One day when I flew from Stockholm to Umeå, a town in northeastern Sweden where I grew up, I met a Buddhist monk from Thailand on the plane. He really stood out in his orange robe amongst the other bored looking commuters, and when I asked was he was doing there he answered that he was going to build the largest Buddhist temple in Europe in the little village Fredrika, in Lapland, 105 kilometers from Umeå. He invited me to follow and the next day I started to photograph in Fredrika. It was a beautiful tale about this holy man who was giving hope to a village affected by depopulation and unemployment. I published it in a few magazines.
During this period I moved back home to Umeå after a couple of years living in Stockholm, because of the love to the man that now is my husband and to find time to work with long term projects. I dreamt of a different life than the one I had at the moment.
I was really fascinated by the village Fredrika. Even though I was brought up so close to the area, everything seemed new to me. As the urban citizen I am, I was colored by the ideas of the Northern inland as male dominated and stagnated, given to me by authors and moviemakers. What I saw during the Buddhist ceremonies was something entirely different. The Thai women I met caught my interest the most, always together with Swedish men. In the context of the ceremonies, they seemed more familiar in the environment than I felt myself. So I decided to get to know them and at the same time get to know my own home district. During three years I traveled back and forth along what is called the road of the Seven Rivers, running between Umeå by the coast and Fredrika, to photograph Thai/Swedish couples. My focus was on the Thai women in the Swedish male milieu.
This work later became a narrative of longing and the dream of something better, a book and an exhibition with the title Drottninglandet (Queensland). To dream and to strive is something that unites all humans and I always search for identification with the people I photograph. The area around Fredrika has traditionally been known as “Drottninglandet” because a number of villages there bear the name of a Swedish queen. Nearly all the women I have photographed are from a poor region in northeastern Thailand, an area many have to leave to find work. They move to the cities, the tourist destinations, or in this case, abroad together with men. Thailand is often spoken of as “the Kingdom” and is, like so many other countries, a place where men have more possibilities than women. So my title is symbolic, standing for all the things I imagine a woman can dream about when a man offers her another life. The question if the dream comes true or not is something I leave to the beholder.
Elin Berge began working as a staff photographer at the local newspaper in Umeå 1999, at the age of 19. Wanting to learn more about life and photography she quitted her job and moved to Stockholm to become an apprentice. She graduated from the Nordic School of Photography 2003 and has since then worked as a freelancer and is published regularly in Swedish and international magazines. Publications where her images have been seen is, amongst others, Vanity Fair, Vision, Courrier International and Time.
2005, she moved back home to the north to find time and space for her own projects, inspired by the great photographer Sune Jonsson who lived and worked in Umeå. Her themes often revolve around women that in different ways are breaking boundaries. 2006 she released her first book and touring exhibition Slöjor (Veils), a portrait story that focused on some of Sweden’s Muslim women and their relation to the symbolically charged veil. 2008 she had her first international show with the series Veils and Suicide Girls at the Menotrentuno – Young Photography in Sardinia. 2009 she released her second book Drottninglandet, a unique documentation of Thai women in marriage migration. This was made in close collaboration with the celebrated Swedish singer/composer Frida Hyvönen, who made an album for the book. The exhibition Drottninglandet was produced by Hasselblad Foundation. Elin Berge has received numerous awards and grants in Sweden and was nominated for the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2010 for her book Drottninglandet. website | www.momentagency.com.