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Among the Sámi

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April 15, 2010

I came here to understand the primal drive of the modern hunter, writes photographer Erica Larsen, and to find a people who, when the land speaks, can interpret its language.

In the Arctic, nature’s extremes play upon the daily lives of the inhabitants. Here I found the Sámi, which translates to the People. Indigenous to the Arctic Circle of northern Scandinavia—the largest area in the world with an ancestral way of life based on the seasonal migrations of the animals—the Sámi are, by tradition, reindeer herders who have lived as nomads. By possessing a livelihood dependent on their surroundings the Sámi are acutely aware of changes in nature. They have managed to survive in extreme climatic circumstances for ages. Their spoken language, despite being derived from Finno-Uralic roots, has transformed and is considered an Arctic language rich in its ability to explain the natural world. I came here to understand the primal drive of the modern hunter, and to find a people who, when the land speaks, can interpret its language.

In the first images I created in this land I could see the Sámi lived in two worlds. In them I experienced a past rich in its connection to nature, driven by the need to survive and enveloped in a spiritual relationship to the earth and her surroundings. The images exposed a presence of a people still nomadic and not in need of the world existing outside the arctic landscape. In the other world I saw a group of people acutely inhabiting the present. A culture aware of global connectivity, modern technology and the need not only to exist but to share knowledge to continue living in a world rich in understanding of the natural cycles.

With traditional roots intact, the Sámi have managed to bridge into the modern world. I have observed nature being at once both beautiful and brutal and it appears that the culture is still living in a rhythmic flow with nature. Through the Sámi I hope to better understand our role as stewards of the earth. It is inevitable when spending time in a more nature-based culture that one must recognize the cycles of life and death and therefore begin to evaluate man’s role within this circle. As biodiversity, forest stability, abundance of water, and wildlife management become globally vital, this community serves as a microcosm of sustainability.

My photographs explore the Sámi’s symbiotic relationship with the environment, their existence in today’s world, and the mystery and beauty which fueled past generations to survive into the modern world. The project demands that I inhabit their world. And among the Sámi, my ability to be an effective storyteller is partly ruled by a collective sense of seeing. In the Sámi civilization I recognize a reverence for daily life, fertile ground to explore and emulate.

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Erika Larsen has been working as a magazine photographer for the past ten years. Her stories have appeared internationally in publications such as Time, Newsweek, Geo, Reader’s Digest and DU Magazin. She has been a contributing photographer to Field and Stream since 2005. Her work on hunter-gatherers has been exhibited internationally. She won a World Press Award in 2008 and has been recognized by the American Society of Magazine Editors, American Photography, and Society of Photographers, and has received grants from the New Jersey State Council of the Arts and Women in Photography. She is a member of the Redux Picture Agency and is currently on a Fulbright in the Scandinavian Arctic.

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You might also like

  • Cruel Story of YouthCruel Story of Youth Nestled in the mountains of Massachusetts is Rowe Camp, a summer utopia self-governed by teens.
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3 comments for Among the Sámi

  1. Comment by Berfrois on May 13, 2010 at 7:20 am

    [...] Slideshow: Among the Sámi [...]

  2. Comment by Russ Ayers on November 22, 2010 at 11:37 pm

    My compliments to you for the photography I saw in Reader’s Digest. The beauty of your subject, and the setting, is unforgettable. Thanks for images I shall carry always.

    Yes, Nature and living within it, is healing and always beautiful. But having lived on a farm, I have no illusions – she is pitiless and bloody in tooth and claw.

    I have just learned of your skills. Now I wonder how you will balance your message. How can you show the photograph of that exquisitely beautiful Sami child, balanced with photographs of what must be done that she may live in the far north?

  3. Comment by Linda on February 20, 2012 at 8:06 pm

    This picture of the two women is incredible. It could be the twin of my Mother.

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