Several reports and studies published in recent years have been unanimous in stating that the inhabitants of the Nordic countries are the happiest. In fact, in the latest editions of the World Happiness Reports of the United Nations, as well as in the Better Life Index of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and in The Social Progress Index of the Social Progress Imperative, the Nordic countries are consistently ranked in the top ten of the world.

However, happiness –as well as silence– are generic, subjective and multidimensional concepts. Each of us has a different perception of what happiness is; we interpret and understand it differently. Meik Wiking, executive director of the Happiness Research Institute, shared this insight when asked about the paradox and correlation between the so-called happy countries and their high suicide rates:

“When musicians see musical notes, they can hear the score in their mind. The same thing happens to me when I look at the happiness data. I don't hear music, but I do listen to the comforting sounds of lives well lived. I hear the sound of joy, the feeling of connection and the sense of purpose. But I also hear a sort of silence. The silence of those who felt that life was not worth living. And I fear that this silence may be the dark side of our happiness. It's harder to be unhappy in a happy society."

Silence always contains a double perspective: on the one hand, the stillness of contemplative plenitude, and on the other, the sinister resonance of the unknown. In a subtle way, silence manifests itself in its limits: presence or absence, fullness or emptiness, peace or peril. Surrounded by acoustic and visual noise, we yearn for the calm of the pond, the snowy landscape or the faint murmur of a stream. But silence also represents alertness, isolation, coercion, or even the absence of life.

The silence of the North is primarily human silence. The sounds of the world, its geophony and biophony, are as powerful as they are extraordinary. Even the slight whisper of the wind is breathtaking. On the other hand, the characteristic absence of human sounds in northern landscapes represent isolation, the non-social. A silence that might become a mirror of the soul itself, returning us to a feeling of loneliness or emotional desolation.

NORDEN is a long-term documentary project that deals with the chiaroscuro of the Nordic countries, usually considered idyllic in the collective mind. Taking the concept of silence as a starting point and homogenous feature, this series focuses on the challenges and problems that remain muted, thus evidencing the fragility of what society silences.

"Norden" is a Nordic term used not only to refer to a specific geographical area, but also as an allusion to the affinities and links between the countries of the region: Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, as well as the autonomous regions of the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Åland. Our goal is to identify the lesser-known problems in each of these countries, our praised Northern European neighbors, and to narrate with images the silences kept in the shadows by cultural imperatives.


Javier Corso

Javier Corso is a photographer based in Barcelona, founder and director at OAK STORIES (documentary agency and production company), and National Geographic Explorer.
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