So I'm finally here. This morning I woke up to snow falling softly outside my window, and fresh bread delivered to my door. This morning, I woke up in Reykjavik.
It feels so surreal to write that. I've been planning this trip for so long now, it's been a dream of mine to one day come and explore this unique country, and document it through my lens, and today I finally arrived. I have come to Iceland to do an artist residency at the Gullkistan Centre for Creativity, in a tiny little town called Laugarvatn, about an hour's drive east of Reykjavik. The town is set beside a huge lake and is home to about 250 people. I am told there is one restaurant here, one school, one pool, one petrol station, and one (very picturesque) farm house known as Gullkistan - which I will call home for the next month.
Since I have been in Iceland, (which happens to be total of about 18 hours) the weather has changed drastically about 6 times. My flight here from Frankfurt was delayed by 7 hours as Reykjavik (Keflavik) Airport was closed due to a blizzard.. Welcome to Iceland. I met a local woman on the flight here who told me that they had a saying here, 'if you don't like the weather, just wait a little bit and it'll soon change'. I soon understood what she meant. It can go from the bluest, clearest skies you have ever seen, to a grey, howling, bone-chilling snow storm in a matter of minutes.. I hope I have come prepared.
Today I met friendly taxi driver Oleg and he drove me from Reyjkavik to Laugarvatn. He told me that he was Russian and had been living in Iceland for nearly 20 years now. We stopped so I could get groceries, and soon we were on our way. The road to Laugarvatn was really icy and we passed 3 or 4 cars that had slid out off the road. I made a mental note to be really careful if I ever hire a car. I couldn't really understand Oleg half the time, as he was speaking a mixture of English & Icelandic, all with a very thick Russian accent - but we laughed and enjoyed the conversation all the same. He probably couldn't understand me either!
We finally make it to Gullkistan, and it looks like something out of a snow globe. The house has a bright red roof, and is nestled perfectly amongst the trees. Icicles hang from the roof, and just as we walk up the sun comes out to play, lighting up the whole scene like a winter wonderland. It reminds me of the houses in Canada, but there is something very special about this place. I can just feel it.
There is a note for me taped to the front door and it is from the other three artists I am sharing the house with, Emily, Lucia & Maria. The girls went to town to go in the thermal pool, (or the 'spa' as they call it) but their handwritten note is so welcoming! Inside the house is warm, cosy & charming - I already feel right at home.
I didn't venture too far today, jet lag got the better of me and the weather has been extremely unpredictable. But is has been so nice settling into my new home and making instant friends with the girls. We are all around the same age, so it's going to be fun. The exploring starts tomorrow.
*I acknowledge & greatly appreciate the assistance provided for my project by the Queensland Government and by Mackay Regional Council. The Regional Arts Development Fund is a Queensland Government and Mackay Regional Council partnership to support local arts and culture - www.arts.qld.gov.au
What a week. I thought I should probably give an update on here about what I've been doing here in Iceland. The thing is, I've been experiencing SO much. Every day so far has been one hell of an adventure and I've really been trying to unplug from everything and immerse myself in where I am - the breathtakingly beautiful, powerful Iceland landscape. I've also been learning a lot this country, it's mountains & glaciers & rivers, and all of the folklore stories to go along with each place. There is so much to photograph here, my surroundings are changing every single day as we say goodbye to Winter and hello to Spring. It almost seemed to appear overnight.
My first weekend here was spent at the Reykjavik Fashion Festival. I was photographing there for the RFF team, and mostly covered backstage & runway (which was secretly a dream come true). I shot alongside some of the most talented fashion photographers in Iceland and the world, and together we photographed the new collections of Iceland's coolest designers - Jör, Sigga Maija, Magnea, Scintilla, Another Creation & Eyland. I already want to come back next year. While I was in Reykjavik there was a huge storm. It was similar to that of a cyclone, with 100km winds. Everyone was warned to stay inside and roads were closed. It was a bit of a scary experience, as I was on my own. It was the first time I realised how serious and dangerous the weather here can be. It can change in a second and you've got to be prepared and take note of the warnings.
After returning back home to my little farm house in Laugarvatn (once the roads reopened I rented a car and got the guts to drive on the other side of the road - go me!) the other artists and I decided to make the most of the proposed good weather and the following day we took a road trip along the south coast, driving towards the East. We stopped ALOT. Mostly because we all wanted to take pictures and pat the beautiful Icelandic horses, that are dotted everywhere along the high way 1 ring road. The horses are so friendly and they usually trot right over when visitors stop to pat them. We passed the most incredible sights including two big waterfalls, Seljalandsfoss, and the more well known Skogafoss. The first waterfall was not on our to-do list, but our jaws dropped as we got closer and closer (you could see it from the road) - this miraculous, gigantic flow of water, and you can actually walk behind this waterfall which is what makes it special. Skogafoss was only a little further down the road, and is one of Iceland's bigger waterfalls at 60m tall. It falls over huge mountains which I learned are former sea cliffs. These mountains run parallel to the south coast and create a clear border between the beach villages and the highlands. It was actually overcast when we arrived, but just as we began to walk over to the waterfall the sun peeked out from behind the clouds and out came this double-rainbow. We couldn't believe our eyes! Maria and I just stared at each other in disbelief. Were we really there?! It was one of those moments where you just can't believe what you're looking at.
We took a bunch of photographs and then continued onto the beach side town of Vik, which is Iceland's most southern village. The beach is quite special, it's a black sand (basalt) beach, which is made up of volcanic rock. The thing that I found most fascinating about Vik is that it is situated right in front of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier (the 4th largest glacier in Iceland)...which is actually on top of the Katla volcano. Yes, a volcano beneath a glacier. The volcano hasn't erupted since 1918 - but I think that people are beginning to wonder when it will erupt again.. It could be soon. If an eruption happens, it would probably cause a flash flood which would completely demolish the entire town of Vik. It is said that there would only be one building that would survive the flood, the church which is perched high on top of a big hill. The girls and I drove up there, and as I looked down at the beach I tried to imagine a huge flood of water coming past me.. it reminded me of something you would only see in a movie, like, where the world is ending.
