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Snötäckt: under a blanket of snow

About the author
Nina Mangalanayagam is a photographer of Sri Lankan-Swedish parentage. She won the 2005 Jerwood Photography Award for her SnÌ_tÌ_ckt series. Images of her work also appeared in the December edition of Portfolio magazine. She currently lives in London.

“Slowly we come to the realization that exile is not just a physical phenomenon of crossing state borders, for it grows on us, transforms us from within, and becomes our fate. The undifferentiated mass of human types, streets, monuments, fashions, trends acquires some distinct features and gradually the strange transforms itself into the familiar. At the same time, however, the memory preserves a topography of our past, and this dual observance keeps us apart from our fellow citizens.”
– Czeslaw Milosz

Snötäckt is a photography project about my father and his current life situation. Originally from Sri Lanka, he came to Sweden thirty years ago, and has lived there ever since. Recently, certain events occurred that made it impossible for him to stay at his home, and he was obliged to move to northern Sweden. He is now in his late sixties and seriously ill. This limits his ability to travel and therefore, he may never return to his native country. With his illness came the terrible reality that he might soon pass away, and I realised, as so often happens in these kinds of situations, that there were so many things I wanted to ask him, so many things I wanted to know about his life. I turned to my camera to try to make sense of my own emotions and to understand him, and moreover, his relationship with the environment he lives in. Even though this project was inspired by purely personal reasons, I feel the end product raises important global issues around race, identity and displacement.

My father lives near Sweg in the northern part of Sweden, where he is one of the few, possibly the only, non-white men in the community. As a consequence he stands out where ever he goes. Snötäckt analyses my father’s identity living in a culture and climate so radically different from what he grew up in. I have created a narrative, which goes from sunrise to sunset, and gradually introduces the landscape and the identity of the man. I don’t show his face until the end since I want to create a curiosity around the man as well as visually make a point of how someone, who always sticks out from the crowd, starts hiding oneself to appear less noticeable.

The landscape my father lives in is covered in snow a third of the year, with degrees down to -40° Celsius. Coming from a tropical climate he has never quite appreciated the cold weather. He has no genuine enjoyment of it, and would prefer to stay indoors under his duvet than to go for long walks in the snow. My photographs highlight the isolation he experienced living in a place and climate that he could not relate to, and how that environment shaped his life.

In addition, by placing images of him next to ones of snowy landscapes, I want to challenge the notion of the landscape an Indian-looking man is expected to live in. Many non-white people who live in western, developed societies, are still associated with living in urban environments rather than in the countryside. Much of this is due to how immigrants have been visually represented living in minority groups in big cities, rather than on their own trying to adapt to the culture they have moved to.

My location is neither an inner-city urban landscape nor an Indian colourful, warm one, which is often the way south Asia and its people are depicted. On the contrary, this landscape is cold and harsh, and as white as the hair on my father’s head. I would like this to act as a metaphor to how snow weighs heavy on nature, as it is a burden to my father, hence the title, Snötäckt, under a blanket of snow.

Please click on the image to begin the slideshow

under a blanket of snow slideshow

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