The magic and mythos of the faroe islands

Offset Artist Kevin Faingnaert will never forget the day he met Simun Hanssen, a resident of Svinoy, one of the remotest of the Faroe Islands. Hanssen, a retired sailor, lived alongside only eleven other people on this enchanted island, spending his time searching for messages in bottles, washed ashore from faraway places. He had love letters, poems, drawings sent by strangers; some he had contacted, when the glass bottles included addresses from Norway, Canada, Scotland, or Iceland. 

Simun Hanssen’s penchant for collecting messages is a kind of metaphor for life in general in the Faroe Islands; the communities are close-knit, and word travels quickly from one house to the next. Populations on the island range from ten to 1000, but regardless of the size, an overarching warmth spreads throughout. Families drink coffee, recount stories, sing songs about the open sea.

Photographer Oscar Bjarnason spent his childhood and adolescence on the islands, moving away at the age of seventeen. He still returns for what he calls “The Calmness” of home. Here, the anxieties of daily life give way to the roaring water and craggy cliffs. The hills grow green with grass; the sheep graze. Like so many messages in a bottle, worries are cast off.

To some locals, Faingnaert explains, the Faroe Islands are known familiarly as “Maybeland.” The whims of Nature dictate daily life, and all are held at her mercy. “You can experience all four seasons within the same day,” the photographer writes. During his February journey, his fingers and toes ached with cold. Daylight lasted only for six hours.

With more people discovering the islands, Bjarnason does fear they will lose the quietude that defines them. In summer, tourists come to hike and camp in the exquisite mountains. Others visit to attend the St Olav’s Day festivities in July, to hear the music. Still, the pangs of nostalgia Bjarnason feels for the less-trodden Faroe Islands of his youth aren’t strong enough to deter him from making pictures. The place is just too beautiful; it calls him back every time.