I wasn’t expecting it to be that cold. Iceland.
While I write I have Albert Collins’ “Cold Cold Feeling” playing in the background. A storm is in full effect outside in typical Detroit fashion. Perfect.
My wife, an Italian friend we met here in Detroit, and I went to Iceland this summer for a week. We traveled 2400 km with a reliable Dacia Duster and saw a large part of the mysterious island.
Our first encounter were the Northern Lights, which we saw from our flight which took off from Toronto, late Friday night. Saturday we hit the road. Jet lag aside, we had a mission. Discover the island that has gained a tremendous traction in terms of tourism. One local told us that in 2012 there were about 500,000 tourist and this year there were an expected 2.5 million. What a leap for a country that has only 300,000 inhabitants.
We left Keflavik, the main international airport and headed north. We wanted to see the western fjords which did not disappoint. The pictures speak for themselves. We crossed numerous landscapes and it felt we were travelling through Mars, the Moon, Yellowstone and green plains all in the same day.
I wanted to stop every other minute to make a photo. Fortunately my travel companions knew ahead of time that that was going to happen. And luckily, it was a small group. I can’t imagine going to any place, least of all Iceland, with a big tour where you are hurdled in and out of the bus like cattle with a rigid time schedule.
Some photos happen when you see them. Not before, not after, you just see the light and say, “pull over, just a second. I promise this is the last one”.
Of course only to then drive a few more miles and plead for their forgiveness. But if you don’t you’ll have left something unfinished. Not because you won’t come back with that photo to show to your friends, family, clients or gallery audiences. But because you knew in you that it was a good photo. It spoke to you. You saw it. It was your style and you left it behind. That’s cold cold feeling to have.
It truly was cold though. Not for the photos. I took what I wanted and saw. But the weather. Another local, Johnny, owner of one of the Guest houses we stayed at, told us that because of Iceland’s position, during the winter it gets a warm “breeze” whereas in the summer it gets a cold current. Bad luck huh? It doesn’t get much lower than the freezing mark in the winter, but it also doesn’t get much warmer than 15 degrees C in the summer.
Up north we went, on the west coast, caught a ferry, then towards the center and down through the middle as we headed south, on the gravel and rocks road, the F35. During the winter it is inaccessible, but not to worry during the summer for our Duster.
Langjokull to our right, Hofsjokull to our right. Two icecaps that we could look at in awe as we went further south. Along the way we found an orange hut which offered shelter to adventurers; those who would travel hiking, with a bicycle, or any other means that didn’t bring you to a hotel, guest house or camping ground. Inside we found some resources such as small gas tanks, notes on the wall, and a few wooden beds perfect to rest up. A small hut where travelers would temporarily exist.
I think of the millions of people that have gone through major airport hubs, yet it’s still just an airport. No. Not this hut. Fewer people, but with a soul.
Making photos of such places is hard. There are a million people. You don’t usually visit them at the Golden Hour unless you solely plan for that. And the simple snapshot to share with friends and family doesn’t usually cut it.
And admittedly, I didn’t go with ND filters to get that creamy waterfall. I didn’t make my wife and friend go through hell to view things at the Golden Hour (seeing that it was summer it was at 5 am or 10 pm). And most importantly, I simply wanted to explore the natural beauty with all its diversity without too much alteration.
I have a camera with me at all times. Have to make due with the conditions. Gets me thinking outside of the box.
When we got to Reykjavik I was back in street photography and documentary mode. I couldn’t wait to take my Fujifilm X100F out and putting the bulkier Nikon DSLR away.
The city was vibrant. I guess they have to paint house green, magenta, light yellow and make doors red to counter the long dark hours of the winter. Tourists were walking, locals were soaking up the sun. On the face and hands that is, because of that cold cold feeling.
As we walked I noticed a photograph. I look up and it was a small photography shop, Fotografi. Small but powerful. All sorts of vintage cameras hanging to the right, a man, most likely the owner and photographer sitting at his desk, and tourists going through the prints and gadgets that were for sale. I look through the photos. Some were powerful, some a little less as it should be. The two below were taken by what I assume was Ari Sigvaldason.
The photo that stuck out was of an older lady walking with a single crutch. The tin paneling which I had noticed to be typical was the backdrop. One could argue that it added leading lines to the lady. I would argue that it gives order and repetition seeing how the darker building in the background is also made of the same material. Or coated I would hope.
Then there is the sign “Pussies Beware”. In English? I am truly curious as that would be translated in a language so unique as Icelandic.
Could it be in relation to the Pussy Riot in Russia? More importantly, would the image have worked if it were a male in the frame? Or what about a younger woman? I don’t think so. The image is cohesive and the detail of the two pigeons add as much as the small flakes of snow at the bottom. This photo is for sale here.
The other photograph that caught my eye was similar to one that I had taken just a few days prior. And I have to therefore think that there are many more out there.
Above is the one taken by Ari Sigvaldason. I think the idea is strong, but it is not as powerful as “Pussies Beware”. I don’t particularly care for the building to the left. I would have moved to the left a bit more, and gotten closer therefore eliminating the building and still having the light house in the frame. If that didn’t work I would have moved to the right to align the building behind the driver’s cabin to create that strong contrast between the black and white rather than leaving the space, that sky.
I say this because the subject was stationary. Unlike the lady walking perfectly in the frame, there was time to play with the composition in this one.
Then again, who knows, maybe it was taken while he was driving by and it was a fluke shot.
My version of the same idea was taken at Stykkishólmur. What both Ari and I did, coincidentally, was to shoot it black and white. I think there is a quality in the frame with deep black and bright whites that eliminates the distraction of color. The photo could undoubtedly be powerful in color but I like the arrangement of the buildings that create a diagonal line; tallest on the right hand side, falling towards the port on the left. The seagull fills the sky. Would it have added if the sky was a rich blue, or a warm orange? I don’t think so.
We walk around, captivated by the frames, light games, interesting characters. We capture at what speaks to us, to how we see the world and how we would like to portray it.
I like color, but I’m nostalgic. I prefer black and white. Ari could be the same way.
I like to have order, but leave room for confusion. I’ll use a frame within the frame, but won’t care about the tire being cutoff.
And then we make the photos to document our times. Why? Why was there a truck open on both sides? It doesn’t look like a food truck.
Maybe it was Ari’s?
You’ll have to see it for yourself. And if you go, stay warm.
Until next time,
The Power of a Bracelet