Small Holders and Perpetuity
Photo: Sune Jonsson
Sune Jonsson wanted to use the documentary project “Images from the great migration”, conducted in Vilhelmina and Lycksele municipalities between 1961 and 1964, to share the emotions, experiences and settings of areas severely impacted by depopulation. He also wanted to let those most effected by these developments to speak up, voices that otherwise would have had difficulty being heard. Much later in an interview, he said:
I have met a deep, overwhelming bitterness. Most of the people I’ve photographed are pensioners who have been robbed of the security of having a farm, of seeing their own land passed on to sons. This naturally makes it difficult for them to find meaning in their lives.
Today, the fields are gone in many of the areas Sune Jonsson documented. The people who were supposed to take over, inherit the land, and continue farming spoke instead of profitability and living standards, and left the old ones disappointed, bitter and endlessly alone. The forest has long since overgrown the old, ploughed lands. It is as if the countless struggles of the farmers never were. Nearly vanished without a trace. Today, the way the land has been used has left even more scares from large-scale forestry, intensive mining, wind power parks and hydroelectric dams, but less common are sustainable solutions to rural problems.
Sune Jonsson’s precisely formulated prose in the 1964 book “Images from the great migration” combines with his photographs to achieve a unique experience that is a testament to his ability to immerse himself in other people’s experiences and his genuine empathy for the fates of those he portrays. The love and the strong connections a person has to the place she has formed and, in turn, formed her are recurring themes in Jonsson’s work. As is the transience of all life. And time that runs away, gliding through our fingers while the earthly falls from memory. The motivation to capture these phenomena before they were lost to time was central to Jonsson’s documentary efforts.
Documenting depopulation of inland municipalities was Jonsson’s first assignment for Västerbottens Museum and was the first of a long string of collaborations. In 1968, he became a field ethnologist for the museum, a unique position in the Swedish museum world and one he held until his retirement.