“If you follow the river north from Mora, you will reach a community with a dark, insular spirit”. Embedded in this historical enigma of a place and its people, Elf Dalia by Maja Daniels weaves together a narrative born out of the Swedish valley of Älvdalen. Daniels combines photographs taken from 2011 to 2017 with curious pictures from a local archive amassed by a man named Tenn Lars Persson (1878 –1938), a local inventor, mechanic and photographer. These two artists come together across centuries to create a coherent narrative; in doing so, Elf Dalia naturally draws attention to possible fictions of documentary photography. Layered with the relics of this remote region, which to this day speaks the near-extinct ancient language of Elfdalian, this book explores how the myth and ritual of its past is compromised by contemporary living.
The region’s geographical isolation, delineated by forest, mountains and lakes, sits at the core of Daniels’ and Persson’s work. A snow-covered landscape creates an eerie setting that calls to mind the witch trials that originated in the region in 1668. Persson’s early photographic experimentation results in strange, uncanny photographs: in one, two men seem to hover mid air, in another, two women sit together on a crescent moon. Woven within these works, Daniels photographs preside in a similar territory, spanning the mystical and vernacular with a kindred symbolic language. Like Persson, she depicts the day-to-day life of this community: in their homes, by the lake, with their families. Yet emerging from this sense of the community are portraits illustrating a younger generation as it tries to negotiate the friction between tradition and modernity in Älvdalen. In Elf Dalia, Daniels enters into dialogue with Persson in order to reinforce the community’s unique eccentricity and to question when an historical continuity and pride becomes insularity, when rituals of myth and storytelling might evoke a dark spirit.