Lydveldid Island is the official name of Iceland, located just south of the Arctic Circle, which grazes the Northern part of Europe’s second-largest island in the Atlantic Ocean. Iceland is only 23 million years old and, in the collective imaginary, it is a place of wild and wonderful nature made of volcanoes, glaciers and spectacular geysers; however, in the past two years, this quiet island has been in the limelight for a much less idyllic reason.
On 6th October 2008, Iceland’s then Prime Minister, Geir Haarde, informed the country about the emergency legislation being passed by the Government. Three days after, the three largest banks – Landbanski, Kaupthing e Glitnir – were nationalised: Iceland was officially in a terrible financial meltdown. On 11th October was put up for sale on eBay UK with bidding starting at 99 pence.
We will start our photo story of this bankrupt country from Reykjavik, in search of Iceland’s new hopes.
Step 1: Reykjavik between crisis and art
We arrive at Keflavik airport, 40 km from Reykjavik, where over a third of the 320.169 Icelanders live. In the historical centre between Fjörnin, Lækjargata, the harbour and the suburb of Seltjarnanes, we take some quick pictures among colourful houses made of wood and corrugated iron sheets totally soaked in the morning light, taking care of the glare of the sun.
Bogartun is now known as the “boulevard of broken dreams”, a name dubbed by Andri Snaer Magnason in his book “Dreamland: A self-help manual for a frightened nation”; a walk from the Althingi (Alþingi), the national Parliament of Iceland in Austurvöllur Square, passing by the Central Bank and the headquarters of the three major banks in the country. Saturday we will meet protesters who have been gathering for months in front of the grey brick building of the most ancient parliament in the world (created in 930). Photo-reportages must make use of close-ups to capture interesting details highlighting the strong civic sense, determination and strength of this people who express their dissent armed with spoons and pans.
The lens captures faces that show a tenacious sense of humour, a people that the crisis seems to have awakened: in the communal pool where early in the morning the older Icelanders discuss politics and sing traditional tunes amidst thermal water steam; in the Boston pub, where artists talk about the cultural renaissance of the country, which stems right from those environments funds have been cut off, we put together images of drawings by famous photographer, who also signed the artwork for Björk’s Family Tree booklet, with those of the floral patterns that decorate the bar.
A new urban plan is being studied for Reykjavik’s harbour. We also take panoramic shots from Hallgrimskirkja tower, whose unusual architecture resembles a geyser. We move our cameras lying down to obtain a floating effect.
Step 2: Bye Bye Big Mac
The formal application in July 2009 for EU membership seems to have awakened the Icelanders from lethargy; while old traditions are being rediscovered, Reykjavik’s three McDonald’s restaurants have closed down to leave space to the local cuisine. We take pictures of the closed shutters to bid the Big Mac farewell.
The seppuku of the world's fast food leader will serve as a warning. Of the main Icelandic cities we will only capture on camera all that exudes Viking pride.
To reach the coastal towns we can either take the local bus or rent a 4WD vehicle to cross Ring Road No. 1, partly dirt road, which connects the capital to the other major cities. A good objective lens will help us capture the picturesque details in the villages of Grindavík and Sandgerði, Selfoss, Hafnarfjörour, the town of Elves, Kopavogur, home to the Icelandic Fisheries Exhibition, Kópavagshaer, Akranes, Borgarnes, Isafjorđur, Akureyri, Húsavik, Egilsstađir, Höfn. In spite of the crisis, riches such as fishing and geothermal energy can still rely on strong arms and confident minds that do not give up on the potentialities of this land. We will try to highlight the contrast between the bright blue sky and the deep blue sea around the harbour to give a stage to the tireless fishermen.
To portrait the cute chubby kids, on the other hand, we choose another perspective, getting to their height and making funny faces to make them smile.
Step 3: Fata Morgana
Icelandic nature is bewildering and fairy-tale-like. For many Icelanders, a return to nature is a way of overcoming the crisis, recalling the spirit of their land. For us it’s a sort of initiation ceremony: we walk on the lava rock of the Krafla volcano near Lake Mývatn and Lake Askja in the inner island; we immerse ourselves in one of Hveravellir’s magic hot water pools. In Landmannalaugar valley we remain awestruck at the power of the Gullfoss and Dettifoss waterfalls and at the 20m high eruptions of the Strokkur Geyser in the Geyser geothermal area. Our gaze swings between the icebergs in the Jökulsárlón lagoon originating from the king of glaciers Vatnajökull. We cannot miss Grimsey Island, where the dim rays of the midnight sun do not warm us in the freezing wind.
To capture these landscapes of ice and fire we use a wide-angle lens:we keep the background in focus, making the main subject more prominent.Either amidst expanses of moss or on black beaches in the shade of the cliffs, we always fetch our cameras to frame the immense Icelandic sky.
It seems as if the island wants to award us and at Lake Alftavatn we witness a refraction phenomenon known as Fata Morgana, which is most common in Polar Regions.
By Ilaria Pittiglio