Moving Portraits of the Young Survivors of Norway’s Massacre

Behold
The Photo Blog
July 30 2013 12:43 PM

Moving Portraits of the Young Survivors of Norway’s Massacre

One Day in History“I carry my scars with dignity, because I got them for something I believe in. It’s my attitude in life, it keeps me standing. This is how things are, and I have to deal with it. It helps no one if I sink into depression, least of all myself, so I keep my head up and focus on the good things in life.” Ylva Helen Schwenke (15) was shot five times.
Ylva Helen Schwenke, 15, was shot five times. "I carry my scars with dignity, because I got them for something I believe in," she said. "It’s my attitude in life, it keeps me standing. This is how things are, and I have to deal with it. It helps no one if I sink into depression, least of all myself, so I keep my head up and focus on the good things in life."

Andrea Gjestvang/Moment

On July 22, 2011, a car bomb killed eight people at the executive government building in Oslo, Norway. Shortly thereafter, Anders Behring Breivik, responsible for the bombing in Oslo, opened fire at a summer youth camp for members of the Labor Party on the island of Utøya, killing 69 (mostly young) people and wounding many more; 500 people survived.

Working as a photo editor at the time, Andrea Gjestvang started taking photographs of the carnage in Oslo, using her camera to help her navigate through the horrific scene.

“I was very scared and confused, almost paralyzed,” she wrote via email about taking the pictures. “One part of me wanted to get as far as possible away from the site, as we didn’t know what was going on. Another part of me was desperate to take pictures. Without my camera I didn’t know what to do, where to go, and how to deal with what I saw.”

Advertisement

Focusing on the event was one thing, but Gjestvang wanted to concentrate on the repercussions of the killings in a deeper way. “For a while it seemed like people in Norway suffered from a kind of ‘22nd of July fatigue,’ but then it is even more important to remind [people] of the fact that the survivors are real people who actually live with this experience every day,” she said.

One Day in HistoryCecilie Herlovsen (17) lost her arm. She was also shot in the cheek, but the bullet hit her wisdom tooth - which propably saved her life.
Cecilie Herlovsen, 17, lost her arm. She was also shot in the cheek, but the bullet hit her wisdom tooth, which probably saved her life.

Andrea Gjestvang/Moment

One Day in HistoryTorje Hanssen (14) was the youngest participant at the summer camp. His older brother was badly injured, but Torje survived because he swam away and was rescued by a boat.
Torje Hanssen, 14, was the youngest participant at the summer camp. His older brother was badly injured, but Torje survived because he swam away and was rescued by a boat.

Andrea Gjestvang/Moment

Her series “One Day in History” (and subsequent book En Dag i Historien) focuses on the survivors of the shootings on Utøya. Gjestvang wanted to explore “in depth the individual consequences for the survivors.”

To do that, she traveled around Norway to meet the young people in their homes. She kept things simple, working with natural light and with one camera, and she followed the lead of her subjects regarding how much they wanted to expose on camera.

“Some people have asked why I show the injuries in such a direct way in the photographs,” Gjestvang said. “But if the youth are not ashamed of the damages, why should I be the one holding them back and telling them to hide their bodies? I admire their courage and openness.”

One Day in History"In the time after Utøya I had a really hard time sleeping. I was afraid of the dark and suffered from dreadful night terrors. My mom and I decided that getting a dog might help me, so I got Athene. Now she sleeps on top of my stomach every night."Iselin Rose Borch (15).
Iselin Rose Borch, 15. "In the time after Utøya I had a really hard time sleeping. I was afraid of the dark and suffered from dreadful night terrors," she said. "My mom and I decided that getting a dog might help me, so I got Athene. Now she sleeps on top of my stomach every night."

Andrea Gjestvang/Moment

One Day in HistoryEirin Kristin Kjær (20) was shot three times while trying to protect some younger friends.
Eirin Kristin Kjær, 20, was shot three times while trying to protect some younger friends.

Andrea Gjestvang/Moment

One Day in HistoryAleksander Sandberg (16).PHOTO: ANDREA GJESTVANG/MOMENT www.andreagjestvang.com
Aleksander Sandberg, 16. "The time after felt quiet. I thought about it almost all the time. Now I'm more aware of everything that isn't fair in this world," he said.

Andrea Gjestvang/Moment

Gjestvang has kept in touch with the people she photographed, many of whom felt grateful for the chance to speak for themselves and to be part of the project. “Staying emotionally detached while capturing the moods of these young people has been impossible,” Gjestvang wrote. “But I am not afraid of blending in my own emotions while working on a project.”

Once she started showing the images, Gjestvang was overwhelmed with the attention she received. She won the L’Iris d’Or prize at the 2013 Sony World Photography Awards. “I did not expect it,” she wrote via email. “But on the other hand I think the stories of the survivors deserve the attention.”

“A Day in History” has also been a tremendous growing experience for Gjestvang’s career as a photographer. “This project has made me take my role and myself as a photographer in a more earnest way,” she explained. “I have experienced how a work can grow from a tiny idea in my head to one seen by—and moved by—people around the world. This was my way to respond to the terror attack on July 22. My aim is to create a different historical document that can contribute to the public debate, by reminding that terror is not all about politics. It is about the many people who get their lives changed forever.”

One Day in HistoryIna Libak (21) was shot five times, and survived because some other youths hid her in the forest and put pressure on her wounds.PHOTO: ANDREA GJESTVANG/MOMENT www.andreagjestvang.com
Ina Libak, 21, was shot five times and survived because some other participants hid her in the forest and put pressure on her wounds. "Still what happened at Utøya is a part of me, but it's far from all of me," she said.

Andrea Gjestvang/Moment

One Day in HistoryMarius Hoft (18) was hiding on a rock shelf to avoid the shooting. His best friend Andreas fell down and died during his attempt to climb down and reach hiding place.
Marius Hoft, 18, was hiding on a rock shelf to avoid the shooting. His best friend Andreas fell and died during his attempt to climb down and reach a hiding place.

Andrea Gjestvang/Moment

One Day in History"I like to sit here, because I feel that my dead friends are in the nature that surrounds us. So here they are close - even if they are gone."Aina Helgheim (19).PHOTO: ANDREA GJESTVANG/MOMENT www.andreagjestvang.com
Aina Helgheim, 19. "I like to sit here because I feel that my dead friends are in the nature that surrounds us. So here they are close, even if they are gone," she said.

Andrea Gjestvang/Moment