We bring you the untold story of the Sami people brought to you by our talented Nikon European Ambassador, Joel Marklund. Joel is one of Sweden’s finest sports and action photographers so when he set out to capture the stories of an unrepresented Sami community, he was entering new ground.

The novelty of the project did not become an obstacle. As what you’re about to see shows, Joel creates a moving and thought-provoking series that challenges the stereotypes and prejudices he feels are associated with the Sami community. Perhaps coincidently, his views are reflected in similar concerns sparked by the 2016TV hit series Midnight Sun.

This thought-provoking and inspiring project from Joel takes us to Sápmi – the place Sweden’s indigenous community of Sami people call home where he captures the everyday lives of twelve of its people through a series of intimate portrait images. The results? Well, they’re pretty special…

Sharing the stories of an unrepresented community

“I feel very fortunate to travel the world with my work. However, experience has shown me that whilst exciting and fast-paced, the best (and most personal!) stories aren’t always the ones in the most exotic locations. When I was given the opportunity to work on a Special Project as part of my Nikon European Ambassadorship, I was determined to cover something I believed in – a move away from my usual fast-paced sports photography, but something that would still let me use the journalistic skills I have developed throughout my career.

Growing up in Boden, close to where the Sami community live, I was always captivated by the Sami way of life, but also frustrated at how little I really knew about them, especially given the role they have played in my country for decades.

I’m disappointed about how Sweden has treated the Sami people. Even though we voted in favour of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007, a stigma still exists, which means Sami people are frequently treated as second class citizens. They are discouraged from using their local dialect and in some cases, families have been removed from territories they called home for generations. I feel a sense of duty to share the individual stories of these people and hopefully help give them the voice they deserve.”

Unearthing the cultural contrast

With the Nikon D5 and a range of NIKKOR lenses in his kitbag, Joel spent six weeks with the Swedish Sami community, building trust and embedding himself in the lives of twelve of its people.

“I wanted to highlight the beautiful Sami traditions, as well as capture the people simply living their day-to-day working lives. Many people just see them as ‘reindeer herders living in the mountains’, and are not interested in understanding more about their community.

“One of the subjects I photographed was a young woman called Maxida Marak, who coincidently stars in the TV series Midnight Sun. Maxida grew up in a traditional Sami community, but has now become a successful singer in Stockholm. I love that I could photograph her in her traditional dress – known as ‘gákti’ – in the environment she grew up in, as well as on stage preparing to perform. It showed two very different – but equally important – sides to her character.

“I met Marika Renhuvud when she was helping her family with the reindeer slaughter. After photographing her for a couple of days, I discovered she was also a dancer at the Swedish Ballet Academy.

“For me, discovering this type of cultural contrast is what the project is all about. Marika taught me a lot about Sami culture, especially from the perspective of young Sami people, who have grown up with two, almost contrasting, lives.”

The photography kit that made this project possible

For this project, Joel shot with the Nikon D5, the AF-S NIKKOR 35mm f/1.4G, the AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4G and AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II.

“The D5 is a sturdy and robust camera, great for spending days in the snow as it can tackle severe weather conditions without a problem. As for the lenses, the 35mm, 50mm and the 70-200mm were great companions. The 35mm and 70-200mm are especially suited to reportage photography, with the shallow depth of field allowing me to capture the incredible detail of the traditional dress. The 50mm was handy when shooting in low light situations, like when I was in the dance hall or music venue.”

Developing a level of trust

For photographers looking to start on a similar project, Joel shares handy tips to help when planning …

“As part of this project, I had the opportunity to enter people’s homes, which meant I had to gain their trust first – that took time. Before I started photographing, I spent a lot of time listening to my subjects and getting to know them. This helped them relax when it came to taking photos.

I would also recommend using a local fixer/researcher to help you with logistics and planning. It is incredibly helpful to have someone who knows the area well and can offer their help and advice when needed. Having this insight is invaluable and will save you a lot of time on your project. (In fact, I wish I’d taken this advice myself as I spent a lot of time just working out how to navigate the region!).

Joel’s final words demonstrate how photography, especially working in the field of photography, can be a life changing:

“Being able to shoot in Sweden, my home country, and meet the Sami community, has taught me so many things about myself and my work. I am a photojournalist, so to be able to communicate this remarkable story through my photographs has been truly special. I just hope these images encourage others to learn more about the Sami people and appreciate the beauty of their community.”

For more information on Joel's project, click here.

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