FRAMES Photography Podcast with Anne Helene Gjelstad

On today’s episode of the FRAMES Photography Podcast W. Scott Olsen is talking to Anne Helene Gjelstad, Norwegian photographer and fashion designer.

You can listen to this interview using our podcast player below, but we strongly encourage you to subscribe to the podcast in your podcast app, so that you don’t miss any future episodes of the show.

As a photographer, Anne Helene Gjelstad mainly works with portraits, fashion and documentary, but also with interiors, products and lifestyle.

Gjelstad is educated from Norwegian National Academy of Craft and Art Industry from 1982. She then had her own fashion studio for design and production of exclusive models. For five and half years, she also had her own knitting production in Estonia for the Norwegian and international market.

In 2009, she completed a two-years course in digital photography at Bilder Nordic School of Photography. She has also participated in workshops with Morten Krogvold, Mary Ellen Mark, Joyce Tenneson and William Ropp. She also worked at Mary Ellen Mark Studio in New York City for a period of time.

For the last 11 years Gjelstad has been working on a project in Kihnu, an island in the Baltic Sea considered Europe’s last matriarchy. Gjelstad says she was first exposed to women from Kihnu during a Nordic Knitting Symposium. She later said that out of 35 women she photographed, only 10 are still alive.

The Kihnu project resulted in the book Big Heart, Strong Hands that was published by Dewi Lewis Publishing in 2021. The book and Gjelstad’s work has received a wonderful response around the world, also by BBC, the Guardian, All About Photo, Business Insider and many many more.

Big heart, Strong hands is the story of the women on the Estonian islands Kihnu and Manija in the Baltic Sea. Geographically isolated, over centuries a strong sense of community spirit and a steadfast attachment to their ancestor’s customs has developed. Often viewed as the last matriarchal society in Europe, the older women here take care of almost everything on land as their husbands travel the seas.

Gjelstad has photographed the daily lives and activities of the women, their clothing, bedrooms, kitchens and farmhouses as well as the surrounding landscape ­– even a ceremony in a deceased person’s kitchen only three hours after she had passed away. She has also interviewed the women about their lives, struggles and losses and their thoughts on the future. We learn of the development of this unique society, the harsh conditions it endured over many decades as part of the Soviet Union, as well as its culture and folk dressing customs. These are the hushed voices of culture bearers who need to be heard, for this is a small society rapidly moving towards western standards, and where traditional culture and identity is inevitably slipping away.

Anne Helene Gjelstad is a Norwegian award-winning photographer and educator whose work has been exhibited worldwide. Her passion is photographing people and for the last eleven years she has portrayed the lives of the older women on the Estonian islands of Kihnu and Manija in the Baltic Sea. For her, Big heart, strong hands, is her contribution to record and help preserve the future of this unique culture.

Stine / © Anne Helene Gjelstad
Selma / © Anne Helene Gjelstad
Telma / © Anne Helene Gjelstad
Lohu Ella dressing at home / © Anne Helene Gjelstad
Koksi Leida funeral / © Anne Helene Gjelstad
Tilli Alma knitting / © Anne Helene Gjelstad




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