There are many myths and exaggerations about the Viking culture. Many of these myths are actually perpetuated through imagery, others through our own distorted perception. My first introduction to the Viking world came from my father’s favorite newspaper cartoon, Hägar the Horrible, a red-bearded, horned-helmet wearing Norwegian who often goes on raids in England and France. For one, Vikings did not wear horned helmets, just regular iron helmets, and certainly not as everyday apparel. But the cartoon is brilliant in other ways, highlighting Hägar’s complex family life and relationship with his wife Helga. When Hägar is not off raiding, he spends time contemplating his own shortcomings and helping his wife with the daily chores.
The very term viking is misleading and actually refers to an occupation. I use it mostly to position a time and place – the Viking Age in the North Atlantic for example. But not all people in the Viking Age were Vikings. To go a-viking refers to going on a voyage for the purpose of raiding or exploring. Very few people were actually Vikings, and if you were, you were probably also a farmer or a trader, the most common occupations of the time.
In winter, when the rivers and fjords were frozen and the sea was treacherous, it was the slowest time for Vikings. Winters in the North Atlantic were not only cold, but also dark. Time was spent simply surviving on the homestead, and thankfully for the Saga enthusiasts, storytelling around the fire.
Three months have gone by since the viking explorer posted on this site, which means that I was not off a-viking myself. So what does the viking explorer do when she is not exploring? I think that there is somewhat of a parallel between the myth of the Vikings and the myth of the artist/ photographer. Although my days are quite varied, I divide my time between teaching, working in the imaging lab, putting together exhibitions, volunteering at an art gallery, researching and planning upcoming projects, and writing numerous statements, proposals, and grant applications. And like Hägar, I also have a family (I’m married to a photographer and have a cat named Olafur) and household chores to do. Although the most exciting part of my occupation may be traveling and photographing, these experiences are far from every life. I am nevertheless very grateful for every chance I get to go exploring.
To see recent “exploration” work of my students at Concordia University, click here.