Terje Abusdal is a norwegian photographer and visual artist working on independent projects in the intersection between fact and fiction. 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. Consequently, the title of the featured series, draws from the faculty of the immigrants – called Forest Finns – that were slash-and-burn farmers.
To start us off, I would like you to mention a major difference between back then and now in your art making or art perceiving in general.
Earlier I was interested in the single image, while nowadays I prefer to think in terms of series. Which I guess is also why I enjoy working with the photobook-format so much. However, after three books I feel I reached a place where I would like to try something new. So at the moment I am taking a little break to recalibrate my compass. Still working, but not having any books in the pipeline in the foreseeable future.
How did you approach the minority of Forest Finns? All these people look very intimate near you and your camera. How was your relationship?
I was introduced to the topic by one of my former colleagues at work. She grew up there and helped me get started in terms of initial contacts. From there it just grew organically through word of mouth. In the sense, that one encounter would lead me to the next. It is a very friendly place, so I had no trouble at all finding subjects who were willing to be photographed.
The past seems to be in the core of two of your well-known projects Slash & Burn and Radius 500 Metres. What makes you wanting to delve into those areas?
I guess it has a little to do with where I am in my life at the moment. The teens and twenties are spent trying to carve out a course of your own and freeing yourself from your past. But at one point it shifts. One starts to look back to where one is from and what made you who you are. The project Radius 500 Metres is very much about that. Going through my Grandfather’s archives and in a way reliving the memories my childhood, real or not. Slash & Burn also touches on the same topic: how is it that the Forest Finns became who they are today? What does it mean to be a Forest Finn today, 400 years after they arrived, when their way of life is long gone and nobody speaks the language any more?
Going through the interviews you had given I see that viewers are still interested in knowing if a photo is staged, if you set up a fire or these are scenes you found. Why do you think there is still plenty of curiosity for the “reality percentage” in a photograph?
I think it has with the aesthetic of the project, in this case Slash & Burn, where I work within the documentary-style tradition. And with this particular visual signature, it almost automatically implies a certain relationship with the truth. That what you see is real, an untouched observation caught in the moment.
“With this particular visual signature, it almost automatically implies a certain relationship with the truth.”
But in Slash & Burn, the contents of the photograph obviously collides with that notion of perceived truth. So the viewer gets confused. And wants to know what the hell is going on.
What is the relationship between a photobook and an exhibition? Which way of presentation do you enjoy the most for your work?
I enjoy doing both. The transitory nature of the exhibition. That you can incorporate the physical space into the story. It opens up a lot of possibilities for play. And the photobook because of its quality as a natural vessel for a narrative. I work mostly with storytelling, so in that sense the photobook is a perfect format. However, if one messes it up, there is no going back. You have to live with it. An exhibition is more forgiving in that sense.
Could you tell us about your new book Hope Blinds Reason?
Yes, I just published the book on the Swedish publisher Journal. I was on the road photographing for the project from 2014 until 2016, followed by three years of trying to put the material together. It is a visual narrative from a series of journeys made in India along the river Ganga, from its source in the Himalayas to its delta in the Bay of Bengal. It is a story about an attempt to come to terms with one of the most elementary of human experiences: love and loss.
What are you working on now?
I always work on several projects at the same time. So if I am stuck in one place, I can shift to another. Let the former rest in the subconscious for a while, until it is ready to come to the surface again. This method seems to have worked out ok so far. In terms of the specifics of the projects, I prefer not to talk about them right now since they are all in the early stages. To give a hint, one of them involves my other Grandfather and his travels in the 70s and 80s.
More on his website.