Capturing and freezing moments of the Sámi people

Publish date: November 12, 2012

Ballard News-Tribune

No roads. No lights. No nothing. The sharp contrast between dark and darker drew photographer Birgitte Aarestrup to the Arctic Sámpi region of northern Sweden. Inspired to shoot and preserve the Sámi people way of life, Aarestrup traveled to no man’s land to live, cook, talk and listen with the reindeer herders.

“I’ve always been very drawn to the North,” Aarestrup said. “The purity of the snow and all that. I was fascinated with their colorful costume, with their artwork and that they have kept a thousand-year-old tradition still alive. [They are] living in a harsh climate, but they are warm people.”

Aarestrup was born in Denmark and raised in Sweden. She was trained by Danish photographer Jörn Freddie, developing her own style and motivation. Aarestup’s book, “8 Seasons Above the Arctic Circle,” documents her multiple trips to northern Sweden, the nature she experienced and the stories she heard while she was there.

“It’s amazing how much you can share with a cup of coffee with each other,” she said. “And I might say we have a lot to share around the world, but we’ve lost a lot in society. So for me to listen to all their stories was an amazing experience, and that’s why I wrote them down in my book.”

Together with the Swedish Mountain and Sámi Museum Ájtte and the Sámi Duodji Handicraft Foundation, Aarestrup created a multi-layered exhibition that was displayed nationwide, as well as, locally at the Nordic Heritage Museum from the end of August to early November this year.

Through hand-printed mostly black-and-white film photographs, Aarestrup wants to spread awareness of this indigenous group, the only one recognized in Scandinavia.

“One Sámi woman said, ‘We know a world exists outside of ours and we want to know more about it,” Aarestrup explained. “‘But what amazes us is so few know that our world exists.’ I will do what I can to make people aware that we have this fantastic, ethnic Indian group.”

The Sámi culture revolves around reindeer herding. They do not rejoice in the death of an animal, so they ensure there is no waste. The meat is eaten, the intestines are used for sewing and the bones and antlers are used for artwork. Aarestrup said we can learn from this.

“It’s very important because of their wisdom, their experience, how to balance life with nature,” she said. “It is very important for our planet.”

Aarestup’s next project is to photograph the Mayans to show how they are still being mistreated today. She also hopes to cover the Ainu people of Japan to add to her Arctic journey.

“It’s fascinating,” she said. “I want to preserve what’s left of the indigenous groups I can reach.”

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