Gain Access: Linda Thompson explores identity and place in the villages of Northern Sweden
Hi everyone. It has been an exciting couple of weeks as a few of you have written to me about interesting short term photo shoots and long term projects you are working on that embrace the idea of ‘Gaining Access.’
Today I want to share a guest post from photographer Linda Thompson who is working on a project called “in Place of Memory.” Linda was born in Sweden and raised here in the states. Her artistic sensibilities and cultural connections are rooted in both countries, which bring a unique perspective into how she sees the world.
Linda received her degree in Photo Journalism from the University of Montana and was a staff photographer for Missoula’s daily paper, The Missoulian, for six years. Her work has also appeared in publications like the Economist, The New York Times and USA Today. In addition to being a Photo Journalist, Linda is also a teacher and a mixed media artist. She is currently a Masters candidate in photojournalism at Mid Sweden University (an experience that has been a huge part of her growth.) I wanted to share her experience ‘gaining access’ with her recent project, as sometimes it’s helpful to see the challenges and approaches of others with regard to finding and telling a story.
Here are some thoughts from her recent Project “In Place of Memory”:
The multimedia piece “Along the Old Road” is an introduction to my project “In Place of Memory” about identity and place; about people in migration told through the people and landscapes of several interconnected villages in northern Sweden. I am seeking answers to personal and political questions about identity and place as well as exploring how collective memory and nostalgia are manifested in photographs. I am consistently drawn to these topics as I have questions about my own identity with regards to place. I have personal experience as an immigrant both in the country of Sweden, my birthplace – and in the U.S., where I was raised and am a citizen.
(About access for this work)
More than a year ago I began making pictures around the village in northern Sweden where my grandparents lived most of their lives. Having a good report is key to showing up in the community week after week. As a former newspaper photographer I am no stranger to “access issues”. As a member of “the media”, sometimes you are welcomed, sometimes met with mistrust.
My approach to access with this personal project is similar to my newspaper work -gaining access should be (and most often is) pretty simple: Just be honest, upfront, open and patient. This means introducing myself, explaining what I am doing, what I want. If they are interested, I explain why I chose to work with this topic. I am also up front about my intentions to publish the photos any way possible. I am convinced people sense when you have nothing to hide and in turn they don’t hide from the camera. Having confidence in what you are doing doesn’t hurt either. Why should someone else trust you to take their picture if you don’t trust yourself to do a good job?
But unlike my newspaper work, this is a personal project set in a place very close to my heart -my roots. While working within a community where my grandparents are remembered fondly can absolutely help open doors, it is not something I take lightly or “use” as a way in. That sort of trust comes with great responsibility. In fact, sometimes I only mention the family connection if specifically asked. At the same time, many of the people I have photographed are new arrivals to Sweden. They are immigrants (many are refugees) from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan to name a few. There are language difficulties and fears of being identified that require patience and understanding. In a sense, the more access I get the more responsibility I feel towards the subject.
While the response has been overwhelmingly open and positive from both newly arrived immigrants as well as long time residents, there have of course been a handful of people who have gently (and not so gently) expressed that they don’t want to be involved. Sometimes it takes a thick skin, and I am thankful for my newspaper experience for that. It’s not always easy to let go of a picture you want, but I like to tell myself that a better photographic situation is just around the corner. Ah, patience…
Entire afternoons of beautiful Nordic light have passed me by as I am sipping tea and listening to stories of local roots or long migrant journeys. Sometimes I return home after a daylong shoot, feeling like I’ve been visiting all day- with just one or two decent images to show for it. This is still uncomfortable for me as someone who is used to producing much more on much less time. But instead of being disappointed, I try to be patient. This is where ‘access’ becomes the byproduct of genuine human relationships. This is the luxury of working on a long-term personal project. It is a luxury that I am still learning to slow down and embrace.
To see more of Linda’s work check out her website: