Seeing the woman through the picture

  • 2012-04-25
  • By Sam Logger

LEAVING HOME: Elin Berge looks at whether Thai women have found the better life in Sweden they came for.

RIGA - The world has changed. Society has become more multi-cultural, and hence it asks for greater understanding amongst people. The situation when one part of a population takes to the road and leaves their homeland for a different country is nothing new. Moreover, it is today’s reality. A question remains, though. What does a new life bring for these people? How easy is it to adjust? How hard is it to maintain one’s real face? Latvia’s Museum of Photography offers the exhibition “The Land of Queens,” by Swedish photographer Elin Berge.

Who is Elin Berge? A successful photographer whose pictures reveal a story which can otherwise be hardly seen! Born in 1978, she graduated from Nordens Fotoskola (The Nordic School of Photography) in 2003. Berge has been a significant part of many press editions as her pictures have decorated the pages of Swedish Dagens Nyheter, French Courrier International, Italian Vanity Fair and German GEO. Being a highly appraised photographer, Berge has released her photo albums. The exhibition “Veils,” which speaks about Sweden’s Muslim women and their relationship to the Muslim veil, emerged in 2006, and “The Land of Queens,” which can currently be viewed at Latvia’s Museum of Photography, was released in 2009.

So what does “The Land of Queens” say? It displays various photos that document Thai women who have all come to Sweden in search of a better life. Berge has dedicated years to collecting the stories of women who live along what is known as “The Road of the Seven Rivers,” in the province of Vasterbotten in north-eastern Sweden. Thus, these photos take a close look at destinies which are full of dreams, both broken and fulfilled, and pain, and all of it is locked in the face of reality where one must live.

“It’s a narrative of longing, and a dream of a better life,” Berge said on the exhibition. “The area where I photographed has traditionally been known as ‘Drottninglandet’ [the land of queens in the Swedish language], because numerous villages there bear the names of past queens of Sweden. Nearly all women I have worked with are from a poor region in north-eastern Thailand. Many women who grew up there had to leave to find work. They moved to cities, tourist destinations, or abroad. That’s how some of them end up in Sweden,” she adds.

How to read this? It is not an easy task, as pictures portray many directions for perception, and every visitor must choose the most suitable for their personal attitude. The first direction, which is the most obvious, is the cultural challenge. The exhibition outlines the meaning of multi-national society and how people from various backgrounds decide to be together. Today, when boundaries are sometimes left for cartographers, it is extremely important to acknowledge the term “we,” rather than “we” and “they.” Looking at the pictures, there is an awkward moment when you realize that “the strangeness” does not disappear, despite the fact that Thai women have become part of Sweden’s society, most commonly by getting married to a Swede.

This is where the second direction leads to, thinking about adaptation. The pictures show that Thai culture does not vanish from the scene, although it is evident that the culture itself turns into a big question, whether it moves into second place, letting Swedish traditions and necessities play first fiddle. The third, but probably not least, direction asks for bigger in-depth attention, and presumably Berge has tried to portray the inner feelings of these women very precisely. How? The eyes talk in every picture, and they convey the message that the difference is relative, just as the destinies are, and the feelings.

What makes this exhibition valuable? The disposition! Read the goal of the exhibition, but feel free to have your own, as the feelings really generate new understanding about the pictures. To congratulate these women or to condemn? Are they lost or have they found themselves? No matter what happens – they live in the land of queens, and for one moment this means everything.

The exhibition is open till May 6.