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Anne Helene Gjelstad : Big heart, strong hands


Big heart, strong hands is the story of the women on the Estonian islands Kihnu and Manija in the Baltic Sea.Geographically isolated, over centuries a strong sense of community spirit and a steadfast attachment to theirancestor’s customs has developed. Often viewed as the last matriarchal society in Europe, the older women here takecare of almost everything on land as their husbands travel the seas.

Anne Helene Gjelstad has photographed the daily lives and activities of the women, their clothing, bedrooms, kitchens and farmhouses as well as the surrounding landscape – even a ceremony in a deceased person’s kitchen only three hours after she had passed away. She has also interviewed the women about their lives, struggles andlosses and their thoughts on the future. We learn of the development of this unique society, the harsh conditions itendured over many decades as part of the Soviet Union, as well as its culture and folk dressing customs. These are the hushed voices of culture bearers who need to be heard, for this is a small society rapidly moving towards western standards, and where traditional culture and identity is inevitably slipping away.

Anne Helene Gjelstad is a Norwegian award-winning photographer and educator whose work has been exhibitedworldwide. Her passion is photographing people and for the last eleven years she has portrayed the lives of the olderwomen on the Estonian islands of Kihnu and Manija in the Baltic Sea. For her, Big heart, strong hands, is her contribution to record and help preserve the future of this unique culture.

Anne Helene Gjelstad’s documentary project is remarkable. She has found a way to photograph the women,which draws the viewer into their world and souls. You can feel the passion the photographer has for this project – ittransports and leaves us wanting to know and see more. – Joyce Tenneson.


Anne Helene Gjelstad : Big heart, strong hands

Clothbound hardback 256 pages, 148 colour plates 235mm x 290mm

Text in English and Norwegian


ISBN: 978-1-911306-56-6

Publication Date: February 2020


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