To be a photographer in the extreme north ! Kåre Kivijärvi and Sune Jonsson.

Not technically completely in winter, but this time of the year is a perfect time to focus on two wonderful photographers, whose works deserved to be enlightened.

Kåre Kivijärvi is a Norwegian photographer born in 1938, in Hammerfest, the world northernmost town, and Sune Jonsson was born, in 1930, in Nyåker in the northern part of Sweden named Västerbotten. They are photographers of the same generation, but they had different influences.

Sune Jonsson, is a self-educated social concerned photographer who has learnt ethnology and literature in Uppsala, he is also a writer. His work often refers to August Sander and Walker Evans, especially because his work mainly focus on the rural life and its people. Like Evans and Sander, he tried to observe all aspects of the traditionnal rural life.


His most famous work was « Byn med det blå huset » (the village with the blue house) published in 1959 (listed in Parr Badger Vol I).

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In this book, we discover the simple everyday life of inhabitants of a village in his native county of Västerbotten and we feel a strong empathy for every human being he met. He drives us around the village and, with him, we meet the neighbours like « Farbror Viktor », « Hedvig Gunnarsson » or « Natan ». The photographs are organised by topics and this village becomes a symbol of every village in the north of Sweden.

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He made a few more books, mainly related to the topic of rural life and farmers, except one which is about a Swedish mission in Congo. I would fairly recommend « Minnesbok över den Svenske bonden » which is a kind of encyclopedia about farming in Sweden (and the book can be found for an affordable price which is not the case of « Byn med… »). We discover farmers working outside, people living at home, animals… organised, once again by topics. The photos come with an essay and many fact sheets. This book, published in 1971 by LTs Verlag, is very interesting in being an inventory of agriculture in Sweden in the late 60’s and probably my favorite one amongst the books I know (of course I don’t know every books made by Sune Jonsson).

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The story of Kåre Kivijärvi is completely different. He started studying photography with Otto Steinert in Germany, and was mainly working as a journalist. For that reason, he got many assignments all over the world (Spain, USSR, India, Nepal…). If Sune Jonsson gained notoriety with the Parr Badger reference, Kåre Kivijärvi did not get that chance and remained unknown. I discovered his work when I went to Hammerfest in spring, and, so far, I only know two books about his work. The work of Kåre Kivijärvi is organised in series when Sune Jonsson had a lifetime project.

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What I like the most in his work is when he focused on the life in Norway, particularly in the area where he is from. We discover some very harsh landscapes. Photos are printed with a high contrast, mainly black and white which emphasizes the extreme climate and life conditions; during winter, the nature turns to black and white. In the composition of the images, we find the reminiscences of Otto Steinert’s influence. Each photograph has a strong organisation and I am still very surprised that some of his pictures had not become more iconic. For a Findus assignment, he spent a lot of time with fishermen, going out for some fish campaigns in the artic sea, and we discover the life on board, with the expectations, joys and breaks of men.

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Here below is a self portrait.

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Another part of his work which really interest me is his photographs of the Leastadian community (the closer reference I could find to explain this religion is the film by Lars Von trier: Breaking the waves). He was raised in a Laestadian family and he perfectly knows the organisation of the community, this could be one of the reason why he got access to their most intimate meetings and was so easily accepted. In this series, we discover a social photographer who is trying to understand the organisation of our society, and what defines the relationship between people.

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Well, there would be much more to say about his work which can, unfortunately, only be seen in Hammerfest Gallery Verk which was officially granted to represent the photographer.

Some useful links, unfortunately in Swedish and Norwegian:

And a poem, as a tribute to Kivijärvi, by John Burnside, Scothish writer :

All ilmages copyright Sune Jonsson, Kåre Kivijärvi and the publishers. Can be removed on request.


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