A modern-day “vintage” photo shoot

Personal “love letters” to celebrate the spirit of Syttende Mai

For his folk portrait photo shoot with Caroline, photographer Scott Moss discovered a classic Volvo 122 to make the perfect backdrop.

Cynthia Elyce Rubin
Travel Editor
The Norwegian American

When our editor-in-chief, Lori Ann, told me the story of Scott Moss, a photographer, and Caroline Feyling, a textile artist, who worked together, I, too, felt it should be a story for this 17th of May issue. What better way to connect to one’s heritage than by needle and thread? I asked both Scott and Caroline to tell us how it all came about.

— Travel Editor Cynthia Elyce Rubin

Scott Moss:

In an effort to make much-needed human contacts during the COVID thaw of 2022, I distributed flyers around Corvallis, Ore., for free photographic portrait sessions, a true art-for-art’s-sake project. The response far exceeded my expectations, perhaps because others also were looking to get out and live life again.

I advertised it as bicycle portraits, but it eventually evolved into roller-skate portraits and classic-car portraits of the residents of this college town in the Willamette Valley.

For Oregon-based textile artist Caroline Feyling, sewing her own Norwegian festdrakt has brought her closer to her Norwegian roots.

I came across Caroline’s name and face from the promotional materials for the Artist Accelerator Program at The Arts Center in Corvallis, a nonprofit arts organization in which she was a resident artist. I learned that she was making traditional Norwegian clothes from scratch—and I mean from scratch. I hit her up for a portrait, to which she agreed.

A week later, with the possibilities for this portrait fresh in my mind, I saw a classic Volvo 122 while walking back home from the Corvallis farmer’s market. I chicken-scratched a note and slid it between the glass and metal on the driver’s side door.

Pat Hayes, the owner of the Volvo, texted me and agreed to lend his car for a photo session with Caroline, making it a full Scandinavian-themed portrait. (The only way it could have been more Scandinavian is if I had had the extra money to afford my Swedish dream camera, the Hasselblad 500 CM.)

After one false start in which the light was abysmal, we finally encountered a clear morning, and I shot a roll of film. As far as my photographic practice, I enjoy working with film cameras because attention to detail is paramount.

However, firstly, you cannot immediately see the photographs you take when using an analog camera, and secondly, each shot costs money, so without paying zen-like attention to the process, both time and money are lost.

It also seemed appropriate that the garments, the car, and my camera (a 1960 medium-format Minolta Autocord twin lens reflex) had a palpable nostalgia since these three elements of the shoot predated both photographer and subject by many years.

I call my photography “folk portraiture” because I enjoy photographs without hype or glamour and photographs that have a simple humility, such as those presented here of Caroline on a melancholy winter morning.

Caroline Feyling:

Born to one American and one Norwegian parent, growing up included remnants of Norwegian culture all around me, including Freia chocolate sent for birthdays and Christmas, the woolen blankets my grandparents mailed from Norway, and the Rondastakk bunad I had as a child.

Come rain or shine, Norwegian Americans celebrate the 17th of May each year.

I felt, however, that it always existed in the periphery of my life, even as I was living thousands of miles away from my Norwegian relatives. By the time I reached college, this feeling had grown into a feeling of absence.

As I contemplated my cultural pluralism, my artistic practice shifted to feature the textile techniques and motifs seen in Norwegian folk art.

My work evolved beyond emulating my grandmother’s knitting, and I became hungry for knowledge about Norwegian folk culture. This curiosity led me down a rabbit hole of research on the bunad and festdrakt. I poured over online photos that beautifully captured the identity of the wearer down to the specific town of their heritage. This research combined with my reflection on my dual identity led to the conception of my own festdrakt.

The early phases of this project consisted of a lot of learning. To execute my vision, I taught myself both the drafting of sewing patterns and Norwegian pickup band weaving. In fact, I had never sewn a finished wearable garment before working on my folk costume. Between February and June 2020, I had sewn four shirts, three skirts, and seven bodices before finalizing my design. Because of COVID-related shipping delays, I was not able to begin work on my final ensemble until late July and did not finish until October, days before my documentation shoot was scheduled.

Finally, at the end of the day, the front seat of a vintage Volvo is the perfect place to take a rest.

The festdrakt my grandmother wore on special occasions served as a starting point for my design and influenced many of my early sketches. However, as the piece evolved, I found my Norwegian-American identity was my sole inspiration. The garment, Norwegian wool sewn by American hands, became a love letter to my dual existence.

Since completing my festdrakt, I have worn it in both North America and Norway. Although I seldom wear it, I always feel a twinge of pride when I put it on. Probably, I will produce a new costume in the near future, but I will never forget the huge amount of love and labor that went into my very first.

To see more folk portraits, please visit Instagram @ScottSMoss. To learn more about Caroline’s weaving, visit @Carolinefeyling and her website, elderberrytexiles.com.

All photos by Scott Moss

This article originally appeared in the May 2023 issue of The Norwegian American.

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Cynthia Elyce Rubin

Cynthia Elyce Rubin, PhD., is a visual culture specialist, travel writer, and author of articles and books on decorative arts, folk art, and postcard history. She collects postcards, ephemera, and early photography. See www.cynthiaelycerubin.com.