A couple of weeks ago, it was my birthday. It all rather got lost in the noise of a family crisis, but when I finally got home it was both to an oasis of tranquility, and a pile of presents from my dearly beloved, which included two rather wonderful books, which she had cunningly noticed me drooling over in a bookshop in Milan a while ago.
Nick Brandt‘s work doesn’t really need much introduction. There are plenty of reviews all over the web-O-sphere, many gushing over the fabulous print and image quality. Well, that’s all true enough, but what really sets this book apart from me is the sense of absolute furious, controlled rage which drives it. The anger at the catastrophic decimation of Africa’s megafauna, driven mainly by the inability of wealthy, elderly chinese men to get an erection. The fury at the barbarity and wretched inhumanity of the poachers, but always balanced by a clear understand of the socio-economic factors at play.
However, Nick Brandt has done something about. He’s been instrumental in setting up the Big Life Foundation, channeling funds to help set up an effective anti-poaching wildlife protection zone. My impression is the unlike so many such initiatives, this one does not go around preaching outside values, but rather enables local organisations and individuals to reclaim their natural heritage. I’m certainly going to be a regular contributor.
Let none of this detract from the photography though. It is impressive, eloquent and extremely moving. And yeah, awesome image quality.
Well, having got that off my chest, it’s time to cool down, and what better introduction to the second of these two books, “Behind The Mountains” by Ragnar “Rax” Axelsson. Rax’s reputation as a documenter of nordic life is very well established, and this collection, illustrating and storytelling the summer’s end round up of sheep allowed to roam in the unreal, alien landscapes of the Icelandic highlands is up with his best work.
The photographic style is a little different from “Faces of the North” or “Last Days of the Arctic”, with a lot of motion blur and unusual angles. This is very effective though in communication the rush and confusion both of the round up and the often raw weather. The bool also starts off with some quite surprisingly uncharacteristic colour landscapes, setting the scene. These are very dark and moody, not much like the general approach to the rhyolite vistas of the Landmannaafréttur region. It would be interesting to see more of these.
The photos are woven in with tales from and about the stockmen working these regions. They’re evocative, often funny, and at same time elegiac. While nowhere near the catastrophe exposed by Nick Brandt, Rax is also documenting a way of life which has lasted maybe 1000 years, but is clearly close to an end. In Iceland people are rapidly retreating to the towns and cities, leaving the rugged countryside to tourists, adventurers and photo workshops. I wonder how sustainable that’s going to turn out to be, even in the medium term?
Both books are available at The Book Repository, by the way, and they take considerably more care with them than Amazon in my experience.
Iceland … it’s hard to avoid it these days. According to various sources, such as Alda Sigmundsdóttir’s “The Iceland Weather Report”, over 27 Billion people are expected to visit Iceland next year, which is quite a lot. Of course 25.6 Billion of those will be Fine Art Landscape Photographers (or birders, which is much the same thing), and they will all publish AWESOME GREAT CAPTUREs of bits of ice trying to mind their own business melting away on a black sand beach, of Skogafoss and Gullfoss waterfalls, of a place puffins used to live, and some steam. And most of these will get published as publicity material for forthcoming, unique, book-now-before-it-sells-out, photo workshops (which will principally visit the aforementioned and now very stressed bits of ice).
Overexposure, anyone ? Iceland, and photography of Iceland especially, has become a commodity. Of course you don’t have to go to Iceland to photograph it. You could also go to Reykjavik to drink a lot. Iceland has options, you know.
I guess I’m lucky that I got in before the rush, although really it was the beginning of the rush. Not so long ago, even the “Golden Circle” was a bit of an adventure. Now (I imagine) it is a continuous loop of huge tourist coaches.
For me Iceland was never really about the honeypot locations. It was always much more to do with the unique atmosphere that permeates the whole island, the idea that pretty much everybody knows everybody else, the weirdness and yet familiarity of gas stations 200km from anywhere, the friendly and yet aloof, alien people. And all this wrapped up in a batshit-crazy landscape.
And yet when I looked at the photos I had published here in my galleries, there was a strong element of “look, I’ve been there too!” shots, of trying to play to the gallery rather than show photographs that I have a stronger connection to. And so, setting aside Venice for an evening or two, I had a retrospective trawl through the 6000-odd photos I’ve accumulated over the past 10 years, and I came up with a new selection.
The “Iceland Landscapes” and “Iceland - the human landscape” galleries are now offline, and a new one has taken their place. In a boldly imaginative move, I’ve titled it “Iceland”. Hope you like it.
And maybe when those 27 Billion people have got bored and moved on to somewhere else, like Belgium, for instance, and when Icelanders just get a little over themselves been so awesomely cool, maybe I’ll return.
Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, Venice.