About Tracing Freedom

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Project synopsis Tracing Freedom


Tracing Freedom is an ongoing photographic documentation project that aims to explore the concept of freedom. By compiling and sharing a globally diverse collection of freedom definitions, we hope to encourage people to reflect upon the freedom they experience in their own lives, countries and neighbourhoods. Ultimately, we want to inspire a more open-minded and generous spirit acceptance of other people’s attitudes.

169 portraits in a search of a definition of the word Freedom

In late 2008 and early 2009 I spent four months driving overland between Norway and Bangladesh. Along the way, I photographed a hundred people and asked them to define freedom. By September 2011 the numer is more than 150.

The work was first shown at the photo festival, Chobi Mela in Dhaka, Bangladesh 2009 and then later in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Twenty of them was exhibited at the Førde Folk Music Festival in July 2010. A larger exhibition was opened in August outside the Oslo City Hall, in cooperation with the Nobel Peace Center. In 2011 the images has been shown at The Peace Park in Risør, and was shown at Voss at the Ekstremsportveko festival in June 2012. The exhibit was also shown at Lofoten International Photofestival at Reine, Lofoten i 2013.
An estimate of 70 000 people has seen it so far (May 2013).
The project has been awarded Blanche Majors Reconciliation Prize for 2010 and an award in memory of Hans Christian Ostrø in November 2011.

I had begun dreaming of making an exhibition of photos and statements on perceptions of freedom after hearing that the theme for the 2009 Chobi Mela international festival of photography, in Bangladesh, would be ‘Freedom’.

Freedom of movement
I have always loved to travel freely, and have visited some 50 countries to date. As a Norwegian citizen, I am also privileged in being able to travel to most places without problems.
However, freedom of movement is actually less now than it was 50 years ago, mostly due to international politics and tension. With closed borders in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Burma making the northern and southern routes impassable, I drove the only remaining overland route between Norway and Bangladesh: Sweden, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Moldova, Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Nepal and India.

Freedom of thought
Driving ten hours daily for 102 days evokes a type of meditative state and a sense of freedom from domestic concerns. My Land Rover was not only a rolling studio with its own photo backdrop, but also a canvas for exploring my personal challenges on route. From its safety, I could differentiate real external barriers from those which were mostly in my head.
Sometimes my own fixed ideas became real obstacles to my freedom; other times the visual and sensual impressions flowed together to create dream-like landscapes… traces of ancient civilisations as I drove into the desert from Iran heading towards Pakistan… misty mornings in India and Bangladesh that resembled a Fellini movie.

Freedom to congregate
I talked to people from around 30 different countries and from all walks of life and social standings. They include the head of the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet, a world renowned violin maker, a Nobel Peace laureate, authors and activists.
But it wasn’t easy to meet people of different ages, genders and nationalities – in some countries women just aren’t allowed to talk to strangers, in others my passport was confiscated and I had to follow a military escort.

Defining freedom
On route, I amended my initial definition of freedom from “absence of force” to “absence of force imposed physically or mentally – by myself or others.” It’s a definition which also implies not imposing force on other people.

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