The Forest Finns were slash-and-burn farmers. This ancient agricultural method yielded plentiful crops, but required large forested areas, as the soil was quickly exhausted. In fact, it was a scarcity of natural resources in their native Finland that forced the first wave of migration over the border. Fuelled by failing crops and war, the Forest Finns needed new land to cultivate.

Many of the migrants went southwest and tried their luck in the wilderness. In the following decades, they spread across the forest areas of Scandinavia in search of land with the best and highest-density spruce. The occasional migration was an essential part of their existence, as mobility was necessary to continue their slash-and-burn farming.

Today, the Forest Finns are recognised as one of the national minorities in Norway. More and more people feel a connection to it – although there are no statistics on their numbers. Yet the Forest Finn culture as it was four centuries ago no longer exists.

The Forest Finns’ understanding of nature was rooted in an eastern shamanistic tradition, and they are often associated with magic and mystery. Rituals, spells, and symbols were used as a practical tool in daily life; one that could heal and protect, or safeguard against evil.

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Terje Abusdal (1978) is a visual storyteller from Norway working mainly on independent projects in the intersection between fact and fiction. In 2014 he studied Advanced Visual Storytelling at the Danish School of Media and Journalism in Aarhus, followed by an number of Master Classes with Simon Norfolk and Aaron Schuman. In 2017, his story on the Forest Finns – Slash & Burn – won the Leica Oskar Barnack Award and the Nordic Dummy Award. Two years before, he published his first photographic book Radius 500 Metres on Journal. His work was recently exhibited at Fotogalleriet in Oslo, FOTODOK in Utrecht and Luma Rencontres Dummy Book Award in Arles. In May 2017 he was a Docker at Docking Station (Amsterdam). Abusdal lives in Oslo.
Why this story? Norwegian photographer Terje Abusdal consciously crosses the line between fiction an reality in his staged documentary series ´Slash & Burn´. He explores the lives of the Forest Finns, an ethnic minority, peregrinating in the North of Finland. Their original language and religion have disappeared, but their way of life in the dense northern forests is appealing, now more than ever. It attracts new followers, who officially belong to this minority on the sole condition that they feel like it. Abusdal recreates the life of the Forest Finns in an original way, and literally sheds new light on an unknown part of Europe. As a storyteller, he knows that reality is best told with imagination. He uses fiction to document a long gone past.
Explanation by the maker This photographic project draws on these beliefs while investigating what it means to be a Forest Finn today, some 400 years and twelve generations later, at a time when the 17th-century way of life is long gone, and their language is no longer spoken. I began to work on it as a graduation project at the Danish School of Journalism – and it evolved into a long-term venture. I spent three years on research and asked myself: How can I picture something as immaterial as culture – especially one that has nearly died out? I took certain elements of the past – fire, smoke and shamanism – and introduced them into the story. This blurs the lines between reality and fiction, between documentation and imagination. It is a deliberate attempt to create a fictional universe, a magical world. Read more
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