We then continued east for a little bit until we entered some very strange black lava volcanic sand flats called Mýrdalssandur. This is where material from the Mýrdalsjökull glacier has been deposited, and it is 700km squared. It is also where the water from the glacier flows out to sea. This might sound weird, but all of a sudden we all felt quite nervous about the fact that we were driving into this area. It was extremely bleak and desolate. Even the light seemed to change, and we all agreed that it had a bad energy.. We pulled over a little rest point to turn around and there was sign there with some information about flats. Some say they are haunted.. and people tend to drive as quickly out of there as they can. Which is exactly what we did.
We started heading west again and on the way back stopped in at Ryenisfjall which is part of the Reynisfjara shore. This shore is home to gigantic basalt sea stacks called Reynisdrangar, some as high as 66 meters. Like many Iceland sights, the pillars are explained in Icelandic folklore as the remains of trolls who were trying to pull ship to the shore, but they were caught by the sunlight at dawn and turned into needles of rock. One thing I have loved learning about this country is the strong Icelandic stories. It is a place of elves & trolls & gold pots & witches. You can feel the magic in the air here... it's a sometimes strange. Reynisfjara also had the scariest waves I had ever seen. The sea looked very violent and aggressive. It was a very powerful place.
Gullkistan is the most creative, inspiring residency. The other artists feel like family to me! Which is crazy after just a week but it's just so special. It will be very, very hard to say goodbye when the time comes. Every night we cook together and laugh and share stories and talk about our work and what inspires us. I know we will be life-long friends and am already planning trips to Finland and back to California to visit them. I think that's one of the most important things about this residency, besides developing a body of work. It's meeting and living with these other artists and making those special connections.
The following day we visited the Gullfoss waterfall, which translates in the Golden Waterfall. Although it wasn't golden at all when we were there, it had a much more wintery feel as it was overcast and quite cold. The waterfall is where the Hvítá river, or the White River, rushes southward, plunging over a three-step staircase and eventually falling down 32m. The bottom is obscured from view by a rock ledge, so at first it looks like the water is falling down in the earth. From here we continued on to the Brúarhlöð, which is a narrow gorge in Hvitá River about three kilometers south of Gullfoss. Over time, the river has formed the rocks into beautiful pillars and formations. We were told this is a secret spot and it's pretty hard to find if you don't have a local showing you. We got lucky. We were the only ones there. Folklore says that giants came to cook here!
We then drove to Þingvellir (the Þ is prounced as TH) which is the national park that covers the land behind Laugarvatn. It is famous for being the first Parliament plains, and for being situated on the tectonic plate boundaries of the North America plate & Eurasia plate. Bascially earthquakes haves caused the plates to move drastically and there is a huge rift between the two. They are moving apart at a distance of 2cm per year - which is mind-blowing. I'm not really up with all of the science of it, but the landscape of the national park was gorgeous - and we had blue skies and sun so it was so nice to be outside!
So now this brings me to two nights ago, when something very crazy was happening thousands of kilometres above us. I have since found out that a severe geomagnetic storm caused what was the MOST amazing, incredible northern lights show that I will probably EVER see. I heard that even my friends back home saw the Aurora Australis so something special must have been happening in the earths atmosphere. I have waited my whole life to see this phenomenon, and it was so worth it. I have never seen anything like it. It felt like pure magic. We were called outside, just on dusk. It was still light outside and we raced out of the farm house and into the neighbours field. There we could see the faint green glow of the northern lights against the deep blue sky. As we stood there, and as the sun went further down the lights got brighter and brighter and before my eyes they started dancing like crazy. I had my tripod set up ready to capture them and took some test shots. We then waited for it to get darker and darker, and they really put on a show. We had green & purple & even pink!! Our icelandic friend Alda called to say that this was something really really special, this never happens in Iceland! For the lights to stay out all night and dance for us like that, we were so lucky. I took some photos, but I also reminded myself to stop and take in the moment. Sometimes photographers can get caught up in taking the picture. I will remember that feeling of looking at the lights for a very long time.
Just on the technical side of photographing the lights > it's not as easy as it looks! I did a lot of research before coming over here, making sure I had all the right gear and a good sturdy (yet lightweight) tripod. I used my wide angle 16-35mm, with a general shutter speed of 20 or 30 seconds. I got some beautifullll shots and am actually quite proud of my efforts!
So, this brings me to today. Today we ventured to the blue lagoon, a hot, steamy geothermal spring which is bright blue in colour due to the high silica and sulphur content. It was pretty crowded, but we enjoyed the warm water all the same. Tomorrow we will watch the solar eclipse, which has brought thousands of tourists to Iceland. This will be the darkest total solar eclipse that Icelanders have seen in 61 years, and the next one won't be until 2026. I don't know what is going on up in space, but I can't help but feel that there is a lot of strange activity, with our northern lights experience, the geomagnetic solar storm and now the total solar eclipse. It is crazy to think about. It is also apparently going to be a super moon, which is when the moon passes closest to the earth. I also read that it is going to be the equinox, which is equal hours of day & night (in between the summer & winter solstice). It's a special time to be in Iceland.
I would love to share my photo diary with you, but I've been so busy exploring and experience Iceland that I haven't had a chance to process my work yet. This is actually the first time that I am sitting down at a computer! All I know is that I feel a really strong connection with this country, and my exhibition work is slowly but surely taking its form.. I can't wait to share with you.