Shot in the very middle of the Atlantic Ocean, Finisterre unveils the smooth curves of the rigid North. Spanish photographer Silvia Varela captures Faroe Islands’ faces and landscapes, drawing “An intimate cartography of the end of the world.”
Finis terrae, in Latin, means the borders of the earth. There are many Finisterre over the world. From Spain to Norway, villages flourished on land strips that people believed to be the last ones before the end of the world. The radical choice of living at the edge of the unknown is deeply engraved in these towns’ history, and it survives until today. Lost in the Atlantic Ocean, midway between Norway and Iceland, Faroe Islands’ Finisterre is the home of whale hunters, and their brackish days off-shore. It is where the Selkies – seal-women who had committed suicide in the sea –come out of the water once a year, strip off their seal-skin and dance as humans. Attracted by this allure of magic and remoteness, photographer Silvia Varela embarked on a long trip to the Faroe Islands.
In this extreme corner of the earth, the relationship between the people and their environment is unique. “I wanted to explore how a portrait can be a psychic landscape; how a photograph of the interior of someone’s home can be as intimately revealing as a portrait; how a landscape can have the emotional force of a portrait,” Varela tells us. To do so, for two consecutive years Varela spent weeks living in the locals’ homes, listening to their stories, taking long strolls with them on the windy cliffs. Access to the people’s intimacy was eased by her medium format camera that added solemnity to the process. “These people have a deep-rooted sense of where they come from, and it felt as if, by taking their portraits, I was contributing to an age-old tradition that helped reinforce family identity,” Varela tells us. Her documentary is still and silent as the eternal fjords that cut through the island.
Images from “Finisterre” © Silvia Varela