Around the land of fire and ice
Ten years ago I visited Iceland for my second of two photographic workshops. Iceland is a country that fills me with awe and wonder. On that trip I travelled for snow and ice. I got rain and more rain. For eight days without much respite. The snow arrived on our last day as we drove to the airport.
So it was with trepidation that I invited my other half (OH), who is not a photographer, to accompany me on a quest to travel around the whole of the island, from south, eastwards to the north and finally to the west. A trip that would allow me to re-visit old haunts, such as the glaciers and ice at Jokulsarlon and Vatnajokull, but also to bring me to new places and experiences.
I say trepidation for two reasons; firstly because OH does not choose cold and wet as an ideal climate for a holiday, and secondly because I wasn't sure how it would be travelling with a non-photographer. This was to be our 'summer' holiday, and we would be together all day every day for 11 days; not something that happens very often. OH likes regular meals. I go with the flow. This was to be a test of our forty year marriage, and a road trip.
I was delighted by the sign at Reykjavik airport directing me to Iceland. I felt a sense of adventure.
We spent our first day in the city before collecting our vehicle and getting on the road. I fell in love with the Harpa Concert Hall; a feast of glass and concrete, enhanced by a soloist singing arias in the gallery for visitors from the cruise ships docked nearby.
Next morning our journey began. And so did the rain.
We had a plan to climb up to the live volcano near the airport. We donned all of our waterproofs and set off from a remote car park in a field of lava. Precisely 100 yards later we climbed a ridge to winds that knocked us sideways, and prevented us from safely proceeding.
We retreated, wet and cold to the car and headed off to the Blue Lagoon, where we warmed up in the thermal water. With rain lashing our faces we drank from the swim up bar and chatted to a lone American tourist who had carried his drone on a several day hike into the highlands only to find that the battery didn't work. Internally I was less than sympathetic; the sound of drones in peaceful landscapes really disturbs me.
Next came the famous 'Golden Circle'. This is the tourist circuit that many people do as a day trip from the city. Many people were....... Iceland is currently full to capacity after the pandemic.
We started at the Pingvellir National Park , a place where continents divide between the North American tectonic plate and the Eurasian plate.
We made a hasty trip to Geysir, where tourism dominates the landscape, and visited the first of countless spectacular waterfalls that punctuated our journey.
The Icelandic word for waterfall is 'foss'.
Gullfoss, Svartifoss, Sellfoss, Dettifoss..... they are all spectacular in their own way, mainly for the sheer volume of water that passes over them, and the scale of the drops.
But I was not In Iceland for the waterfalls. I was there for the wider landscapes and the lava.
It is something about the sparseness of the volcanic landscape that feels 'other-worldly'. A scene from another planet, perhaps. A popular location for sci-fi movies.
'Elemental' is the word that I would choose to describe it. Ice, water, rock and sky. Glaciers and mountains. Volcanoes and lava fields.
We were lucky. After two days of heavy rain the skies cleared, and if anything, were too bright for landscape photography. So I became 'just another tourist', and took in the sights, knowing that my images would be far from perfect. OH was happy, and we only had to have one of our daily picnic lunches in the car, with rain hammering down on the windscreen.
We visited many fishing villages, mostly with unpronouncable names.
Painted streets are popular., and perfect for those who love to post Instagram selfies.
I was at my happiest wandering across a lava field in the middle of nowhere finding tiny plants nestling amongst the stones.
Sometimes going back to a place that is remembered in fondness can be a mistake.
Different weather, a different season and different circumstances are just a reminder of really good times past that cannot be replicated.
The church at Hellnar is a good example. How different are these two images, one from September 2022, and one from March 2012.
These two images highlight the need for atmospheric skies and a lack of harsh shadows in landscape photography.
The same issue applies to photographing ice. Bright sunlight bleaches out the colours in the ice and mid-day sun creates unwanted shadows.
Below are images from a photo tour in 2012 showing one of my fellow photographers at work, and from the same place in 2022 during the day, with a tourist posing on the ice.
Sometimes it was good to remind myself that this was a holiday, and not a photo workshop. The two are rarely compatible unless one is travelling alone. I prefer to have the option to stop anywhere rather than be guided from one waterfall or iconic spot to the next.
While we journeyed I was reading 'The Library of Ice' by Nancy Campbell, poet and writer. Her words reminded me that Iceland can be a much harsher place than we experienced; with roads washed away by floods, volcanic erruptions engulfing villages and farms.
I also read about the diminishing glaciers, an issue that causes concern for many. The last glacier that we visited, Snaefellsjokul, is retreating fast, and is predicted to have melted completely by 2050. Nancy Campbell talks about the work of Katie Paterson, who allowed people to dial in to a mobile phone in the glacial lagoon at Fjallsarlon to hear the sounds of melting ice.
Katie talks about this in her TED talk about deep time.
As we travelled around, I relaxed, enjoyed the scenery and made photographs when it felt possible.
I am very lucky to have visited Iceland three times now, and whilst OH hoped that this would 'get it out of my system', I am afraid that it has had the reverse effect!
I will finish with a few images; a fairly random collection. It will take me some time before I know how I will use the images that I did make, and I look forward to exploring my archived images from previous journeys to look for themes that run through all three trips.
.And, yes, we did see the northern lights. I just stood and enjoyed them coming and going across the midnight sky with the milky way overhead. Previous experience tells me that my memories record them better than my photos.
A big thanks go out to OH for coming with me and even admitting to enjoying himself most of the time!
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Caroline Fraser - an ordinary life
on life, suburban living, art, creativity, photography, book art and travel.
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Welcome to Caroline Fraser Photography
Colourful abstracted and traditional photographic landscapes, book art and workshops. Capturing the moods and beauty of nature whether in wild open places or in small sanctuaries in suburbia.