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Geiranger #1

Geiranger #1

That’s the ratio between townsfolk living in Geiranger year-round and cruise passengers visiting during the tourist season.

Geiranger #2

Geiranger #2

When Wikipedia declares the place a “tourist village” you know it’s going to be bad. Cruise tourism in Geiranger can be traced back to summer of ’69. That’s 1869, of course. Since then, Geiranger, with its year-round population of 255, has grown to be the second busiest cruise port in all of Norway, with an estimated 320,000 passengers from close to 200 ships. Jeez.

Geiranger #3

Geiranger #3

Geiranger #4

Geiranger #4

Geiranger #5

Geiranger #5

Geiranger #6

Geiranger #6

Geiranger #7

Geiranger #7

Geiranger #8

Geiranger #8

Geiranger #9

Geiranger #9

Geiranger #10

Geiranger #10

Geiranger #11

Geiranger #11

Geiranger #12

Geiranger #12

Dark Traditions

This Saturday we celebrate Skull Sunday.

Bremanger #1

Bremanger #1

In two days time I’m leaving for Spain to not celebrate Christmas. This is an attempt to make the Christmas holiday an actual holiday (also to escape Norway’s soggy winter darkness). But before ditching all traditions, let’s observe some traditions.

Bremanger #2. Family photographs

Bremanger #2. Family photographs

Skull Sunday is a perversion of old traditions observed through need, transformed into a celebration itself. I’ve touched upon the topic before: It’s the annual eating of boiled sheep heads.

Bremanger #3

Bremanger #3

Bremanger is the island where my father grew up. The default weather here is shite. This close to winter solstice daylight lasts only for a few measly hours. The dark grey landscape is regularly lit with vulgar Christmas displays. Neon santas riding neon reindeers through neon snow are out of place in more ways than one. Mostly because this doesn’t feel like winter at all. Outside temperature was close to 13 centigrades when I got up at nine this morning. That’s a nicer temperature than we had mid summer.

Winds are rocking the old house, darkness is creeping in, half eaten half heads of lamb are piling up on the kitchen table.

It all feels very wrong in just the right way.

Bremanger #4. Workbench

Bremanger #4. Workbench

Bremanger #5. Cigarette Jesus

Bremanger #5. Cigarette Jesus

Bremanger #6. Food cooking

Bremanger #6. Food cooking

Bremanger #7. Potato

Bremanger #7. Potato

Bremanger #8. Christmas

Bremanger #8. Christmas

Bremanger #9. Food is ready

Bremanger #9. Food is ready

Bremanger #10. Road off the island (closed)

Bremanger #10. Road off the island (closed)

Easter Photographs, Off-Season

Pics from a drive through Western Norway some six months ago, forgotten until I got stung by a wasp yesterday (which in late September is kind of an off-season event. The off-season-ness is the key here. It’s not that arbitrary. Really).

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At Fjord’s End

Beyond the picture perfect beauty of Hardanger, the backside of the postcard is even more alluring.

Odda #1. The zink smelting plant

Odda #1. The zink smelting plant

The hotel director. Ole Melkeraaen

The hotel manager. Ole Melkeraaen

The sound of Hardanger is very much the a cappella vocal approval of the visiting tourists, going “ooh” and “aah” and “sehr schön” and “ain’t that just lovely.” With hillsides clad in apple blossoms and snow-capped mountains diving into the blue-green waters of the fjord, Hardanger is the epitome of Norwegian romantic nationalism. I once took an English writer for a week long trip around these fjords in my old Ford Fiesta. That trip ended up as a nine page story in KLM’s inflight magazine – under the headline “Fjord Fiesta.” I’ve worked with other seasoned travel writers producing travel stories from this region as well, and more than once have heard them say: “I thought I was blasé, but this..!”

But this. This – as in the picture perfect postcard Hardanger – only exist between May and September. There are other sides to Hardanger as well. There is an end of the fjord. And Sørfjorden – the Southern Fjord – infamously known as the fjord that God forgot – ends in Odda.

Odda #2. By night

Odda #2. By night

The Johnny Cash of Utne. Øyvind Terjesen

The Johnny Cash of Utne. Øyvind Terjesen

Here, in this small industrial town built around a smelting plant now closed, two friends since childhood have spent most of the day in the kitchen. One of them – the hotel manager – is just off night watch and has chosen cooking over sleep. The other put on the roast even before going to bed from the party the night before (drunk slow roast – now that’s lovely). The table is set with white linens and the best dining wares. Several bottles of Amarone are breathing nicely, the fish soup starter has been simmering for hours and all is ready for one hell of a nice dinner. Oh, and I’m invited. Only that I don’t know. Not that it’s supposed to be a secret in any way, but my friend and colleague – the director of the fjordside mischief TV-series “Fjorden Cowboys” – just sort of forgot to mention it.

So there you have it. A short hour prior to the best meal I’ll have in quite a while, I’m sitting at a roadside tavern – under a confederate flag, no less – eating a roadside hamburger and spoiling my appetite. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to me. After all, the reason why I’m in Odda this March weekend, is to embrace the sudden and make a series of portraits based on chance meetings. I started the day talking to a guy feeding birds along the wharf. His name was Sigfred.

Feeding birds. Sigfred

Feeding birds. Sigfred

– So, Sigfred, how do you spend your days?
– From three minutes past two till five o’clock I listen to the radio. Other than that I feed the ducks.

