After Utøya

The shocking events of 22nd July last year in Norway changed the country forever. Documentary photographer Andrea Gjestvang was moved to begin a portrait project to record some of the survivors.

The project portrays 43 youths who survived the 22nd of July massacre at Utøya last summer. The camp was organized by AUF, the youth division of the ruling Norwegian Labor Party. 69 people were killed, and around 500 survived – of whom many were badly injured.

© Andrea Gjestvang
The attack left Norway and big parts of the world in shock. Newspapers and TV were reporting about it on a daily basis for many months. The perpetrator got a lot of attention, so did the police investigation, and the fact that it was an attack on our government and leading political party. 

But all the youths who were attacked on Utøya, are also just normal youths. More than half of them are under the age of 18. They will have to continue their lives carrying both mental and physical injuries that are hard, or even impossible, for other people to imagine. After the attack, I personally felt that my life, but also the public life in Norway would never ever be the same again. I realized that it was impossible to just ignore what had happened, and continue with my work as a photographer, especially taken into consideration that I was already working on projects concerning adolescents (Everybody Know This is Nowhere). 

I travelled around the country to portray the youths who survived in their home environment – the same environment they left when they packed their bag and went to summer camp July last year. While the surroundings stay the same, the person who came back was changed. Along with the portraits there is a short diarylike text where each person puts words on how they and their lives have changed after this experience.  

Nothing can recall what happened. Nothing can bring friends, lovers, sisters or brothers back. The youths will have to live on with their scars and injuries. But maybe the project can create a larger understanding of the situation of the youths, and other who survive extreme things similar to this. Hopefully the book will put a face to what can happen if we don’t stay together to create an including society and fight extreme ideologies.

I could not find any way to show caption information. I’d have liked to have read a little about the individuals whose portraits I was looking at. Even just telling us their first name would be useful. That aside, this is an important project, and some powerful images.

It’s also well worth your while exploring the blog Heartbeat which promotes the work of other women photographers. Some excellent work that will reward you for the time spent.

John MacPherson was born and lives in the Scottish Highlands. He trained as a welder in the Glasgow shipyards, before completing an apprenticeship as a carpenter, and then qualified as a Social Worker in Disability Services. Along the way he has cooked on canal barges, trained as an Alpine Ski Leader & worked as an Instructor for Skiers with disabilities, been a canoe instructor, and tutor of night classes in carpentry, stained glass design and manufacture, and archery. He has travelled extensively on various continents, undertaking solo trips by bicycle, or motorcycle. He has had narrow escapes from an ambush by terrorists, been hit by lightning, caught in an erupting volcano, trapped in a mobile home by a tornado, kidnapped by a dog's hairdresser, rammed by a basking shark and was once bitten by a wild otter. He has combined all this with professional photography, which he has practised for over 35 years. He teaches photography and acts as a photography guide & tutor in the UK and abroad. His biggest challenge is keeping his 27 year old Land Rover 110 on the road. He loves telling and hearing stories.

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