit so it’s not so blinding and I’d love to see some low shutter speed/flash nightime shots that would show movement. Just keep going. You’re onto something unique here.


  9. It reminds me of a fairy tale. Would be perfect for a kids book. Love it. Catching the mysterious nature of our domestic animals in their world as we all sleep. So imaginative.

  10. I’m very confused.

    Maybe I’m not smart enough to get it. I stopped looking after 4 images.

    I feel like the emperor has no clothes yet we’re being told he’s dressed lavishly. I was going to ask for further explanation but I see others have offered some, but I still don’t understand.

  11. cows….
    at night..
    standing in a row…
    would love to see a much tighter edit….
    images of
    the tagging…
    are they used for dairy?
    I like your sense of
    it is indeed
    but strange
    is good….

  12. marcin luczkowski

    And I am confused. I don’t know I like this essay or not. But there are some outstanding pictures I like very much.

  13. panos skoulidas

    that was funny……
    i hate myself for hating flash, strobes and especially all kinds of artificial light users…….
    but thats just me……
    flash, strobes……laziness…….other than that?
    again…….. sorry……( i like Anderson’s work or even DAH’s signature flash ..)
    but DAH is not lazy…. he knows the difference……
    but, flash just for the sake of it..??!

  14. panos skoulidas

    Mike R & J.Gladdy……..love u guys……
    u r the exception… u r not the typical queen lovers……..
    Although one man, one man only… M.Ghandhi destroyed and humiliated the whole british empire…
    the filthy Queen still…….. there…
    what an evolution…..
    but as Sex Pistols clearly stated: GOD SAVE THE QUEEN, SHE AINT NO HUMAN BEING…
    whats new…:)))))

  15. It’s nice to see an essay with humour. I liked it in general but a few pictures really jumped out (#5 and #15) for me. There did seem to be a fair amount of filler though and perhaps overall it was a touch long?
    it’s really nice to see something that doesn’t take itself too seriously though

  16. This is exremely cool work! Provocative for sure! And certainly irritating to some viewers.

    Thank you My and thank you David! So good to see some unordinary images!

    I want image 15 on my wall, real big – please!

    Cows appear to be such an ordinary subject and so unexciting at a first glance. Most people, me included, would never come up with the idea of making the effort to try and take pictures of them. My has found her connection to the animals and turned hem into something really unique.

    The straight forward flash appears brutal and clumsy. The results however offer a new way of looking at cows.

    These images hit you in the eye. I like them a lot!


  17. I love it, great fun.
    Good choice to go for the harsh flash,the same treatment paps use on celebrities.

    Just be careful of those cows, there was an article on the radio here about the number attacks by farm animals. I was chased out of a field by a herd of bucking charging dairy cows when I was doing a dawn landscape, scared the shit out of me, and man can they run fast compared to a photog weighed down with tripod etc.

    Nice one


  18. Absolutely hilarious. What it shows is that you can find a material for good, refreshing and intelligent photography everywhere. It’s so uplifting :) Good job! Keep it coming.

  19. No No… May be you have a good purpose in mind but you need the just way to point up the ideas.
    I found very poor this story, in both technical and emotional point of view.
    Good luck

  20. Voix Off de Arles show so many bad works since years that I am not surprise to see that kind of super stupid porfolio on their programm… This come from the grant pre-selection? mmmm …

    David where are you?

    Anton who are you?

    Anyway cows are funny! yeah meuh meuh Oh la vache! And I imagine that the photographer smoke a lot of weed when he follows his new friends….

    Come on, the shortest joke are the best…always…

  21. This work is great!
    It is funny, visually appealing and pushing the boundaries of the medium… At least judging by the majority of the comments above.

    For me is just the worst group of images that I have seen published here on burn. Was this one of the extended 200 finalists from the EPF? And if yes, how did this make that far?

    As John Boal so appropriately put it I feel that the “emperor has no clothes yet we’re being told he’s dressed lavishly”…

    Cheers to all,


  22. Love it. I was completely transported into another world for the time of the slide show. it’s been a very very very long time since photography took me on a great trip like that. Congratulation My!

