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This is certainly not a photo book for animal defenders or vegetarians: on the Faroe Islands, domesticated animal slaughtering, whaling, and fishing are all parts of a man's daily life. To underline this, the Norwegian photographer portrays them in blood-covered gear, doing the work that needs to be done – or so it seems. These pictures are interspersed with the island's breathtaking and beautiful – yet equally rough and harsh – landscapes. The book also shows men during their free time: they sit lost in domestic gloom; or try to dispel the loneliness through occasional celebrations with others. The powerful and intense motifs alternate between rawness and gentleness. Women are barely seen in these pictures, which gives an indication as to the actual theme behind the series: the loss of traditional gender images, which occurs with demographic and social change.
A territory belonging to the Danish crown, the Faroe Islands lie 320 kilometres north-northwest of Scotland, and about halfway between Norway and Iceland. Even though traditional jobs like fishing have been modernised, it is still a branch of industry driven by men. According to the conventional image here, it is the man who was and is the hunter – the provider who secures the survival of the family. He is a fisherman, whaler, bird catcher, shepherd, boat builder, and sometime storyteller. However, while the men continue to take to the sea, island society has changed: many young women now move abroad to work, to train in a profession, or to study. More than half of those who leave never come back. This means that, within the population of 54,000, the scarcity of women continues to grow.

Andrea Gjestvang travelled to the group of islands a number of times, between 2014 and 2019, while working on a long-term project that explores the consequences of social change. The resulting photo book has just been published. It presents an accomplished mixture of portraits, still lifes and landscapes; as well as a clever contemplation about tradition, changing roles, identity and isolation, that extends well beyond the islands. After all, role definitions and relationships continue to change in other traditional social structures. The men on the Faroe Islands are but one example – albeit in a magnificent landscape. (Ulrich Rüter)

Andrea Gjestvang: Atlantic Cowboy
With an essay by Firouz Gaini
144 pages, 82 colour pictures
30 x 22 cm, English.

All images on this page: © Andrea Gjestvang
Hjalmar, his shirt stained with blood during sheep slaughtering on a farm in Kaldbaksbotnur
Aadne and Jóannes (52) together in their childhood home in Klaksvík
View of the small town of Viðareiði
Fróði rests on a slaughtered whale, during a grindadráp in Hvannasund, Faroe Islands. Grindadráp, the pilot whale hunt, is a tradition and part of the Faroese cultural identity
Andrias (54) with his little white pet kitten, outside his home in Vidareidi, which he shares with his mother
Klaksvík in April. It is the second-largest town in the Faroes
During the Joansoeka midsummer festival, people gather at a temporary amusement park at the harbour in Vágur in the south of the Faroe Islands
Rogni (26) and Odin (25) in a hot tub at around midnight, in Mykines, the westernmost island in the Faroes
A young boy looks out of a window, while travelling on the ferry that takes passengers between the capital, Tórshavn, and the southernmost island of Suduroy
Interior of a carpentry workshop in the capital of Tórshavn
© Andrea Gjestvang

Andrea Gjestvang

The Norwegian photographer's main focus is on social themes in northern regions, with an approach that is personal and often intuitive. In 2012, she completed her One Day in History project, with portraits of young survivors of the July 22, 2011 terror attack on the island of Utøya in Norway. The project gained international recognition and was widely exhibited. Gjestvang received various awards for the work, including the renowned L’Iris d’Or/Sony World Photography Awards, Photographer of the Year 2013.

After graduating from OsloMet, Gjestvang worked as an assignment photographer, and published her work in magazines such as National Geographic, TIME Magazine, The New York Times, stern, Newsweek Japan, M Le Monde and Mare. Her work has appeared in numerous exhibitions. Gjestvang is a member of Panos Pictures, and lives alternately between Oslo and Berlin.

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