Lofoten : land of light

The photographer Raphaël Fourau invites us, in text and images, to share his discovery of the Lofoten. An initiatory journey into this Norwegian archipelago beyond the polar circle, between the Norwegian Sea and Vestfjord, where the alps fall into the sea.

I like travelling alone to take the time to observe, to see faces change as one crosses borders, Being apprehensive about the the environment I’m preparing to enter, is my decompression cabin.

Raphaël Fourau

The aeroplane drops down through the clouds, the decompression cabin opens out onto that surreal light. The same light which I had discovered some years previously when flying over the Icelandic coast for the first time. This time I was preparing to land at Harstad-Narvik, port of entry to the Lofoten Islands.

Raphaël Fourau
Alfie shyly welcomes us into his bachelor pad. This is where he spends long hours fishing cod, alone on the glacial waters of the Lofoten.

The north has attracted me for several years, I find it hard not to dwell on it. Once again, I was plunging into the unknown, I let Lionel, who fetched me from the airport, bear me away. I had gone for a week’s skiing with him and Kari. It is there that they pass part of the winter, in an old fisherman’s house which they have transformed into a lodge. They host skiers and guide them around the different spots round about.

Raphaël Fourau

I discovered the Lofoten just as night fell. All along the winding roads which lined the fjords large austere silhouettes reared up in the twilight. Then the calm of the lodge. A haven of peace in the midst of the fjords. The Lofoten perturb the imagination, destabilising what you take for granted. There the mountains plunge into the salty water and the sun bounces from the horizon. The softness of the air makes you forget that you are at the entrance to the North Pole.

I had, all the same, tried to imagine a thousand times what awaited me at the Lofoten. As all good photographers, I had rummaged around, to be prepared, to visualise…. To try to anticipate the frames, the situations, the ambience that I would be able to bring back with me. But nothing had prepared me for what I was going to discover. No other place allows fishermen and skiers to cohabit. Yet, here, touring skins dry beside thousands of freshly fished cod. This journey sank me a little further into my addiction to the Nordic lands.

Raphaël Fourau
First day, first turn behind the house. It’s been five years since Lionel and Kari first came here. Since then he has returned each year and has chosen to settle here for part of the year to welcome his friends and clients.

It was out third day skiing on these floating islands, Lionel told me about Eivind, a fanatic local skier. A Norwegian who had fallen in love the the Lofoten who now lives on his boat in the midst of the fjords. The last run of the day in a north coomb, then as is its norm the snow transformed into water without giving any notice. Eivind appeared before us, standing on the deck of his old tub, floating in the middle of Trollfjord. It was 5 pm, it was glacially cold, Eivind only protection was an awful old jumper with overlarge stitches. He held out his hand to help us climb aboard, he had made us a fish soup. Intoxicated by the cold and fatigue, the soup was comforting and a Norwegian beer plunged me into a trance. The others plunged inside to escape from the cold. The boat advanced between the mountains, handled by its hirsute captain who steered us towards his village. Eivind is a bearded giant. A dignified descendant of the Vikings, moulded by the cold, ready to confront the mountains. A fanatical skier who has chosen to flee from the town to install himself there with his family. We stayed the night with him.

The next morning, we were woken by the laughter of Nuur, Eivind’s young daughter. She was celebrating her second birthday that day. Through the lace curtains I noticed the mountains outside the window. A few hours later, we were to be at the summit, beaten by the wind and plunged into the fog after a long and painful ascent of the last rise. We were to be surprised by an avalanche, then we were to flee towards the fjord and the forest in the midst of the storm. But at that moment I was finishing my toast. The old stove crackled and I tried to explain to Nuur that my young daughter was waiting for me at home. She is called Jeanne and she also had just celebrated her second birthday. The captain raised the anchor, and the adventure continued.

Raphaël Fourau
At the end of the fishing season, the cod invade the islands before leaving space for the tourists.

The days slipped away. Without ever really knowing where I was going to end up, I began to find my bearings. The low altitude was respite for the body, and the days of skiing flowed by. Each morning Kari went down to buy fish from Alfie who was staying below the lodge. In the basement skis mixed with fishing nets. One morning, Alfie invited us to board his boat to accompany him out to sea. The smell of bad fish pervaded the cockpit. Alfie held on to the helm in his stained plastic gloves. The coast grew further from the radar. We were congregated at the stern of the boat, astounded by the spectacle surrounding around us, unreal. The small port of Henningsvaer is no more than a small point surrounded by wide mountains, bathing in the middle of the ocean. Behind his moustache, displaced by a smile at the corner of his mouth, Alfie tried to explain the rudiments of cod fishing in an incomprehensible Norwegian. I observed his features carved by the salt and I tried to imagine the life of those men whose return I watched from the lodge windows each morning. They fish alone in the midst of the mountains, battered by the cold and harshness of their trade.Their kindness touches and fascinates me.

A last incredible gully behind the house with friends, the snow transformed to water for the last time, then it was time to leave. As chance would have it I made the return alone. The process repeated itself, the decompression cabin. Once again the light cradled me on my return towards the airport. In the boarding lounge, I watched those people surrounding me, and thought to myself about how deeply I love those places. I have a profound love for the kindness of those peoples, their simplicity. I love those landscapes, that nature simultaneously austere and gentle… I love that light of the north.

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