  23. My, you may laugh, but just this morning my wife and i were talking about and looking at a book of Schiele’s drawings, i book i had given her more than 10 years ago, as recently both of us have craved the physical and tactile experience of drawing and painting again….and, oddly, these ‘portraits’ in a very emotional and sometimes very graphic way, remind me of Schiele…though they dont look anything like his drawings/paintings, in them, the evocation for me is there (the brilliant #7 (i love the cave of the mouth), the extraordinary #9!!!–especially compositionally, and the final brilliant image)…the physical and ‘human’ sense of both calm and urge is there…i LOVE the use of the blown-out flash, especially in the foregrounding, which accomplishes the same graphic power as my friend Chris’ anderson’s use of flash during the American Presidential Primaries….there Chris’ use of flash convey distance and fear and strange Lynchian horror, your use of flash conveys the opposite, odd warmth and humour and playfulness: just like cows….

    as a concept, i found it absolutely brilliant and so so so freshing after inundation in the photo-doco world of ‘big’ issues, of pictures/stories of other’s squalor and misery, disconnected, high faluent, managed description….maybe it’s that i just fucking love cows….maybe it’s that i love stories, stories above all that speak to me about a person’s peculiar obsession or history or vision or idea, but it’s, for me, one of the finest and most interesting and most enjoyable essays here…

    and this extraordinary, war-of-the-worlds, alien group (we’re the alien too) picture of the cows in the mist: 15….

    and of course, the last picture is Gatsby, the green light, the howl/laughter/yawn, the running…

    ….”Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther… And one fine morning —”

    whose to see these cows aint us ;))))))…that’s the joy in this series, for me! :)))

    Fjällkor Cows, c’est moi! ;))))))))))…..

    it will be great at Arles…maybe see u there next year?….

    and one of my all time favorite cows: which this series evoked as well…



  24. Bob !

    You should be a brilliant politician! I envy you!

    I like how you always extend your personnal knowledge, like marmelade, with absolutely common works or here a work that show 20 times the same photograph!
    Come one painting is not photography… All monkeys know how to take image…not all knwo how to paint…

    brilliant as usual!


    thank you for your opinions…all are welcomed of course….i try to publish here a wide variety of works….i am always amazed at how limited some photographers are with their appreciation of photography that falls outside what they themselves do…too bad….ironic since most people do appreciate many varieties of music etc, yet are limited in their tastes photographically…limited and even angry..i never understand the anger…

    in any case, please submit something of yours that you think would be appropriate for BURN…my tastes are broad…please pass the hot sauce….

    cheers, david

  26. Moooooooooo……

    It’s not that I have anything against Swedish cattle, you understand-some of my best friends are Swedish cattle and they’re some of the nicest cattle you’d ever care to meet and a credit to ruminants everywhere-it’s just that I prefer my cattle medium-rare and not completely tartare, as these cattle appear to be. Otherwise, I agree with Stoop.

  27. i didn’t get it myself, but i do like the fact that its something a little different/left field from the usual work up on burn.
    i think the execution of the images was a little poor too- they look like they’ve been shot by a 10 year old.
    happy times for cow lovers though! ;)

  28. I love the cow and the flash. It is unusual to see such a site…but thats what taking photos is all about…showing us something we havent seen. its startling and fantastic!

  29. John Lizarazo

    my first impressions without reading any accompanying text..

    it seems like this is a very important project for you. for the first few frames i couldn’t understand what it was you were trying to convey; but either way you have some amazing images. as the essay went on I started thinking about the collars and tags on these animals’ ears and necks and I thought… ok so these bulls (?) are all being shot in this beautiful landscape (number 14 really jumped out at me) in their “natural habitat” but only with one exception… us.. and how we leave our imprint on everything now. us being humankind.

    impressions with reading the text:

    hmmm LOL well I was completely wrong.. I have to say from the images you chose I got the feeling of something strange happening… maybe its just the expressions that these animals have, or also that all the shots were taken during night with harsh lighting? it made for a very eerie setting. I like how you’ve come to see different personalities in the animals =) I’m not sure of any suggestions to give as this is completely your direction. best of luck =)

  30. I don’t really get why there are so many negative reactions here… First, someone made an effort and did something unusual. Second, the effect is actually amusing and very intelligent. And third, it’s quite unique in this sad world filled with photographs of suffering…

    I really like that piece, it’s so far one of better ones I’ve seen here. Combines documentary work of fresh approach with a nice allegory :)

    Big thumbs up.

  31. There are two animals that I just love….dogs and cows. Maybe it’s because I grew up up with both outside my front door. I can’t say I don’t like these pics. They’re just too funny…especially seeing these white cows in the middle of the snow. This is kind of like Martin Parr photographing cows perhaps :-)…sneaking up beside them….and than pounce…with a bright flash. Just thinking of how the photographer must have shot the photos makes me laugh.


  32. My, this is definitely different from what we’re used to on Burn. I particularly enjoyed shots 3, 5, 8, and LOVED 15. Cheers to you for having a unique perspective and style. There’s plenty of room for different approaches.

