"It's All An Adventure"
The book trailer for the River in My Backyard.
Book Description (2016)
The River in My Backyard is more than an exploration into the world of patricide, madness and ghost genes. Ending with a dramatic pilgrimage to holy Mt. Kailash, and atonement for a brother’s sins, it provides an inspiring roadmap to inner peace and healing. The book is beautifully illustrated with both the author’s photographs and vintage family reproductions. It is available in softcover, hardcover, ebook, and audible versions.
Reviews and comments
THE LIFE WE HAVE LIVED IS THE LIFE WE REMEMBER. The magic of a good memoir is that by telling our story we can give new meaning to our past, we can change and move forward, but most important, we connect to others. The river of each life flows to the ocean of our shared humanity. Mikkel Aaland's beautiful book proves that it is not the truth revealed that makes us vulnerable, but the secrets we keep. -Isabel Allende, author.
OF ALL THE HAUNTING MEMOIRS THAT I HAVE READ, Mikkel Aaland’s The River in My Backyard, is at once the most heart-rending and the most courageously triumphant. Aaland explores two rivers, the literal one that runs past his ancestral home in Norway, and the metaphorical one that runs in the blood of his ancestors, himself, and now his two daughters. By the time the two rivers flow into one another, through crystalline prose and shadow fretted photographs, his story has become a healing journey of epic proportions. — Phil Cousineau, author of The Art of Pilgrimage
A BRILLIANT, BRAVE, AND MOVING BOOK filled with loss and redemption, art, and the journey forward. Aaland shares his relentless pursuit of beauty, and the concurrent mystery of the secrets just below. This is a powerful memoir by an author with the courage to trust his memory and find his voice; an artist who understands that his struggle is worth something. His story connects us all as we, too, carry our wounds across the river to find peace, if we are determined, on the other side. - Rebecca Walker, author of Ade, A Love Story.
IT IS EXCEEDINGLY RARE FOR A POWERFUL NARRATIVE and powerful photographs to comfortably coexist in the same volume. But Mikkel Aaland achieves this tour de force in his achingly poignant memoir, The River in My Backyard. As Aaland courageously confronts a brutal family tragedy with the wisdom and discernment that only comes with age, the reader is inexorably pulled along. The River in My Backyard is a quick, compelling read and Aaland's brilliant and haunting photographs perfect his story. -David Elliot Cohen, New York Times best-selling author.
Through fearless self-reflection and a patient unpacking of his family history, Mikkel Aaland discovers that it's never too late to learn from your past, heal and grow. Epigenetics, one of the most fascinating areas of recent scientific learning, posits that the experiences of our ancestors can impact our own mental, physical and spiritual health through a mechanism commonly known as "ghost genes." Aaland intuits, then learns of, this fascinating concept while striving to make sense of the loss of his eccentric, adventurous father in a heartbreaking family tragedy. If this book's humanity and compassion alone were not enough to reward the reader, Aaland, a renowned photographer, graces his tale with exquisite images from regular visits to his ancestral home in Norway and family archives, forging a much broader work of art.--By Michael Nordskog
Mikkel Aaland has taken a terrible tragedy and made it into a rich and compelling meditation on family, history and spirituality. As in his earlier excellent book “Sword of Heaven”, Aaland is an engaging storyteller who nonetheless keeps his eyes clearly focused on the larger issues of life, love and destiny. An added bonus is that this time Aaland has used his considerable skills as a photographer to add a strong and haunting visual element to the telling.--By Michael
Mikkel Aaland has a unique way of seeking answers for the unanswerable, and his persistence and courage in this quest gives courage to others. I and many others have experienced the kind of family tragedies "that people don't talk about", and that remain part of the deep wounds that persist for years and decades. This book is a brave voice for examining the hurts and betrayals, for monitoring the effects of these events on others and not just oneself, and for seeking ways to understand and perhaps find some small resolution, even if it takes years. I am grateful that Aaland has written this book. It is a beautiful volume, and I felt the photography further extended a true invitation to immerse myself entirely within the story as he told it.--By L Granger
Mt. Kailash in Tibet is considered the holiest place on earth to one out of every five humans. Buddhist, Hindu, Jan, and Bon pilgrims believe that walking around Mount Kailash on foot is a holy ritual that brings good fortune and absolves all sins. In August 2013, photographer/writer Mikkel Aaland and his Japanese companion, Kazz Tagami, traveled from Nepal, through western Tibet, to Mt. Kailash. This is a record of their journey.
