Tracing Freedom

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In late 2008 and early 2009 the Norwegian photographer Tom Hatlestad spent four months driving overland between Norway and Bangladesh. Along the way, he asked a hundred people to define freedom. Some of them are featured in this exhibition. Tom began dreaming of making an exhibition of photos and statements on perceptions of freedom after hearing that the theme for the 2009 Chobi Mela international festival of photography in Dhaka would be ‘Freedom’.

Tom Hatlestad's Defender approaching the gates of Drik in Dhanmondi. Dhaka. 17th January 2009. Shehabuddin/Drik/Majority World

Freedom of movement – Tom has always loved to travel freely, and has visited some 50 countries to date. As a Norwegian citizen, he is also privileged in being able to travel to most places without problems. However, freedom of movement is actually less now than it was 50 years ago, mostly due to international politics and increasing levels of tension. With closed borders in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Burma making the northern and southern routes impassable, Tom drove the only remaining overland route between Norway and Bangladesh: Sweden, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Moldova, Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Nepal and India.

Tom through the windscreen of his Defender. Drik. Dhaka. 17th January 2009. Shehabuddin/Drik/Majority World

Freedom of thought – Driving ten hours daily for 102 days evokes a type of meditative state and a sense of freedom from domestic concerns. Tom’s Land Rover was not only a rolling studio with its own photo backdrop, but also a canvas for exploring his personal challenges on route. From its safety, he could differentiate real external barriers from those which were mostly in his head.

Tom demonstrating his tent. Drik. Dhaka. 17th January 2009. Shehabuddin/Drik/Majority World

Freedom to congregate – Tom talked to people from around 30 different countries and from all walks of life and social standings. They include the head of the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet, a world renowned violin maker, a Nobel Peace laureate, authors and activists. But it wasn’t easy to meet people of different ages, genders and nationalities – in some countries women just aren’t allowed to talk to strangers, in others Tom’s passport was confiscated and he had to follow a military escort.

The route taken by Tom Hatlestad. Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

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Tracing Freedom is a project in cooperation with the Nobel Peace Centre. Tom hopes that these portraits of freedom encourage you to reflect upon the freedom you experience in your own life, country and neighbourhood. Ultimately, he wants Tracing Freedom to help inspire a more open-minded and generous spirit in relation to our acceptance of other people’s attitudes.

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Tom Hatlestad’s base is in Tjøme, Norway, from where he is currently planning his next Freedom Track journey. Tracing Freedom is supported by Høyanger Næringsutvikling, Sparebanken Sogn og Fjordane and Fond for Lyd og Bilde.

Scroll down this link to see a description of Tom’s trip to Bangladesh

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