Back to search

P-SAMISK-Program for samisk forskning

Negotiating History: Photography in Sámi Culture

Awarded: NOK 5.8 mill.

Negotiating History addresses a comprehensive but largely neglected historical material: photographs, photographic collections and practices. Photographs forms part of cultural heritage and have been crucial in the formation of Sámi cultural institutions. The project approaches photographs as an entrance to Sámi history in its variations through time and space. At the same time, it opens for an understanding for how photographs actively contribute to shape and recreate the past. Historical photographs also visualize tensions and conflicts between the Sámi peoples and the majority society. In a historical perspective, Sáminess has often been defined and understood through the gaze of powerful outsiders. Today, freeing oneself from this gaze is a significant part of Sámi self-articulation. Such renegotiations represent a disruption both with tendencies of cultural homogenization within the Sámi community, and with the cultural stereotypes of the majority society. One such arena for negotiation is Sámi contemporary art. Another is contemporary youth culture where photography is used to explore Sáminess in a new digital context. The question of how to cope with colonial photographic legacy is something the Sámi population has in common with other indigenous populations around the world. Research on colonial photographs and the role of photographs in the postcolonial reality is internationally an emerging field. Inspired by the last decades developments in the field of colonial and postcolonial studies, this project aims to broaden the perspective by viewing the Sámi situation in relation to indigenous populations elsewhere. Negotiating History intends to contribute to the new research field on indigenous uses and understandings of photography that both seek to illuminate and balance dominant Euro-American theories of the photographic medium. The research team includes both Sámi and Norwegian scholars with background from art history, history of photography and social anthropology. The work in this project started in June 2014, and the project members have done comprehensive fieldwork in archives and museums in Tromsø and the North of Troms during the spring months of 2015. This work continued in June 2016, with visits in the photo-archives of Sør-Varanger museum i Kirkenes, Finnmarks fylkesbibliotek in Vadsø, samt RidduDuaottarMuseat in Karasjok and Kautokeino. In 2017 team members visited relevant archives and museum in Nordland and Sør-Troms. Team leader Lien have furthermore worked with the earliest photographs of Sámi people, based on materiale from the archives at the University of Bergen, more specifically the daguerreotypes and carte de visites of Marcus Selmer and other professional early photographers in Norway. In September and Oktober 2015 she stayed as an invited scholar at INHA (The National French Institute of Art History) with the purpose of mapping and examining material from French expeditions to Sámi areas based on material from Quai Branly and the Bonaparte collection at BNF. She has also written about the work of Sámi contemporary artists, such as Bente Geving and Marja Helander - and done research in the photography archives at Pitts Rivers Museum Oxford in February 2017. In addition to studying the identity work of Sámi bloggers, Associate Professor Hilde Nielssen has worked on a critical study of the uses of anthropometric photography in early 20th century Norwegian ethnographic race-research (and has in this connection made contacts with the Anatomic Institute at the University of Oslo as well as the Sámi Parliament). Furthermore, Lien and Nielssen worked as visiting scholars at the Museum Europäischen Kulturen in Berlin in November 2015, examining the museum?s rich collection of photographs from the Sámi areas. Based at Senter for Nordlige Folk in Nord-Troms, Phd student Kjellaug Isaksen has working on a study of the uses of photography in contemporary Sámi art, including the works of among others, Gjert Rognli, Harry Johansen and Nils-Aslak Valkeapää. Furthermore the project group has arranged an international workshop which initiated the project (2014), in addition to presenting papers at important conferences in USA (2014), Germany (2014) Cyprus (2014 and 2016). The project also arranged a workshop at the Norwegian University Center in Paris in October 2015 with both our international partners as well as well-known scholars on indigenous photography from the Nordic community. In 2016 the project arranged a workshop in Kautokeino, primarily directed towards scholars, archivist and museum-staff from the Sámi community. The project was also (in collaboration with UiT) responsible for a final conference with international participation in 2017.

It has been stated that the Sámi population is among the most photographed people in the world. Hardly any cultural form of expression has been more formational for general perceptions and conceptions of the Sámi than photography. In spite of this, photog raphs in the Sámi context have remained largely unexplored. This project aims to study the role and position of Sámi photographs in the past and present by bringing together three distinct but interrelated empirical fields: First, the ambition is to map p hotographs from the Sámi area which are kept in multiple and dispersed archives, museums and other institutions in Norway and abroad and to analyse and discuss the photographs in relation to their contextual anchoring, their distribution, circulation and various uses through time and space. A comprehensive record of this material does not exist. Secondly, the project aims to study the way historical photographs are used in new ways in the contemporary society, both within and outside institutional frames. Of particular interest is the use of photographs as a means of self-recognition, in memory projects and in the formation and exploration of identity. Essential venues are museum exhibitions, publications and digital media. During the recent years there has been an explosive activity through blogs and social media such as Facebook, Instagram, etc. Such means of expression are not least significant for Sámi children and youth, who actively make use of photography as a means of self-articulation. Thirdly, the project will study the recirculation of historical photographs and other uses of photography within Sámi contemporary art. It will ask how Sámi artists use photography in their exploration of history and renegotiation of the past, and how they critica lly approach Sáminess and Sámi identity in our time.

Publications from Cristin

No publications found

Funding scheme:

P-SAMISK-Program for samisk forskning