(Deluxe hardcover or free ebook)
At the height of the Cold War, writer and photographer Mikkel Aaland finds himself drawn into a mysterious Shinto priest’s plan to save the world. Traveling from Norway to the Philippines, Iceland to South Africa, he places pieces of a sacred Shinto sword in key power spots around the world. Along the way he comes face to face with his fears of war and destruction. This is the second title in the Travelers’ Tales Footsteps series.
Any attempt at peace must be attended by a knowledge of self,” discovers writer and photographer Mikkel Aaland, who grew up with a bomb shelter for a bedroom, in terror of nuclear war. At the height of the Cold War, Aaland finds himself drawn into a mysterious Shinto priest’s plan to save the world. Traveling from Norway to the Philippines, Iceland to South Africa, he places pieces of a sacred Shinto sword in key power spots around the world. Along the way, he comes face to face with his deepest childhood fears of war and destruction, encounters the compelling and mysterious Shinto religion, struggles with the uncertainties of love, and learns to face life with an open heart.
The Sword of Heaven tells the extraordinary true story of a journey in which all boundaries are pushed—geographical, cultural, and personal—and in which the healing of the world and the healing of one man appear to be inextricably linked.
Having just finished 'Sword of Heaven' earlier today, I am left with what I'd imagine to be one of Mikkel Aaland's intentions in documenting such a monumental nearly two-decade long endeavour; i am left inspired and ever the more forward looking. What struck me most about his account of placing the broken shards of such an auspicious and revered piece of Shinto tools/iconography is how dilligent he is in keeping us intimately close to the stream of emotions and consciousness throughout; as if we were in his back pocket the whole time, learning his lessons, eaves-dropping on the conversations, and getting lost and confused and frustrated with him every step on the way to inner and outter peace. I am grateful for the photographs that inaugurate each chapter, it only furthers a sense of inextricable union with Mr. Aaland's journey and our outside-in perspective. Furthermore, those photos really drive home the fact that such an incredible "five continent odyssey to save the world" actually happened. Having my incredulity at such a feat (in the greatest sense of the word) continuously trumped by the constant reminder that the Shinto Peace Project actually took place on this plane, this corporeal reality, was a gift; it's a pleasure amongst pleasures to balance the cynicism that is induced via bombardment of media coverage of wars/crime/murder/rape with the inspiration that is induced with a book that proves that happiness, though may be arduously hard-earned, is indeed possible for each of us as we define it and in our own terms.