Simple as that. Yet not simple at all. Sigfred told me he used to work at the zink plant, that’s the other giant smelting plant in the small town of Odda. And this goes for most of the people I meet this weekend. Most all of them are in some way connected to either the industry, the agriculture or both. Odda – the smelting plant town – and the fjords are in themselves a melting pot of both old farm culture and industrial identity, my friend Hildegunn Wærness tells me. And this blend of cultures has created some very tough and strong willed men and women – some of whom Hildegunn decided would make for great TV.

The result – the hit TV show “Fjorden Cowboys” – explores and celebrates Norwegian macho culture through the exploits of two entrepreneuring buddies who wear hats, love dynamite, talk trash and drink hard cider straight from the jerry can.

The cowboys. Leif Einar Lothe and Joar Førde enjoying cigarettes and dynamite

The cowboys. Leif Einar Lothe and Joar Førde enjoying cigarettes and dynamite

Last summer, I took a commision from the TV channel who was to air this show, to produce a set of promotional photos. This turned out to be one of the most fun jobs I did through all of 2013, but I was also left with a feeling that there were way more interesting people this end of the fjord than just the two main characters and their entourage.

Nightlife. Øyvind Paulsen (at left), Svein Takla and Marianne Solheim

Nightlife. Øyvind Paulsen (at left), Svein Takla and Marianne Solheim

Pool hall boys. Mohammed Abdinasir Salen (at left), Shakir Adan Mohammed and Mowlid Mohammed

Pool hall boys. Mohammed Abdinasir Salen (at left), Shakir Adan Mohammed and Mowlid Mohammed

The Rocker. Anne Spilde

The Rocker. Anne Spilde

For over half a year I had this urge to go back and make a portrait series from Odda and Sørfjorden, to explore the landscape beyond the picture perfect postcard. To meet with people that might have chosen to live a life slightly deviating from the norm of conformity – and make no mistake – I do mean that as a compliment.

The ferry

The ferry

The blues musician. Bill Booth

The blues musician. Bill Booth

The bartender. André Kabaya

The bartender. André Kabaya

So there we were – the director and me – on an adventure in the dark winter fjords – hoping to meet interesting people, to photograph them and maybe enjoy a drink in their company. And that we surely did. To such an extent that one of us incidentally failed to mention to the other that we had a dinner invitation.

For that I was mad for about five minutes. Then I remembered a quote from one of my favourite authors, Kurt Vonnegut: “Curious travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.” Not that I’m religious, even less than the man with the guitar who earlier that day had sung to us: “I’m not religious – but I believe when I have to” – but as a reminder to embrace the sudden and unexpected, these words of Vonnegut are themselves good travel companions.

So off to dinner we went, me not quite as hungry as I would’ve liked to be, still expecting it to be brilliant. It was.

Strangely, drunkenly, Twin Peaks-ishly brilliant. Just as the end of the fjord itself.

Tavern staff. Hans Martin Bleie and Halldor Kråkevik

Tavern staff. Hans Martin Bleie and Halldor Kråkevik

Once Upon A Time In The Fjords

Dynamite, dames and hard cider. Two buddies from the fjord that God forgot work hard to play even harder.

Cigarettes. And dynamite

Cigarettes. And dynamite

I had just returned from a month-long holiday that had taken me through the Southern, Northeastern and Midwestern United States. My first assignment back home took me to the heart of the Norwegian Midwest. There are some similarities between these places. But mostly differences.

There are no flat fields. Instead, fjords give way to mountains that rise to glaciers and plateaus. There are no cities and no highways but country roads and small towns. People here aren’t godfearing as much as God is afraid of them. Okay, that might be a bit much, but there are some tough folks in the Hardanger district. Yes, meet Joar and Lothepus.

Lothepus, at left, and Joar. A 90-year-old fishing vessel is base of operation when travelling the fjords

Lothepus, at left, and Joar. A 90-year-old fishing vessel is base of operation when travelling the fjords

They grew up in Sørfjorden, infamously known as the fjord that God forgot. They started operating excavators while still in elementary school. They love dynamite, they talk thrash and they drink hard cider straight from the jerry can. They call themselves fjord cowboys and from early next year they will be the stars of a TV-show exploring and celebrating Norwegian macho culture.

Tough guy #1

Tough guy #1

Tough guy #2. Money aplle shot

Tough guy #2. Money apple shot

I spent a weekend in their company producing promotional pics for the show. This included travelling the fjord in a 90-year-old fishing vessel saluting weddings with dynamite and spending the rest of the day drinking and partaking in competitive spitting of sweet cherry stones (national record is 14.24 metres. We didn’t come close).

Dynamite. This is your typical three-stick-wedding-salute

Dynamite. This is your typical three-stick-wedding-salute

Come Sunday, I was still missing the crucial horseback cowboy shot, which left us with no choice but to chase down the good guys who’d gone into hiding in hope of dealing with their hangovers in solitude. No such luck of course, and soon enough we were traversing a ridiculously steep and narrow mountain road in search of horses. Horses and one hell of a rain shower, that is. You can’t expect it not to rain when you’re dealing with hung over bareback-riding of previously unridden horses, a film crew with expensive equipment and your only way down has the potential to turn into a mud slide.

There ain't much cattle in Hardanger. There are, however proper cowboys

There ain’t much cattle in Hardanger. There are, however, proper cowboys

The TV-series Fjorden Cowboys is produced by Flimmer Film and directed by Hildegunn Waerness. See the official teaser here.