The Expanded Photograph

Archives for tangible and intangible Sámi heritage

How to read photographs? How much information should be added to the thousands of photos that we keep in our museum archives? This is a picture of a Sámi man, seen from the rear, dressed in a Northern Sámi gákti  from GuovdageaidnuPrecise entries in the photographic database might well be: “Man”, Sámi outfitExhibition Samekulturen. Sometimes this is all we find in museum photo-databases. Looking carefully, he stands firmly in the hall of a historical exhibition: Samekulturen at the Arctic University Museum in Tromsø. 

Therefore, a rhetorical question: are these entries adequate in order to approach this photo? Obviously not, hence research about the archive should contribute, through a critical gaze, to expand on the significance and interpretation, the historical dimensions and readings of images. Another level in this critical work, is to interconnect various pictures not only with relevant information, but also analytically, referring to the context in which the images were used, appropriated, manipulated, forgotten. 

Someone may recognize the person in the picture just by looking at his posture. For those who recognize this body language at the first sight, this person is Ole Henrik Maggathe first President of the Sámi Parliament of Norway (1989-1997) who became Chair of the Forum for Indigenous People at the UN in 2002. This picture is dated 2014. He stands in the venue where he, some 45 years earlier, was acting as scientific assistant of Prof. Ørnulf Vorren (1916-2007), studying the exhibition’s contents in order to disseminate knowledge about Sámi culture at the pedagogical level. Later, Magga became professor of linguistics at the Arctic University of Norway.

In the museum collections, performance and cultural heritage intersect. Recording and inscriptions produce new forms of material culture. Any photo, and hence this very photo, is soundless.

What the picture does not tell us, is that he is chanting a joik at the moment when the photo was taken. Joik is a musical and lyrical form chanted by the Sámi people, its genesis is very ancient. Persons, animals, landscapes, and experiences can all be the subject in a joik. The one here performed is “The Spirit from the Nine Valleys”, a piece dear to Magga. He chants about a sieidi  in the north of Troms, protecting animals, plants, human beings. According to him, it is probably one of the oldest joik that are known today. 

The recording is part of the collections of Sámi traditional music at the museum, systematized and expanded by Ola Graff. In the museum collections, performance and cultural heritage intersect. Recording and inscriptions produce new forms of material culture. Any photo, and hence this very photo, is soundless. However, knowing that its subject was singing at the moment of the shooting, may enhance the desire to consult the music archive of the University Museum and listen to this rarely chanted joik. 

The joik: From minute 11.25. Performed by Ole Henrik Magga in 2014. This same joik was recorded by Ragnvald Graff in 1958, chanted by Anders Johansen Eira. 

Davvisámegiella (Northern Sámi)


Researcher

Photo: Hege I. Hanssen

Rossella Ragazzi