Essence of England ~ Chapter 3 | Marte Marie Forsberg

Author:

Florence Robson

13/06/2022

In our Essence of England series, we speak to values-aligned creatives, entrepreneurs and familiar faces from across the South West about their lives, work and what ‘Englishness’ means to them.

Marte Marie Forsberg

Marte Marie Forsberg had never planned to call England her home. Originally from a fjord island in the south of Norway, the photographer and author had lived on three different continents over ten years when she fell in love with a cottage in the English countryside and rented it on a whim.

Now settled in North Dorset, Marie is a much-loved figure on the South West creative scene, working in her studio as a still life photographer, as well as running workshops around her passion for photography, food and the local landscape.

We spoke to Marie about her childhood in rural Norway, her love of Caravaggio, and why the South West is a foodie’s dream.

What first inspired you to move from Norway to England?

I had spent ten years living in various places around the world, from Italy to Japan to America, but I had never really found my nook. When I eventually returned to my roots in Norway, I quickly realised that my branches didn’t belong there anymore.  

One night, when I was staying in London for work, I decided to search ‘houses for rent in England’ just for fun. After scrolling for a while, I saw this little whitewashed thatched cottage in Shaftesbury and immediately thought “That’s my house!”.

It was instantaneous and not at all logical – I didn’t know anything about the country outside of London. But I got a train to Dorset the next day to view the house and took it on the spot.

What was your upbringing like?

I grew up in the woods in the Norwegian countryside, a short bicycle ride away from the beach. My mum is a textile and costume designer, who worked from home in an atelier. My father is a businessman but he would put a farmer’s frock in the morning to tend to our sheep and chickens and geese! 

It was a very safe and creative environment. My parents are entrepreneurial and they always encouraged me to give things a go. That attitude really helped me years later when I had moved to England and was trying to build a life here.

What differences have you found between life in rural Norway and in the English countryside?

Where I grew up, the countryside is much more isolated. The houses stand alone, rather than belonging to a community, like a village or hamlet. I’ve learnt how important it is to forge connections here and to invest in getting to know people.

Also, having lived in cities for most of my adult life, the pace of life in Dorset was very new. When I first moved here, I felt like someone had unplugged the music at a party! Now, I find the silence the most beautiful part about this area but it takes some getting used to.

“My goal is to use photography to capture [nature’s] fleeting beauty”
— Marte Marie Forsberg

Your still life photography is inspired by Caravaggio. What is it specifically that inspires you about his work?

Caravaggio was such a badass, a real rebel. I love the chiaroscuro
– the moody light in his work. His storytelling is very theatrical.

I studied Art History at the University of Oslo and spent a semester in Rome. I’d spend every day looking at the works of Caravaggio, meeting my professor and fellow students in different spots around the city, whispering about the artwork in the corner of a musty old church or gathering around a painting in a private home. It had a real impact on me. I always longed to photograph in the world Caravaggio created and now I embrace that with my still lives.

You’ve written a cookbook, ‘The Cottage Kitchen’. What role does food play in your life?

My mum would always cook seasonally and locally. It was just a way of life that you would use what’s around you. I love eating, so when I moved to England, food became a natural starting point to help me settle into my home. The book allowed me to use photography to tell my story of moving to the English countryside, while enhancing the imagery with flavour by adding recipes.

What role does the natural world play in your work? 

We were always bringing nature inside growing up. The kitchen door was often open with chickens coming and going, and my mother would bring in branches from the woods to decorate the table. Now, living in England, I love the long seasons. Something is always blossoming. I started doing still life photography during the pandemic, foraging outside or selecting flowers from local florists and generally being inspired by what nature produces after a sleepy winter. My goal is to use photography to capture that fleeting beauty and hold it still in
time.

What should be on the agenda for a weekend in North Dorset?

You should make sure you pack a basket with a blanket and thermos, and some good walking shoes!

Start at the Beckford Pub and venture out for a walk around the lake in the Fonthill estate. Semley is lovely for antiques and the nearby deli, Compton Macrae, is the perfect place to fill your picnic basket before heading out for a walk in East Knoyle by Clouds House. The bluebells are just stunning there in the Spring.

This area is so rich in producers, so it’s a wonderful place to visit if you like food. For a long, leisurely lunch, try Pythouse Kitchen Garden or Osip in Bruton, which is run by Merlin Labron-Johnson. They both serve incredible food and drinks, created with ingredients they’ve grown themselves or sourced locally.

What does ‘Essence of England’ mean to you?

The first thing that comes to mind is racing green. That colour is the essence of England for me; everything from rolling hills, Wellington boots, tweed trousers and oilskin jackets, to drawing rooms, Land Rovers and vintage Jaguars.

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