"THE HULDRA" - PHOTOGRAPHY BOOK (2023)
HOW THE TAIL BEGAN
The photography book idea emerged back in 2008, but at that time I very much doubted that anyone - at least not nearly a hundred - would wish to be a part of this project.
So instead, I pursued the huldra in the feature film format, with "Thale" (2013). Three years in the making (primarily in my father's basement, on a none-existing-budget) the film came through and got its international release. Screened in Toronto, 18+ mill trailer views, sold to 50+ countries - well, it was all very much surreal for a newbie filmmaker.
And you'd think that would shake her off - that I'd be rid the huldra and move on. But, the folklore proved true: Once she gets hold of you, she won't let go. So four years later, on an August summer day in 2017, I suddenly found myself here:
In the woods, doing the first shots for my second huldra project; the short film "Heim" (Home) - with lead actress Johanne Fossheim and 50+ local hulder extras.
"Heim" is a short film about finding home with oneself, and it spurred from my own situation back in 2015-16 - trying to make some sense of my new life, reality and responsibility with newborn twins. So the film is personal, but at the same time set in a larger context - with the huldra as a central ingredient. The short premiered at Tromsø Internation Film Festival in 2019, and after its festival tour, I decided to release the huldras into the wild, for free:
The production of "Heim" proved me wrong. I had severely underestimated the local will of the Helgeland huldras - as I had searched for seven extras, but 45 signed on. And so finishing the film, my original idea surfaced once again:
Perhaps this huldra photography book is doable after all..?
THE HULDRA - PHOTOGRAPHY BOOK
Yes, it was. And just like with "Heim", the huldras emerged in numbers, from all over Helgeland.
The geographic premise of the project was to do all the shoots within in the region of Helgeland in northern Norway. And even though I didn't foresee the comprehensive work regarding research and logistics, I've stayed true to this premise. From north to south, from inland to coast, the aim is to cover as much as possible of the Helgeland fauna - as it's here the huldra truly belongs and dwells.
The geographical aspect has remained true to the original idea, but the portrayal of the huldra has not. 'Cause when I actually met her, it pretty much changed the project core:
"THANK YOU FOR SEEING ME."
I set out to make a photography book portraying the folklore creature, in all kinds of traditional and modern settings. The old folklore stories and creatures have always fascinated me, and the huldra in particular - perhaps because she's the most complex of them all, being quite similiar to us humans. And it was that very human essence that turned this project into something more than just fiction:
Nearly 100 local models within the small region of Helgeland signed on for this project - something I find both impressive and terrifying. Impressed by the will, and terrified of the trust given to me. 'Cause none of the models are payed. They're all part of the project for different reasons, ranging from why-the-hell-not, to getting past personal issues and traumas; shattered body image, eating disorders, self-harm and abuse.
So yes, let's address the elephant: There's a lot of nakedness in this book. To-the-core kind of nakedness. Which I wasn't really prepared for, and truly found unsettling at first. Like, how do you go about a nude shoot with someone you know has a rough backstory, well aware that taking part in this parcticular shoot is a major milestone for them? What if you don't make it a positive experience, and what if you screw up the focus or whatnot so the pictures turn out unusable? I'm truly no experienced photographer or documentarist, so I suddenly found myself being the one getting nervous for the shoots.
But after one of the early shoots, I sent the model some sample picture and got the following message in return: "Takk for at du ser meg." - meaning "Thank you for seeing me.") I didn't think too much of it at first, I was just relieved that the model was happy with the outcome of the shoot. But that strain of text kept knocking in the back of my mind, then gradually became sort of an eye-opener. Not only to how to go about the shoots, but to what this project truly was. We all need to be seen - for who we are, not necessarily were.
So the combo of that raw, natural and powerful creature that the huldra is, and all these authentic, badass North-Norwegian women portraying her, and themselves - side by side through 524 pages...
Well, I guarantee it's gonna be one heavy, heartfelt and wholesome book. And I can say that because it's truly not to my credit :)
The book is due late autumn 2023, but the presale at Kickstarter is open now and until 31. December! And be sure to follow the project's Facebook and Instagram. And/or; sign up for my newsletter.
Very best, Aleksander