A Faroe Islander pictured while slaughtering sheep (Kaldbaksbotnur).
Credit: Andrea Gjestvang/GOST Books

Photographer Andrea Gjestvang’s new book ‘Atlantic Cowboy’ (Gost Books) depicts the innate connection between Faroese people and their surroundings: islanders that are as tough and unforgiving as the windswept landscape they inhabit. Taken over the course of six years, Gjestvang’s photos also reveal another challenging aspect of life in the Faroes: her subjects are almost exclusively male. Young women often choose to study or work in Copenhagen, Denmark or elsewhere in Europe, and many never return. According to World Bank data, just 48.2% of the Faroese population in 2021 was female, putting it among the most gender-imbalanced places in Europe: this equates to a significant deficit of roughly 2000 females over a total of 53000 people. In recent years, the government has  invested in gender equality and employment initiatives in the hope of making the islands more appealing to women: according to Gjestvang, the lack of women is not as evident in the Faroese capital, Tórshavn, as it is quite visible when traveling to smaller villages. Nevertheless, the photographer believes that, thanks to the close-knit nature of Faroese families, most of the men are not lonely: the strong family ties of an extended family become a substitute, leaving  men with lots of freedom in a sort of ‘perfect playground’. Hence the title ‘Atlantic Cowboy’, borrowed from a 1997 book of the same name and later used by Firouz Gaini, a professor of anthropology at the University of the Faroe Islands who has studied the nation’s gender dynamics and wrote a foreword for Gjestvang. Decades of lop-sided demographics have contributed to a national identity that celebrates the virtues of strength and fortitude: even though Faroese women are also very strong and tough, the idea of the strong man with this kind of masculinity is very present, has gained a lot of respect, and is sought-after.

Andrea Gjestvang is a photographer based between Oslo and Berlin. She has published work in international publications such as Time Magazine, The New York Times, and Stern, amongst others. Her work has been exhibited in galleries and museums including Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing, Munchen Stadtmuseum and The National Photographic Museum of Colombia

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