The Forest Finns
[ EPF 2017 – FINALIST ]
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. This ancient agricultural method 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, fuelled by famine and war, forced a wave of migration in search for new territories.
The Forest Finns’ understanding of nature was rooted in an eastern shamanistic tradition, and they are often associated with magic and mystery. Rituals, spells and symbols were used as a practical tool in daily life; that could heal and protect, or safeguard against evil.
This photographic 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.
Many of the settlers ventured northwest and tried their luck in the Nordic wilderness. At that time, much of the land had been reclaimed by nature following the Black Death, which wiped out more than half of the population. Throughout the next decades, the Forest Finns spread across Scandinavia in a constant search for new soil to sew. The journey was an essential part of their existence, as mobility was an integral consequence of slash-and-burn farming. Furthermore, the Forest Finns’ understanding of nature was rooted in an eastern shamanistic tradition, and they are often associated with magic and mystery. Rituals, spells and symbols were used as a practical tool in daily life; they could heal and protect, or safeguard against evil.
In its original form, the Forest Finn-culture no longer exists, and yet more and more people feel a connection to it. Today, the Forest Finns are considered an official minority in both Norway, and yet there are no statistics on their numbers. In fact, the only official criterion of belonging to this minority is that, regardless of your ethnic origin, you simply feel that you are a Forest Finn.
Terje Abusdal (1978) is a visual storyteller from Norway working on independent projects in the intersection between fact and fiction. In 2017, his story on the Forest Finns – Slash & Burn – won the Leica Oskar Barnack Award and the Nordic Dummy Award. Two years prior he published his first photographic book Radius 500 Metres on Journal. His work was recently exhibited at Jaipur Photo Festival in India, Fotogalleriet in Oslo and FOTODOK in Utrecht. Abusdal lives in Oslo.
The Emerging Photographer Fund is supported by generous donors to the Magnum Foundation