A Project Long Time in Coming

There is a valley. The mouth of the valley opens up right into the city. You can step straight from the urban settlement into Mother Nature. And vice versa. The name is Isdalen—Valley of Ice. And the city is Bergen, Norway—my city.

Ever since childhood, I have been drawn to the valley. There is something enigmatic about Isdalen. I have always felt it wasn’t typical Norwegian. More like the Swiss Alps, with its deep bottom, steep walls and ragged peaks surrounding the valley. If you have ever read Heidi, a children’s fiction from the 19th century by the Swiss author Johanna Spyri, then you get an idea.

My first photograph of Isdalen dates back to April 1978. Over the next many years, I have photographed in the valley, on and off and very inconsistently. However, after finishing the photojournalism and photo documentary program at International Center of Photography in New York in ‘90, and upon returning to Bergen, I made Isdalen a personal project of mine. However, after the intensity of photographing in New York, starting to photograph nature in Isdalen became more like an anticlimax.

I got some stories about Isdalen published in papers and magazine, but the project never really went anywhere.

Much later, I realized that my fascination with Isdalen, was much related to a handful of ruins of old farms that once were a community deep in the valley. As I wander around the centuries-old ruins of the farms, I get filled with a sense of belonging and tranquillity—as if I have returned home. I feel in myself the toil that those who ran the farms must have felt. I feel the exhaustion, the stoutness, but also the spirit and the glow that emerges from living so close to nature.

Today, Isdalen is a favourite hiking area for inhabitants of Bergen. But for centuries up until WWII, Isdalen was a vibrant but small and poor farming community with four farms living off the crops of the land and what the lush nature in the valley could yield.

In the spring of 2015, I started a new project photographing Isdalen, but now with the focus on the traces of this once vital community and the feelings it invokes in me. This time, though, I realized that the right expression would be by use of the facets of triptychs.

It is these feelings I tried to describe above, from which my photo project materializes. The aim of the photo project is not to create a tangible and unambiguous expression, but to inspire the viewers to uncover their own experiences in the encounter with the farm ruins and their surroundings. Through my photos.

So far, I have completed seven triptychs. In addition, and over the last few years, I have photographed and processed enough single images to be able to put together another ten triptychs.

Let me add that I have always been fascinated by those places where once people lived. There is something almost magical about the remnants of once thriving cultures, whether urban communities such as Machu Picchu or small farms such as the ones in Isdalen. I am struck by awe, thinking about how their lives were. How did they go about their everyday chores? How did they think about their future? Were they happy? Or was life a struggle? And then I think about present day’s cultures. How will they look like for future generations if what we know today would then be abandoned? What would the remnants tell about our lives?

These are some images captured from my first project period, after returning from New York: