Book of the Month: Atlantic Cowboy

March 20, 2023

As far as their gender image is concerned, the men appear to have fallen out of time. Formerly self-confident and conscious of tradition, the Atlantic cowboy is today a disappearing species, as the Norwegian photographer Andrea Gjestvang clearly illustrates in her series.
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
All images on this page: © Andrea Gjestvang

Andrea Gjestvang: Atlantic Cowboy+-

Andrea cover

With an essay by Firouz Gaini
144 pages, 82 colour pictures
30 x 22 cm, English.


Book of the Month: Atlantic Cowboy