I have been to Iceland twice, for about three months each time, to do art residencies, one in the winter of 2015/16 and then in the summer of 2018. Both times I was in the same place, Ólafsfjörður, on the north coast, near the second biggest town in Iceland, Akureyri (pop 15,000). Over this period I was doing a degree in Fine Art at Newcastle University.
Iceland is a staggeringly beautiful place. Many people I know have taken postcard-perfect pictures just by holding their phone up as they drove along a road somewhere without even looking. The results are usually more than worthwhile. Most of my own scenery images I took with my phone to show my friends where I was and make them jealous, but I also took my film and digital cameras with me each time – using these were the main reason I was there.
Last summer, I took on the challenge of the often low light and decided to shoot with a slow (ISO 6) film, in an effort to capture the textures and contrasts of the landscape. As the summer progresses, there is an endless variation of green covering much of the coastal flats.
In the winter, travelling around is obvious limited – many roads are closed and the weather is famously unpredictable. Any remark about snow going past the window horizontally and interfering with your plans is met with a standard reply; “welcome to Iceland!”
In the summer, though, it is much easier to get into the countryside. I was lucky enough to meet a local, Björn Valdimarsson, who is a prolific photographer and visits and revisits locations in the country each summer, and tag along with him on some trips into the countryside. Björn has published a number of photobooks of local people other subjects across northern Iceland.
Iceland has been inhabited for about 1,000 years, plenty of time to accumulate stories associated with everywhere you go. That, and the fact that it has a small population, means that often the people you talk to are personally connected to those stories.
The climate and geology of Iceland is constantly surprising and can be overwhelming. In the early summer, a half hour drive from the coast will find you in heavily falling snow, between mountains that will not shed their winter coat for another two months. The black stone of the mountains that gradually emerges from that snow becomes the black sand of the beaches. Between them, there is usually just a thin strip of land that the towns and villages are built, with thin roads winding in and out of the endless fjords.
Outside Reykjavik and few other large towns, Iceland is a farming and fishing country. Although there have been many changes over the years in the fortunes of these pursuits, everywhere you go you see evidence of the generations of activities. One sign of this history is the number of dead, rusting vehicles to be seen in fields besides the country roads, which make for interesting photographic subjects.
The days on the road tended to be long – there is very little night time for the whole of the summer – but luckily Icelanders like coffee and chocolate, and they do very decent roadhouse food almost everywhere you go.
It is not only the land however, that fascinates about Iceland. As you drive around the country, you are most often tip toeing by the sea, squeezing between mountains and the vast water that surrounding the country.
In Icelandic, the name of the country is “Island” (iss-land), so for the English speaker there is always that reminder. The ocean is always close – dark, cold and endless.
Scott is a long time film photographer, having started shooting and developing his own black and white images more than 30 years ago. In that time he has shot projects based on stage performance, landscape, rural scenes, and other subjects. More recently he has extended into processing his own colour work and has added medium format to his longstanding 35mm work. As part of developing his photography he has done two long residencies in northern Iceland, in 2015 and 2018. Aside from
this, he has worked as a psychologist for about 30 years and is about to begin a Masters in Fine Art, focusing on landscape photography.