Felix Odell (b. 1976) is a photographer currently based in Stockholm, Sweden. After his studies in art and photography, Felix attended KTH, The Royal Technical College, for a degree in engineering, but decided to follow his instincts and make a break for it in photography instead. He began assisting many of Sweden’s most reputable photographs until I eventually started to find my own expression as a photographer. Felix currently is working editorially for several magazines and some of clients include Volvo, Conde Nast, Monocle, to list a few. Today we share Felix’s work that he shot for Monocle on the Sami people, once indigenous peoples who inhabit the northern Arctic Sápmi region, which is comprised of the Arctic regions of modern day Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Russia.
AB: Hey Felix! Nice to have you, can you start off by telling me where you started as a photographer?
FO: I began by photographing simple, ordinary landscapes of open spaces and horizons. I consciously stayed away from showmanship, and learned how to use natural light and its variations and shiftings from early morning to late at night. I later moved on to domestic and every-day settings, to look for beauty in simple objects. I let the light transform these settings into something different. This way of working has humbled me, and it has given me a greater understanding of photography.
AB: What type of connections did you make with these people being photographed? Was there a language barrier?
FO: The magazine helped me with some connections. I meet some Sami politics and some Sami working with reindeers. Most of them understand English and most off them are living in “normal” houses with TV and internet. They struggle to keep their traditions and Sami languages.
AB: When you say “normal” houses, what exactly do you mean?
FO: They live in standard Western homes. At one point they lived in huts but today most of them live in houses. Sometimes when they are herding for short periods of times they will stay in huts.
AB: The clothing that they wear are beautifully crafted, with bead work and rich colors. Can you explain to me what their clothing is representative of in terms of their culture?
FO: The suit’s appearance varies between different areas in Sápmi (Sami). Moreover, different koltens because average depending on sex and in some areas, depending on age and civil status. Some examples of changes of the cut is to manskolten is shorter than women and that gáktis tend to be longer in the southern Sápmi areas than in the north. In the same way as other clothing varies koltens appearance partially with fashions. Seamstress own imagination may give individuality to the suit in color, decoration and band patterns.
AB: What part do the reindeers take in this series? What do they mean to the Sami people?
FO: Reindeer herding is intimately linked to the Sami culture and traditions very far back in time. It has for thousands of years evolved from hunting wild reindeer to reindeer husbandry today. Even today, it is nature that control the rhythm of reindeer herding as reindeer are on natural grazing year round. The free nature of work is a prerequisite for an ecologically sustainable reindeer husbandry with long healthy animals. Man / herdsman is the need to take into account the nature and reindeer , and not vice versa. Reindeer mission is to be the reindeer’s protector and create good conditions for getting the livelihood of their nutrition .
AB: I’m really drawn to the photographs in this series, can you explain what the building that is being photographed?
FO: One is the Norwegian Sami Parliament and the other is the Finish Sami Parliament.
AB: What type of equipment were you using to shoot this series, film possibly?
FO: A large format camera. Linhof Master Technical 4×5” with color negative film. I started using a large-format camera to slow down the process. This also gave me the opportunity to straighten out the perspectives and gain a quality that I felt gave the image a sense of realness. To be standing beside the camera, directing and exposing, became important. It was a relief not to be looking for images in the viewfinder, since I was given the possibility to compose the image myself, and thus, the camera became a tool for documenting my expressions.
AB: Do you have any interesting stories from this series?
FO: They had a party at a local bar on a Friday night where they had this “jojk” singing competition. Amazing way of singing. Beautiful memory.
AB: Do you have any projects you’re working on now? What are you focusing on lately?
FO: I do lots of commissions for magazines but I try to do landscapes when I have time. I will go to India in a couple of weeks and I’m sure there will be something from there. In recent years, I have worked in various projects where I have been able to focus on telling stories, and showcase various types of processes. For example, how can a limestone quarry -an open wound in nature – become so beautiful? Relationships and contradictions have become vital in informing the design of these projects, which has helped me to become more focused on what is my own presence in my photography.
To view more of Felix Odell’s work please visit his website.