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Interview Elin Berge

*For a better visual experience click on each photos to see them in their original format*

Can you tell us about your Awakening series and explain how and why you started it?
I’ve always been interested in questions around religion and faith, and one of my driving forces as a photographer has been to make stories where women are subjects with agency. My previous three photo books were about Muslim women and their relation to the veil and Thai women in marriage migration where Buddhism strongly affected the women. Being close to women that were living with a vivid faith made me ponder about why there is such a lack of anything truly religious in my own culture. With Awakening I wanted to investigate the subject of religion close to myself as a so-called “post-Christian secular Swede”. I turned my gaze towards the world of new spirituality since that seems to be growing in Sweden.  Originally I didn’t plan to make a women’s issue about it, but the first thing that happened was that I ran into a spiritual women’s movement where the participants spoke of a new paradigm with an ongoing awakening of the Goddess. That was really intriguing to me and I realized that it would be a very natural continuation of my previous work.

« I didn’t just take pictures. I shared with the same vulnerability as anyone else »

How did you manage to get accepted as a photographer in this community and to photograph these women in a form of shared intimacy?
I was just being very honest with my intention. From the very start I was clear about why I was there: to take pictures. But as it turned out, because of the intimate circumstances, it was impossible to photograph unless I participated in the rituals myself. I think I got accepted because that I signaled an honest interest and that I was a seeker just like them – only that my reason was photography. I didn’t just take pictures. I shared with the same vulnerability as anyone else. And that’s what I love about being a photographer: the camera gives me a reason to dive into worlds whole-heartedly. The difference is that I do with the identity of the photographer and at some point I need to step out of the worlds to get perspectives.

« I believe that time is one of the key elements for good documentary work. »

We notice several seasons in your photographic series. How long did you follow these women? Why did you undertake to follow them over the long term?
I photographed during a period of two years. You notice the seasons because I worked with the archetype of the four-faced Goddess in the book. The chapters – the Maiden, the Mother, the Enchantress and the Crone – represent one season each. I always let my projects take time since I believe that time is one of the key elements for good documentary work. 

In your photographic series, the theme of the place of women in society and the place they grant themselves by ideological, political or social conviction, often comes up. The Awakening is a perfect example. Do you think you use this medium to talk about a personal struggle? Is it a way for you to militate differently? If not, do you know why you are interested in these particular issues/subjects?
To make women subjects with agency has been important to me ever since I as a young student realized how women have been excluded from our collective historiography and that women often have played flat roles in our common stories. And it’s also a reaction to the common tendency to turn women into victims. The women I have photographed for all my photo books can easily be put into boxes where the mainstream decides that they are oppressed, not thinking clearly, are less knowledgeable etc. I think it’s important to tell stories where I can admit that there are plenty of structures that limit us as women – patriarchy being one of them – but still see that there are ways to navigate and make active choices. I guess it’s my way of trying to broaden the perspectives somehow. And the root of that is probably that I feel that our collective understanding of Woman is limiting and I wish to participate in an expansion of that understanding.  As any decent person I don’t want to be a victim or a flat male fantasy. I want to be a human being.

When did you stop the series and how did you know it was the right time?
I just feel it in my stomach. I usually know then and there when I have taken the last picture of a series. 

Can you tell us how the partnership with Max Ström Publishing went?
It was really pleasant to work with such professionals. It was hard to get in there but as soon as they accepted to publish the book things flowed very smoothly. 

Do you have any new current projects?
I do have an ongoing project where I photograph along one of Sweden’s last wild rivers, Vindelälven. I have not been sure what it is about, but I think it’s something about the wild and the flow that attracts me. And I have been working with a documentary film where I film a Swedish author called Stina Stoor. She’s known in Sweden as a literary prodigy that made a super acclaimed debut, but then suddenly she couldn’t write anymore. I have been curious to dig into what that is about. Writing this, I realize I have a thing for flow right now. 

Your top 5 photo books ?

Bilder av Nådens Barn – Sune Jonsson
Naarashauki, The Female Pike – Esko Männikkö
Niagara – Alec Soth
Still time – Sally Mann
The devil’s playground – Nan Goldin

Interview by Valentine Zeler

Photographer’s Links: WebsiteInstagram
Elin Berge is a member of Nordic photographer’s collective MOMENT.

Photo book « Awakening » by Elin Berge published by Max Ström