So many photographs are posed in stillness, framed by contemplation, and drenched with light, yet light is not always about vision or seeing clearly, especially in an Icelandic winter, when it becomes a kind of water you swim through, an aether, the ancients would have called it. They meant the liquid eye that sees before the mind does and only lets the mind see a little of what touches it like a finger to a leaf.
This image of Eldborg on Snaefellsnes was made at 80 km/h on a late December dusk, out of the corner of my eye. There was no time to frame it, and before I registered it was there it was gone. What remains is the look it gave me, this drawing of my eye to it, that I had nothing to do with except trust. This watching haunts me.
One of the deepest pleasures of travelling in Iceland, is reading the books of sagas told by the mountains. Times of transition and movement are best, when the writing reveals itself in its non-human script.
Time and again, Gunnar wrote that poverty is the greatest wealth. Here’s an example from his childhood fjord. Here, every farm i needed a source of fresh water. The smaller the farm, the more precarious the source. Here’s the water source of a small croft near Bringubakki.
Look how the water flows with life within the remains of winter’s cold, just as the life flows through the family that brings it into their house. This small, austere pleasure of this correspondence is a great richness.
Nature today is the process of waiting around for a moment of surprise. This hour at Geysir, is a good example.
The jolt of excitement it gives (essentially the breaking of your self-imposed exile from self in the act of waiting) especially if viewed in a crowd against which you can measure your response, is then called the power of the natural world. It is the age of advertising, psychology and science.
Half a century ago, nature was much closer. You lived in it.
It was an age of art. As a result, nature was conceived as a painting, which would then influence its observers in both spiritual and practical ways.
Well, it has grown now, as these tree plantations show. This shaping can still continue and is one of the reasons why art must be defended and continually reinvented in conversation with the earth. It is always waiting. Sometimes you just have to turn around.
The barren hills are caused by the sheep that make a nation possible here. The birches in the churchyard would have been all over them 1100 years ago. More trees would be desirable, but lamb is already $35 a kilo. That’s a hard practical choice. The church is a symbol of many things, including the parliament of 999-1000 that made Christianity the country’s public religion (without denying private paganism), the loss of nationalism to the Norwegian Crown a half millennium ago, the power of land-owners to collect church tithes, and the cementing of Christian values (and at times oppression) in communities of itinerant labourers, almost serfs, in continual movement around the country. The forest behind the church is part of the late 19th century and early 20th century movement to re-settle the land and reclaim nationalism from Denmark. The long distance transmission line is part of the support network for the American aluminum plant behind me when I made this image. The reservoir that supplies these lines with power drowned some of Iceland’s most beautiful wilderness, yet, arguably, provides the funds that allow Iceland to remain independent. The green field crop represents the heavy industrialization of agriculture which enables a people, in love with the power of American urban values and who have left to land, to eat off the labour of 4500 people. The ditches across the field, for drainage, allow for increased yields for this industrialized agriculture. Everything you see here is a technology for survival. Everything is a carefully calculated choice. Nothing is frivolous. So, yes, if you call that pastoral, this is. Gunnar Gunnarsson would have said it was. I do, too.