With this book in my life, I feel as though the space occupied within the walls of my apartment and the space occupied within the cells of my body is perceptibly warmer as is evidenced by my increased attention to not so much 'being' anything per se, but on the process of 'becoming'. --By Elijah Kuan Wong
Reading "The Sword Of Heaven" gave me an opportunity to celebrate with the author an event that comes to very few beings on the planet. He could have given up so many times and not resumed taking up what intuitively urged him to go on and perhaps helped all of us who sincerely wish we could participate in such an undertaking. Thank you for having the courage to respond to your inner longings and for writing this book which lets us know that there is daily uplifting of consciousness on the planet happening on a global scale. We are deeply moved and grateful that you celebrated this opportunity.--A Grateful Reader
One cannot read this exciting book without considering in a new light some old and fundamental questions: 'Does my life REALLY make a difference in the grand scheme?' 'Is it possible that what I do in each moment of each day DIRECTLY DETERMINES whether or not human civilization advances or fails?' Mr. Aaland subtly raises these questions by sharing the remarkable story of his life over the last two decades, and leaves one wondering: Did he and his allies IN FACT bring down the Berlin Wall, end apartheid, and reverse the spiral of nuclear proliferation? These are all worthy questions, and Mr. Aaland's way of framing them-the way of the exceptional raconteur-is delightful.--By Brad Newsham
This is an illustrated, in-depth, how-to-build guide to constructing your own sauna or sweat bath. The author is Mikkel Aaland, a universally recognized authority on sweat bathing cultures around the world. The 100-page booklet comes complete with simple, straightforward instructions and designs that accommodate just about any budget and a variety of building skills. You’ll learn how to build a traditional Finnish savusauna, how to build your own wood-burning stove, how to select an appropriate electric or gas heater, how to properly ventilate and insulate a sauna, how to select the best sauna rocks, and much more. You’ll also learn how to build and use a Native American inspired sweatlodge.
Book Description 1978
Sweat bathing--be it in the form of the Finnish sauna, the Russian bania, the Turkish hamman, or an American Indian sweatlodge-- is as common to the world as the baking of bread and the squeezing of the grape.
I spent three years traveling around the world, photographing, researching, and yes, enjoying many of these baths. Here are some excerpts from my book Sweat, published in 1978 by Noel Young and Capra Press.(You can sometimes find a used copy of the original book at amazon.com.) I am currently working with Moga Productions on a seven part TV series on the subject. If you are interested in building your own sauna or sweatlodge go to my How to Build Your Own Sauna & Sweat page where you can order a copy.
Sweat was published in 1978 and I am now working on converting the original book into an ebook, and hope to have it available soon.
The cover of the original book was shot at the Richmond Sauna in California. I had everyone warm up in a hot sauna room and move over to cold room so I could get the shot without fear of condensation on the lens of my Hasselblad. Many of the people in the shot lived in a communal house I was living at in Berkeley. We lived behind Chez Panez, Alice Water's famous restaurant, and in exchange for herbs from our garden they gave us bottles of wine. We also did sweat baths in a portable tent in the backyard on Friday nights. I have no idea what the patrons of the restaurant who saw us running around naked thought...on the other hand, it was the 70s... and it was Berkeley.
Even though I wrote this book over 40 years ago it is still considered by others as relevant, and for that I am very proud.
Mikkel talking about County Fair Portraits on the David Letterman show.
Newly Released: Mikkel Aaland’s County Fair Portraits: Special Portfolio Edition (2015)
County Fair Portraits, is an honest and moving depiction of Americans in the 1970’s shot at county fairs across the country. America fell in love with County Fair when it was released over 30 years ago, and now you can fall in love all over again with the release of this unique collection in three distinct formats.
The limited edition portfolio, published by Malulu Editions, includes 25 original images, each 13 x 19 inches, encased in beautiful custom box created by Dreaming Mind. You can also enjoy the Blurb print on-demand catalog available in both hard and soft covers, or purchase the E-book on Amazon.
In 1976, while the United States was celebrating it’s bicentennial, photographer Mikkel Aaland was traveling to county fairs across the country capturing photographs of America in it’s truest form: through the people. These unique and inspiring portraits have garnered widespread media attention over the years and even landed Aaland an interview with David Lettermen. There are few publications that depict America in such a raw and haunting way. County Fair Portraits tells a story of America unlike any other.
Although the world has drastically changed since the collection was first published in 1981, the portraits and stories have remain unchanged, and will forever be a reminder of a unique era and moment in our nation’s past. For the first time ever, Mikkel Aaland is bringing back County Fair in three different forms so that everyone can enjoy a piece of America’s history.
