Maja Daniels, born in Uppsala in 1985, is this year’s winner of the Swedish Photobook Prize. She trained in Paris, London and Gothenburg, and today Daniels works with the latter two cities as her base. But she has her family roots in Älvdalen in northern Dalarna. The picture series Elf Dalia contains photographs that Daniels produced between 2011 and 2017.
In 1935 the distinctive speech of Älvdalen could be heard on Swedish Radio. The voice belonged to the photographer and Jack-of-all-trades Tenn Lars Persson, who talked about fairy tales and myths, about magic and mystery. The language is a variant of Old Norse which has mysteriously survived to our days. In her work Daniels has brought in old photographs from the area, some of which come from Tenn Lars’s archives. Her own photographs engage in dialogue with these archival images and comment on them. Daniels thus weaves a narrative that is a continuation of other people’s stories, a narrative which comes into being at the intersection between documentation and fiction and which ties the past to the present.
In 1668 a girl from Älvdalen was accused of walking on water. This triggered the witch trials in Sweden, and in Älvdalen alone twenty women and one man were burned at the stake after testimony by children. Darkness and light, fateful events and everyday life shape our culture. With the eye of a sociologist, Daniel produces portraits of the people of Älvdalen and their places, investigating social relationships, people and class. What is the message carried by the language and the imagery? Why did the Älvdalen language survive? Daniels uncovers and exhibits a spiritual tradition, folk mysticism, the tradition of symbols, the earth and the ancestors. Perhaps this needs to be rediscovered in our time, for the sake of roots and identity, for survival?