I’m in Iceland. Again!
Christmas is behind us, along with the New Year, so balance has returned to my world (not being in Afghanistan helps too). Before I left Kabul for the UK prior to Christmas, I figured I would need a break away. Away from everything.
I visited Iceland with my two children in August and fell in love with the country immediately. Less than 100,000 people live outside the capital and its hard beauty is impossible to ignore. Sitting at the juncture of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, it has a geology that is unlike anything I have ever seen. You’re left in no doubt that life on Earth means living on a crust of rock above a molten core. Volcanoes are everywhere. Rock is everywhere. Volcanic ash and huge splits in the rock are impossible to miss, because you see them before you’ve covered five miles outside the airport. It feels very real, devoid of the insulation we experience in our daily lives. Its raw and harks back to the dawn of time, leaving ones own existence feeling rather trivial. I like that: it’s ‘back to basics’ and its a reality we often forget when caught up in our own docudramas.
I knew that winter would bring snow and that there would be hardly anyone here. I banked on vast expanses of white and a period of beautiful solitude. Everyone is different, but I need space and time alone to recharge and recalibrate. Life has been busy lately and fairly stressful, so the decision to go to Iceland for some cathartic landscape photography was very easy. The short days would mean intensive activity and force rest. The ideal of sleeping a lot appealed to me.
During the run up, it was impossible to ignore the fact that Iceland has been photographed to death and then beaten with a baseball bat. What is left has then been defaced, then set on fire. It seems that many serious photographers visiting, shoot the same viewpoints and largely in the same way (at least for B&W photographers). They all end up looking the same and resembling Michael Kenna’s work. As lovely as much of this work is, its important to ‘do your own thing’ and so, in order to prevent the Kenna aesthetic creeping into my head, I decided not to look at any Iceland photographs for a couple of months. I also decided not to bother with many of the key ‘photo waypoints’. Some I will visit because I want to see them, not because I particularly want to photograph them. Herein lies the point: I am here because I want to enjoy my own thoughts and a good dose of quiet solitude. I’m also here because I love what photography is to me: catharsis. I therefore decided, after much thinking about what to think about, not to think about anything. I figured I turn up with a camera bag and see what happened. So what did I bring?
Equipment does matter, so I decided to bring enough to give me flexibility, but not enough to wind me up:
- Sony A7 and A7R.
- Sony Zeiss 35 & 55mm.
- Sony G 70-200 F4 OSS.
- Tokina 16-28 f2.8, with Metabones III adaptor.
- Puny tripod.
- Lowepro mini trekker.
I also took advantage of the January sales and picked up a Ricoh GR, which I also brought along. I am going to do a separate review of this camera, but will make some comments along the way, starting with ‘wow’. If you like 28mm, love simplicity and appreciate brilliant execution, you will love this camera as much as I do (already). It forces a simple approach and encourages you to have fun. Now back to the actual trip….
The final approach, courtesy of Easyjet, confirmed expectations: the landscape was fairly well dusted with snow and it looked cold. I picked up my hire car (a small 4×4) and the drive away form Keflavik Airport, via the outskirts of Reykjavik, was uneventful. A short distance East of Reykjavik, it looked like this at about 11:10am:
Yeah, this is perfect, I thought. Its cold, but dry and despite being gusty, I figured that would abate. Well, it turns out I was wrong. The wind picked up to 40mph or so, with incredible gusts and the rain hammered down. It rained for 18 hours solid and, in the morning, the snow was almost entirely gone. Cr*p. To really ensure that I was fully aware of the ‘raining’ theme, my hotel window let about two litres in during the night. I went to bed at about midnight and listened to the crackle of rain driven against the window. I could pick out intermittent dripping, which I assumed was outside the room, but wasn’t. I switched on the light to see that the windowsill was fit for a miniature paper boat race and the floor beneath the window could probably host a regatta (for ants, given that the puddle was about a metre long). I mopped it up and placed some towels on the sill to absorb new water, only to hear ‘thwack, thwack, thwack’ as the drips falling from the roof just inside the window struck wet cotton. Knowing I’d have no chance of sleep, I tried various arrangements of tilted glasses, sound barriers and all sorts, until finally settling on a large rectangular plate held by packed towels. I set it at an angle, so that it took the speed off the drops, which now arrived silently and slid towards the towel underneath. I wish there had been an audience and a design award, because I was really quite proud of my achievement. I lay there in silence and in darkness, with irritation replaced by a sense of triumph, much as it had twenty years ago when an inflated washing up glove packed with now forgotten items stifled the demonically possessed fire siren in my university bedroom (it went off several times a week, between 3 and 4 am, for no reason whatsoever, with the ferocity of a rape alarm living inside your ear canal).
Today was phenomenal despite starting with me walking across ice to get to the car and being blown ten metres backwards to further away than where I started. It really knows how to do bad weather here! The idea of using a tripod today was laughable, although I did try. I’ll write about the first full day tomorrow – bye!