Kvarken Archipelago—New Land in the Old Country

The photographic exhibit Kvarken Archipelago—New Land in the Old Country will run November 3–December 6, 2017 at The Swedish Club in Seattle, Washington. Click on the play button to the right to listen to the original music by Tony Lagerström composed for the exhibit.

Twenty-four thousand years ago, on top of what would become the Gulf of Bothnia, glaciers began the slow process of melting. Over the next 14,000 years the glaciers retreated forming DeGeer moraines. Relieved of glacial weight, the land experienced rapid glacio-isostatic uplift and lifted from the sea. Islands appeared and the Kvarken Archipelago was formed. The 5,600 islands continually rise, joining with other islands, and trapping seawater that eventually becomes lakes. The archipelago is home to unique ecosystems, every island a variation of Finnish nature.

The Kvarken Archipelago inhabits the narrowest portion of the sea between Finland and Sweden, separating the Gulf of Bothnia from Bothnian Bay. The largest portion of the islands lie off the west coast of Finland near Vasa. About 37% of the archipelago is a nature preserve or a national park. It is also home to Finland’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s unique geological formations, flora, and fauna are the subject of the photographs in the exhibit Kvarken Archipelago —New Land in the Old Country featuring the work of Mårten Björkgren.

Mårten’s photography is colorful, often dominated by a single hue. It is also very textural. The photos focus on patterns formed by nature and light. Even the more vast compositions draw your eye to the color and texture of the islands and sea. Despite his photographic eye, Mårten did not intend to become a photographer.

Born in Karleby, Finland, he moved away to attend Åbo Akademi University. He married Ann Mari, also from Karleby, earned his masters degree in Theology, and was ordained. Mårten served as a pastor in the Esbo svenska församling. His family grew with the births of his children, Linus and Sofie. In 1989, they returned to Ostrobothnia where Mårten served as a pastor in Malax. His last years as a pastor were spent in the Vasa svenska församling. During his time in Vasa Mårten earned his doctorate with a dissertation in Practical Theology. Since 2005, Mårten has worked at the Åbo Akademi University in Vasa as a senior lecturer in religious education.

Mårten says that his interest in photography came late, only about four years ago. He opened an Instagram account and posted photos of nature. He gained a few followers, then some more, and by last spring he had reached 35,000 followers. He thought it was time for a break from Instagram. A colleague, Hannah Kaihovirta, suggested an exhibit at Åbo Akademi University in Vasa. The exhibit was a success!

After his exhibit in Vasa, showing his work in Seattle wasn’t too big of a step. Mårten contacted The Swedish Finn Historical Society in the autumn of 2016 to propose an exhibit in 2017 to celebrate Finland 100. Mårten had heard of SFHS from his sister-in-law, Lilian Nygård. In 2014, she accompanied a group of high school students from the Karleby/Kronoby area. The group visited SFHS during the Seattle portion of their trip. The students gave presentations about ancestors that had emigrated to the U.S. Local members of SFHS were invited to be the audience, a few of which were descendents of the immigrants in the reports. Lilian told Mårten about the people in Seattle who had the same roots as him.

The photography is complemented with original music by Tony Lagerström. Mårten asked Tony to compose music for the exhibit after hearing his work on the radio. Tony, a 24 year-old musician living in Jakobstad, makes electronic music with influences from Ambient, Techno, House, and piano music. He uses his music to convey the feeling of Finnish nature and the melancholy present in autumn and winter. He also likes to be in nature and take photos. You can look at Tony’s photography on Instagram and listen to more of his music on SoundCloud.

Kvarken Archipelago —New Land in the Old Country is a beautiful homage to the islands and sea. The photos are not simple landscape shots. They are natural motifs revealed to us­—much like the glacier revealed the islands 10,000 years ago.

This exhibit was made possible by support from The Swedish Finn Historical Society, Finlandia Foundation, Svenska Folksolans, Vänner, Svensk Österbottniska Samfundet, and The Swedish Club. Kvarken Archipelago—New Land in the Old Country is an official Finland 100 event. The exhibit will be made available freely to groups that wish to display it. The only cost will be shipping charges. For more information email info@swedishfinnhistoricalsociety.org.