Astrid, an enthusiastic bridge player from Norway, is reimagined as the “semi-menacing forest maiden” Huldra, from Nordic folk tales, who is distinguished by her long locks of hair. Ikonen and Hjorth accomplished her transformation into the seductive creature by giving her a thick mane composed of giant arms of rhubarb taken from Astrid’s arboretum. (She was eager to get rid of the bushels of rhubarb; during the shoot Ikonen offered them to passing joggers, who gratefully ran off with the jumbo fronds.)
The project is not limited to women; the book and exhibition also feature portraits of elderly men, like Velkkari, who is shown sporting proud blooms of cow parsley from his chest, and Mr. Maruyama, an ikebana flower arranger from Japan who wears a halo of fukinoto, an edible spring vegetable that grows in abundance near his home in Sanjō, in the Niigata Prefecture.
For Ikonen and Hjorth, recruiting their collaborator-performers can take a certain amount of moxie, and sometimes even requires a covert reconnaissance mission of sorts. “We might be in Paris, and you might be at an opera soiree evening and there might be an old lady dancing, the last person on the dance floor,” says Ikonen. “And you just think: Who is this fascinating person I have to meet? You approach them and ask them, ‘Who are you and what are you doing tomorrow?’” Ikonen isn’t speaking hypothetically. A similarly auspicious encounter with an opera singer named Marie-Ange led to a shoot the following day, in which she is pictured at the edge of a lake, wearing a theatrical bustle made of weeping willow branches.