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It was the summer of 2009, and Elizabeth Aanes was looking for the perfect spot in Norway to launch a photography workshop center. She and a friend were driving along Norway's "Den Gyldne Omvei" or "Golden Route"-a rural highway that winds through serene countryside and small, historic towns. Suddenly, rounding a bend in the village of Straumen, they saw it: a picturesque red barn jutting out over a gorgeous lake. A former lumber mill, it stood empty and unused. "As soon as I saw it, I thought, Wow," Aanes recalls. "I couldn't believe it was just sitting there. I thought, 'it needs to have some life put into it.'"

Aanes, who had studied photography at the Maine Media Workshops, knew it made sense to site a photography workshop in a place of outstanding natural beauty. "I believe that, to get the creative juices flowing, you need to have space and be taken away from your everyday life," she says. "This place was perfect because it's set on a lake, the lighting is beautiful, and it has a quietness about it. I really felt it was a place where people could work."

With a grant from the Norwegian government, Aanes is developing the site and expects to hold the first workshop there in summer 2011. Before that, she will hold photography workshops in other locations in Norway, including Oslo and Skrova, an island in the far north of the country.

Although it's just her first year of running workshops, Aanes has assembled an impressive roster of teachers, including VII photojournalist Ron Haviv, celebrated art photographer Joyce Tenneson, and wet-plate collodion specialist Jill Enfield. Her mission is twofold: to introduce Norwegians to famous American photographers, and to share the beautiful landscape of Norway with photography enthusiasts from all over the world.

It doesn't seem like too much of a hard sell. Inderoy, the area surrounding the future workshop center in Straumen, has an annual jazz festival and is home to many painters, scluptors and musicians. Scenic Straumen itself is known as one of Norway's best preserved timber house villages. Photographers who come to study at the workshop can choose to stay in the local Fjord Hotel, or rent a room in an old-style Norwegian house, where the locals will fill the fridge with goodies for you.

The workshops taking place on the island of Skrova-The Personal Journey, led by Cig Harvey in May, and Wet Plate Collodion Process, led by Jill Enfield in June -will have a different feel. Aanes describes Skrova as "a small fishing community where everyone knows everyone." Since it's so far north, the sun doesn't set in the summer, and the place is surrounded by craggy mountains and stunning nature. "It's like coming to a different planet," Aanes says.

A sometime real estate manager, art photographer and world traveler, Aanes discovered her new vocation in the fall of 2008. She'd organized a group of Norwegian women to take a course with Joyce Tenneson in Maine. "During this workshop, Joyce told me she'd had an epiphany that I was meant to organize photo workshops," Aanes says with a laugh. "I took half a year to consider it, thinking, Can I do this? Is it what I want? Do I have the kind of connections to make it a success?"

A veteran traveler who'd worked for seven years in a high-pressure job in real estate, she'd left the corporate world to explore her passion for photography, taking a class with Norway's famous portrait photographer Morten Krogvold. As a photographer, she'd had some success-landing four prints in a show a month after landing in New York-but, with Tenneson's encouragement, she decided to merge all over her talents and experience into a single path: founding an arts organization.


Certainly, Aanes seems to have a knack for getting the right people on board with her ideas. Once she'd decided to launch the program, everything fell into place relatively quickly. The Norwegian government, which gives grants to arts organizations through its program Innovation Norway, decided to support her. "I think they really liked the project because it's set in a region with a lot of culture, and it will draw people there," she says. "And they like the fact that I'm a woman founder."


The connections she'd made while studying in Maine helped her too. Tenneson introduced her to Jill Enfield and Cig Harvey, and one of Tenneson's assistants introduced her to Ron Haviv. All of them signed on to teach with NORDphotography. "I love how, in America, people help each other to make contacts and start careers," she says. "It benefits the photo community as a whole."


As Aanes describes her future workshop center, her eyes shine with happiness. It does, indeed, sound like a dream come true. The old lumber mill in Straumen will be renovated to house a traditional darkroom, a digital studio, a gallery, and three bedrooms for visiting teachers and resident artists. Aanes points a magazine spread showing the kind of interior design she's aiming for: a rustic look including whitewashed pine walls and simple, Nordic-style furniture. All of this in a building that sits over a stunning lake in a quaint, small town. Sounds like the perfect place to get inspired.


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