Terje Abusdal is a documentary photographer based in Oslo, Norway. After a master in environmental economics he attempt to the one year program of visual storytelling at the international Danish School of Media and Journalism. In 2015 he was among the selected photographers for the first edition of ISSP Masterclass program having Aaron Schuman as lecturer.

Finnskogen – directly translated as The Forest of the Finns – is a large, contiguous forest belt along the Norway/Sweden border, where Finnish settlers arrived in the 1600s. The immigrants – called Forest Finns – were an ethnic group originally from the Savolax region, close to contemporary Russia.

This project investigates what it means to be a Forest Finn today, some twelve generations after their migration, in a time when their way of life is long gone, and their language is no longer spoken.

The Forest Finns were slash-and-burn farmers. This ancient agricultural method yielded bountiful crops but required large areas of land. Population growth over a long period of time eventually led to a scarcity of resources in their native Finland and, fuelled by famine and war, forced a wave of migration in search for new territories.

Many of the settlers ventured northwest and tried their luck in the Nordic wilderness. At that time, much of the land had been reclaimed by nature following the Black Death, which wiped out more than half of the population. Throughout the next decades, the Forest Finns spread across Scandinavia in a constant search for new soil to sew. The journey was an essential part of their existence, as mobility was an integral consequence of slash-and-burn farming. Furthermore, the Forest Finns’ understanding of nature was
rooted in an eastern shamanistic tradition, and they are often associated with magic and mystery. Rituals, spells and symbols were used as a practical tool in daily life; they could heal and protect, or safeguard against evil.

In its original form, the Forest Finn-culture no longer exists, and yet more and more people feel a connection to it. Today, the Forest Finns are considered an official minority in both Norway and Sweden, and yet there are no statistics on their numbers. In fact, the only official criterion of belonging to this minority is that, regardless of your ethnic origin, you simply feel that you are a Forest Finn.