Are Nordic Women at the Forefront of New Wave Feminism?

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Silje Curtis Blair
SiljePhotography by Curtis Blair

Photographer Curtis Blair certainly thinks so – and he's exploring the notion with an empowering photo study

Family vacations to Helsinki first sparked photographer Curtis Blair’s interest in Scandinavia as a child – heightened by age, exploration, a handful of sweet teenage trysts – and ultimately culminating in a full-blown love affair by the time he reached adulthood. “I became fascinated by the people, culture and scenery so much, that I decided to go travelling throughout Scandinavia with friends,” he explains, adding, “when those said friends backed out, I decided to undertake the adventure on my own.”

While the verdurous landscape provided infinite stimulation, what really kindled his curiosity were the nation’s female inhabitants. Ergo: his photo study of Nordic girls was born – an explorative cross-section of intimate portraits which aim to showcase the natural beauty of his subjects and their unique cultural habits. “Things like snus, weekend cabins, summer houses on archipelagos, extreme liberalism (by the standards of most of the backwards world we know) and even reservedness are a far cry from the life I know growing up in Liverpool,” says Blair of his sustained intrigue. Rather than casting models organically for the project, he scoured social media platforms such as Tinder and Instagram for real-life women who fulfil the beautiful, strong, “modern-day Viking” brief. Below, he talks in further detail about Nordic Girls and reveals the intricacies of his creative process.  

On his photographic process...
“I think my photographic process developed organically from my time as a musician. Much like with music, I typically start with one element that interests me – a location, a person, an aesthetic – and then mentally visualise all of the other components that I can juxtapose with it in a harmonious or discordant way. Studying and taking snapshots of as many movies and fashion magazines as possible aids my process when it comes to choosing the components that build my envisioned final image. I shoot everything on film, without a digital camera even on set, so I’ve always forced myself to rely on this mental process rather than the iterative one I assume most digital photographers adopt.

My ethics on post-production have always been to edit as little as possible without compromising the potential of the final image. When retouching, I only alter significant blemishes and, even then, it’s for the sake of the model who typically needs those images to promote herself to an industry that still demands perfection.”

On the Nordic Women series and the inspiration behind it... 
“Through a book of make-up free, natural portraits, Nordic Girls attempts to showcase the beauty of Nordic women as well as the lifestyle and cultural quirks that draw me to the Nordic Countries. Things like snus, weekend cabins, summer houses on archipelagos, extreme liberalism (by the standards of most of the backwards world we know) and even reservedness are a far cry from the life I know growing up in Liverpool. The project is constantly inspired by meeting new people, exploring new places and listening to Nordic artists such as Sigur Rós, Håkan Hellström, Björk and MØ who find themselves on repeat during every trip across the North Sea.” 

On why Nordic women are at the forefront of new wave feminism... 
“In the time I’ve been shooting for Nordic Girls, I’ve seen Icelandic women notably uniting on social media to promote the #freethenipple campaign; the Feminist Initiative political party gain increasing support and expand into Norway; Sweden formally include ‘hen’ – a gender-neutral pronoun – into their equivalent of the Oxford English Dictionary; and countless Nordic women flying a flag for feminism through their art, social media content or physical image. More recently I’ve read that Sweden is now providing every high school student in the country with a copy of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists, whilst the UK is proposing to remove feminism from the A-Level curriculum...”

On scouting for models on Instagram, Airbnb and Tinder... 
“Without the modern blessings of Instagram, Airbnb and Tinder, the book would have almost certainly never happened. Instagram and Tinder opened me up to a vast network of ‘real’ Nordic women, who were not exotic-faced models but were each interesting to me in their own way; Airbnb simply gave me the authentic Nordic locations in which to immortalise them. From the beginning, it’s been integral to the project that I capture the whole spectrum of these beautiful, modern-day Viking women, so it was important to not distort this by only casting fashion models. The images included in this particular excerpt (from a recent trip to Oslo) are not necessary representative of the latter, but this is certainly reflected in the book.”

On your photographic highlights from the series...
“Capturing Helene, who is pictured in this excerpt [above], simply because the shoot made me take a step back and realise how well-connected the modern world is and how incredible the adventure has been to date. The notion that I could find somebody that intrigues me on an app, chat to them via e-mail, fly over a body of water and actually meet and create art with that person is still awe-inspiring to me. Also, I loved cycling around Copenhagen in the sun, half dead after Distortion Festival, scoping locations for shoots and chilling in Freetown Christiania. Those who have been in summer will understand; beautiful people, beautiful city.”

On his latest creative endeavours...
“This year I’m looking to finish off Nordic Girls but I still want to visit Helsinki, Reykjavik, Gothenburg, Tórshavn and Bergen before wrapping up and making my final selection.”