What to see at Norway’s Nordic Light Festival of Photography 2015

The Nordic Light Festival of Photography, spaced across galleries in the small island-city of Kristiansund, on the northern reaches of the Norwegian coastland, is now in its tenth year. Not especially well-known in international photography circles, it’s one of the most picturesque, dedicated, surprising celebrations of photography in Europe.

For a festival with only a handful of full-time staff, and made possible only by the army of local volunteers, its testament to the passion of the festival that 18 established international photographers will exhibit in Kristiansund.

It’s tenth year is celebrated through the reappearance of three photographers who exhibited in previous festivals, such as Giorgia Fiorio. The international photographers present range from James Nachtwey, an American war photojournalist; to Thomas Hoepker, a German documentary photographer; to Per Maning, a Norwegian fine art photographer; to Pieter Ten Hoopen, a Dutch photojournalist and filmmaker (see photographs above).

The festival uses its scale to its advantage, helping local photography people mixing with world-class photographers in the local bars and restaurants.

Set in the local cinema in the centre of town, Nordic Lights’ days are orientated around lectures from an eclectic range of non-photography professions, as well as all the exhibiting photographers.

Around 30,000 visitors are expected to visit the city, which only has a population of 24,000.

Morten Krogvold, who has been the artistic director since the festival’s birth 10 years ago, says: “I ask all the guests to concentrate for three or four days to digest what is happening while at the same time wining and dining. People switch off their cell phones – they are 100 percent there.”

The unconventional speakers exemplify Krogvold’s belief that photographers have much to learn from other seemingly-unrelated professions. Past speakers include Manchester United player Ole Gunnar Solskjær in 2006, recounting how he fought back from injury. Don McCullin spoke in 2008 about his career spent capturing poverty and war, yet there was also a speech from Second World War hero in 2008, Gunnar Sønsteby. Krogvold says of Sønsteby’s speech: “He talked about the mentality of life, of being on the planet, to take care of time by doing important things”.

Non-photographer speakers this year include folk singer Åse Kleveland, peace professor Johan Galtung and Mads Gilbert, a doctor and socialist politician from Norway. “Photographers have so much to learn from sport people because we all share the same mentality but use different tools” explains Krogvold. “It’s different but in a way it’s common. For example, we have a singer talking about how to behave – which is the most important thing for a photographer – how to grieve, how to respond with your body, how to react when you are very stressed.”

“It’s important to have inspiration from other creative people. It’s so nice to have people talking about spiritual things and not only narrow-minded photographer’s thinking. The technique, the dark room and the light is not that important [at the festival]. What’s important is having something to say.” Beneficial as the skills of fellow artisans are, the vast majority of speakers are photographers.

A “cultural dialogue” between Photo Romania and Nordic Light, enabled by EEA grants, will occur through an exchange of artists. Marie Sjøvold is going to Cluj-Napoca city in Romania for the festival from 15 to 24 May. Nordic managing director Charles Williamsen said: “We are proud to be able to send a young photographer of this calibre to Romania. It’s great to be able to help get Norwegian photographers out into the world.” The Photo Romania representative at the Nordic Festival of Light is Mihai Moiceanu, who will exhibit nature shots from rural Romania.

With only 300 to 400 seats per speech only one percent of visitors can attend each talk, so early booking is advisable.

For more information see here