    Bob Black….looks like Gatsby is making a comeback. First the green lights in Chris Bickford’s Midnight Kiss, now this one.

    So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

  33. I really appreciated how a potentially-trivial subject has been shot in such a funny and visually intriguing way. I think that the harsh use of on-camera flash is a valid stylistic choice in this case. Few of the shots are weak but I didn’t believe my attention could be grabbed by more than a couple of cows shots before seeing My’s work. #15 rulez!

  34. Good fun, nice and interesting for me.
    Good to see just some normal cows for once, not orphaned ones, ones with aids or cancer cows, cows on state benifit or living in trialers. Very impressive tounges.
    But seriously I find these kinda interesting, the approach is honest and has revealed something quirky about the world and these wierd animals that are obviously from another planet.
    Wendy what are you looking for? a sales pitch, written in verse?

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  36. Ok David,

    First of all I apologies for my comments, it was not really correct and surely aggressiv, even the tone didn’t show this, nothing personnal was inside. I would first learn how forum works, we are not around a table… ( I am sure you know well what is “being envious, jealousy, hypocrisy etc is…even in Magnum…I remember some Eugene Richards or Luc delahaye words about this…) I just saied what I think, really! Just sorry about the tone. I, from now, accept the rules, will try to keep my mouth more diplomatic and will accept to be banned for sure.

    I am not angry at all! I don’t want to show any of my works here, I don’t need that.

    I am also more than super open to anykind of sensitiv, underground, innovativ music, but I don’t like pop stars and real-tv system…

    Photographicly speaking I don’t see any of my collegues here (you and John only), (or they appear like trolls, wich are funny monsters (for me) in mythology) wich make me think that internet photosphere, is limited always to same users and others gurus and rarely real innovativ creators. I could write 100 quotations about that, even it will show me also that I am not a real zen guy…I accept it…hard to take distance and silence…

    I was just burning in my house, one broken leg on my bed…. One lion in a cage…

    So I should come back to what I was used to do. Coming here sometime and say nothing else. I really think Burn is a great and innovativ place…so


  37. Carrie Roseman

    I love the idea of this project. I feel that My has definitely started to capture these cows as individuals, and some of the frames are really lovely, such as #3, 7, 14, 15, 19. I’m not a big fan of the extreme flash that is used in some of the frames. I think that the subject matter and setting is strong enough and doesn’t require such strong use of flash. Perhaps some longer exposures with some blur would add a little something to this project. Or maybe trying to capture these cows under low light by using a tripod and remote switch so that more natural light can be captured. These are just some ideas that I think may enhance the project, but overall, I love this and think it’s got a great start.

  38. This is a great project; funny, different, cute, hysterical, curious. It made me smile – not many images on Burn make me do that. I really appreciated the cows – and yes, they really are an alien life form. Or perhaps we are? When did a cow ever eat anyone? In a delightful way, they make me question my humanity!

    Steve M

  39. OZ…

    now you have me feeling bad!!! yes, this is just a big round table..with so many opinions etc….all good OZ…no apology necessary, but i know well that you are a truly good person just by your note…thanks…

    you really have a broken leg??? lion in a cage?? i know i know…hey my friend, i know about that too…6 months on crutches with a broken leg….

    i think you are down under, so i cannot bring you anything…but consider that i would if i could…

    cheers, abrazos, david

  40. This probably could not have been achieved with someone human, or other animals. Something specific to the qualities we perceive in cows, but also their physical attributes and size help take the gratuitous out of a work we could easily reject as done in too facile a manner. Weird, says Jim. Yes, but not TOO weird. Deliciously weird!

    What I love the most is that in so many frames, the cows seem to play along MY, conniving almost to give her their best performance, or something close….

    In fact, this is…..Cow-media dell’ Arte! :-)))

  41. My,

    You really talk with cows. :)))
    I love that.
    It makes me smiling.

    Thank you for nice works.

  42. Thanks David for your understanding…

    I appology because I am not used to speak like that (to people I don’t know!), and even most of time, I don’t agree with Bob words, I post this like a teenager’ reaction…! I really respect him and my comment was not showing this at all! I don’t know him personnaly but some friends of mine get a lot of help from him, and clear words and from that point my reaction was stupid regarding my personnal condition…hot weather, projects in stand by because of a stupid fall…

    that’s all…his silence and your common sense show me that if I am not as young as I would (f*cking bones!) and my experience is still short… I am in-between…

    thanks again for your words..

  43. My, I really liked your photos. I think #15 is excellent! Sci fi cows!!! Thanks for sharing your work.

  44. This is a wonderful essay and it gave me a lot to think about – in terms of photography, not about white cows per se.

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