In the foreword, the late novelist James D. Houston compares County Fair to other meaningful works of art: “It brings to mind Edward Curtis’s Portraits of North American Indian Life, and the Dustbowl photos by Walker Evans in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, and the series by Ansel Adams called Born Free and Equal, recording the lives of Japanese Americans at Manzanar Relocation Center, east of the Sierras, in 1942, and Our Kind of People, Bill Owens’ study of hometown groups and rituals. County Fair has that same kind of narrative appeal. These eyes and outfits, the body talk, the tattoos and the jewelry - they tell us, with haunting precision, one of the true American stories”
“Such moving photographs, funny and sad. It’s real Americana. Aaland is a latter day Disfarmer.” - Mary Ellen Mark, photographer
“A chronicle of people being who they are. These faces [become] historical”- Jon Carroll, New West
“Aaland has turned folk art into fine art... shocking and fascinating!”- Bill Owens, author of Suburia
NOW YOU CAN ENJOY THIS MEMORABLE
COLLECTION IN THREE UNIQUE FORMATS!
Limited Edition Portfolio
25 archival 13 x 19 inch prints. Boxed.
Limited to an edition of 25.
Starting price $5,000
contact: mikkel directly
Catalog available in hardcover, softcover, and ebook editions.
County Fair Portraits was originally published in 1981 by Capra Press of Santa Barbara, Noel Young, editor. It contained 75 portraits and text and a foreword by the late American novelist James D. Houston. County Fair Portraits: Special Portfolio Edition is a collaboration between myself and photographer and friend Luis Delgado. We edited the original 75 images from the book down to 25, scanned the 4 x 5 inch negatives, spotted and processed the files in Adobe Photoshop and Luis printed them on finely crafted archival ink-jet paper. San Francisco designer Bruce Yelaska designed the cover and interior material. The set, along with accompanying text and captions, is encased in a Dreaming Mind custom built box and numbered. This book is a catalogue of the limited edition. For more information on acquiring a limited edition portfolio, please contact me.
Still Life by Jon Carroll
Consider these faces. They are in the most obvious way modern–the haircuts, the jewelry, and the makeup all serve to place them precisely in the present. But a glance into the eyes, an examination of the sets of the jaws, renders these faces historical, as though daguerreotypes from the American past had been cleverly retouched.
We see traces of the Dust Bowl, of the Indian wars, of the struggle up from slavery. We see the past around us. Perhaps that’s because these photographs were taken at the most anachronistic of contemporary celebrations, the county fair. In an era of programmed entertainment, fairs remain chaotic and boisterous, more like a shivaree than a theme park. They are too large and too diffuse-livestock, marmalade, Ferris wheels, takeout goldfish to yield comfortably to quick definitions.
Mikkel Aaland has spent every year since 1971 traveling the California county fair circuit, taking pictures of anyone who could afford his modest prices.
Working for Foote Photos, fair photo concessionaires, Aaland used an ancient Burke and James 4x5 camera with three equally elderly Honeywell strobes to capture his images, the Ilford film was cooked at 92 degrees for a full 40 seconds before it was fixed and enlarged. The whole process, from click to print, took about fifteen minutes.
Aaland resisted the traditional temptations–he did not produce an arty WPA documentary celebrating the dignity of the common people, nor did he clone Diane Arbus yet again to demonstrate the grotesque substance of the human form. His camera was neutral, dispassionate. Those who chose to enter Aaland’s sanctum had diverse reasons for doing so. Some wanted to memorialize their ceremonial costumes, some wanted a token of their presence at this auspicious event, most just felt like having their pictures taken, even as, a moment before, they had felt like throwing a softball at a pyramid of wooden milk bottles. The result is a chronicle of people being who they are, unencumbered by formality. Mikkel Aaland’s captions provide the context; the photos speak for themselves.
Very special thanks to the columnist Jon Carroll for permission to reproduce his text which first appeared in the may 1981 issue of California magazine.
©2017 Mikkel Aaland
All Rights Reserved