Erika Larsen Book Review Walking with Reindeer

More Than Just Pictures.

After spending a few bitter cold days chasing geese with Erika Larsen in December of 2006, several qualities about her  became evident to me.  She is an extraordinary  photographer whose true passion  lies in discovering  history, and capturing what is left unspoken throughout cultures around the world.  I had the privilege of meeting and hunting with Erika while she traveled around the country on assignment for Field and Stream magazine.   My brothers and I were among the subjects of her photo essay titled “Young Blood” which showcased youth hunters.   From her stories and the time she spent hunting with us it was easy to tell she did not mind getting dirty and was passionate about her work.  As we sat in frozen corn fields, burrowing deep into our jackets to stay warm, Erika had not yet begun her extraordinary journey to the Scandinavian tundra.

Long after Erika left, my father told me  he received word she was taking on a true trek.  Her mission, to live with  and capture the ancient traditions of the Scandinavian, “Sámi”  reindeer herders in the modern world. I was instantly intrigued in this multi year, off the grid adventure.  When word was sent that a she was in the process of publishing a book on the experience, my eyes grew wide.  I know the quality of Erika’s work, and instantly whipped out my wallet asking where I could make a purchase.   Although I have not been involved in the writing scene all that long, Erika has been gracious enough to let me review her book, for which I thank her deeply.   Erika combines her photos and personal thoughts from the experience into a masterpiece of understanding and revelation about a culture which still maintains a spiritual connection to the deer on which they depend.  I cannot tell you how much time I’ve spent pouring over these photos,  desperately trying to soak in all they have to offer.  For I understand this, these photos are not just photos ,and these words are not just words, but a glimpse into a life we have lost.

In order to  fully grasp the people, the culture and the experience, Erika decided the best way to complete her mission was to live for an extended period of time among the Sámi. Native to the tundra of northern Scandinavian countries and Russia, the Sami people or “The People Who Walk With Reindeer”, have flourished as a culture for thousands of years.  Surviving predominately off the deer and making them the centerpiece of their existence, only a small percentage of Sámi people continue to herd reindeer in the ways of their ancestors.   Learning and preserving the ways of this dwindling ancient tradition is what drove Erika to live  for four years, 2007- 2011, on the tundra of northern Sweden and Norway. She also served as a house keeper for two of those years   Often facing extreme temperatures, She  documented and took part in their daily life perfecting an ancient tradition.  Equipped with her 4X5 Wista field camera and negative color film, Erika has been able to give us a stunning  view into this ancient relationship between man, earth and its creature.     According to Erika, these people consider their interactions with the deer and their environment to be connected on an ancestral level.  Since the Sámi people rely on the deer for their survival, it is no wonder that every act  is done with reverence and understanding, not pride and arrogance.   We as hunters give thanks for the game we take yet, these people show a level of appreciation  and connection that most of us will never be able to understand.  With incredible clarity, Erika’s photos show this sacred connection between man and beast.  It is as if  you can feel the thankfulness these people have for the animals jumping off the page.  If only modern man could remember this sense of connection and thankfulness.

Beyond just the interactions with the deer, Erika has many photos that show the unique culture of the Sámi.    Each person’s face expresses exhaustion, sense of deep fatigue which is permanently etched into their countenance.  Through Erika’s pictures depict  mentally tough these people are in order handle the weathering their bodies and minds take living on the arctic tundra.   Erika’s photos not only display a people of survival, and spiritual reverence,  she reveals the intrinsic connection between families passing down a proud  heritage.   Passing down the skills of marking and herding the annual slaughter, one generation teaches the next the understanding and purpose behind each individual event.   Without a doubt there is a powerful sense of family and heritage which resonate from these photos.

Anyone who understands the power and strength of relationships the forged in the wilderness, will be captivated by the images of the Sámi people.   These people share in a life of sacred acts, not just a weekend hobby.   The pages of Erika’s book give us a taste of this special connection of the Sámi.  What my family and I experienced six years ago with Erika,  in those frozen fields  was small compared to the magnitude of the Sámi bond.   I am thankful that through the pages of this book I am able to share in this connection