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At last, the much-applauded series by the Norwegian photographer, Terje Abusdal, is available in book format. Slash & Burn, his final year project at the Danish School of Journalism, has already earned the photographer a lot of attention and numerous awards. The series won him the Nordic Dummy Award 2017, granted every year by Fotogalleriet, Oslo, and supported by the Norwegian Photographic Fund and the Nordic Culture Fund; it was among the finalists of the LUMA Rencontres Dummy Book Award and the Unseen Dummy Award; and juror Alec Soth chose the series as his Jurors’ Pick at the Magnum Photography Awards. Above all, with Slash & Burn, Abusdal was the winner of the 2017 Leica Oskar Barnack Award, which earned him a cash prize of €25 000, plus Leica M system camera equipment valued at €10 000. With Leica’s support, the series has already been exhibited in various places, including Berlin, Paris and Wetzlar. All of this represents a significant success for the photographer.

The great interest in the series is due to both the subject matter and to the photographer’s highly unusual imagery. Abusdal portrays the so-called Forest Finns – who are today an officially-acknowledged minority in Norway – in a manner both mystical and impressive, somewhere between fact and fiction. Finnskogen – which translates literally as Forest of the Finns – is a large, interconnected area of forest along the border between Norway and Sweden, where Finnish farming families resettled in the early 17th century, using slash-and-burn techniques to clear parts of the forest for agriculture. Because the Forest Finns’ understanding of nature was rooted in Eastern shamanic traditions, this ethnic group was often associated with magic and mysticism. Abusdal’s photo project is based upon this perception, while also exploring – around 400 years and twelve generations later – the identity of the Forest Finns today.  

The photographer’s work conveys an important impression of this culture, which is now close to extinction. The visual storyteller’s photographic approach and picture-processing are unusual: aiming to make reference to former slash-and-burn practices, Abusdal applies heat and fire on some of the prints, during post-production. He thus places himself at a distance from pure documentation. Instead, he developed a strong conceptual series, imbuing his images with the traditional culture surrounding the subject matter.

The now-available book draws the viewer even more into the photographer’s complex world. It presents a visual journey into a fictional universe, a magical world. “Through working in series format, you can really play with this: pooling together a group of images to produce a narrative, you can create a completely new world, a mood, a feeling, a sense of place. A photographic series is a bit like cinema,” the photographer explains. Published by Kehrer Verlag, the book contains a diversity of additional surprises that Abusdal has arranged: a mixture of historical and his own motifs, complementary sketches, and diverse materials. All together, they carry the reader on a fascinating journey through history and fantasy.
Ulrich Rüter

Slash & Burn. Texts by Terje Abusdal, Birger Nesholen, Aaron Schuman; designed by Teun van der Heijden.
180 pages, 96 colour and black and white pictures.
19.2 x 24 cm, English
© Marie Sjøvold

Terje Abusdal

Born in Evje, Norway, in 1978, the photographer works predominantly on his own projects, always focussing on the narrow margin between truth and fiction. In 2014, he studied Advanced Visual Storytelling at the Danish School of Media and Journalism in Aarhus, followed later by a number of Master Classes with Simon Norfolk and Aaron Schuman. Published in 2015, Radius 500 Metres was his first photo book. His work can be found in solo and group exhibitions, and is primarily dedicated to questions of identity and belonging. Terje Abusdal lives and works in Oslo.

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