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.
While getting boots and gloves and hat ready to go over the lip of the hill last December 24 and visit Sheep’s Falls, one of my favourite waterfalls, many tourists stopped as well: the first stop, it seems, two or three hard hours of driving from Reykjavik. Time and again, they took a few pictures over the Berserkerjahraun to the rising sun, and then posed for each others’ cameras and drove on. It was intimate and sweet.
Still, they had Kirkjufoss to get to before the rising sun was no longer behind the mountain, and they didn’t need me telling them it would be worth it to walk for ten minutes down through the drifts, because they might not have come to Iceland to see the pale, pale winter sun and to learn its nature. They had places to be getting along to, with better cameras and the hope for brighter light, and promises had been made to them, and promises, we know, should be kept.
Just imagine how many times a day any and every traveller in Iceland, myself included, encounters people who know where they are and what is worth seeing and say nothing, because that’s the way of the land itself. As Paul Theroux pointed out half a century ago while travelling by train through South America, it’s North Americans (myself included) who point to stuff.
Other intersections of solar radiation and the Earth are equally beautiful. In late November, these colours change so rapidly that the change is physically observable. You are part of the turning of the Earth, and you can see it, way out there, where you are, in Space.
Iceland is a good place to get to know your place in the solar system.
Gunnar said there were ships in the sky, meaning clouds, but if you go to Iceland in the winter, you will find whole mountain ranges in the sky, that appear and disappear, created by the mountains out of the wind off the Atlantic.
They’re not exactly shadows and not exactly mirrors. They are amazingly alive. I suspect that the medium (the wind) does that. The image above is near Arnarstapi, on Snæfellsnes. The glacier is just around the corner: one of these clouds that stayed.