Photography Journey to the Arctic Circle

Planning for a trip to Iceland

We’re planning for a summer trip to the land of Fire and Ice.  Also the land of trolls, volcanoes, glaciers, best hot dogs in the world and fermented shark’s head.

What we know

  • Flights to Iceland are very inexpensive.  Many people take advantage of the no up charge, up to seven day, stop over on the way to Europe via Icelandic Air.
  • Food is very expensive just like Alaska or Hawaii or other remote areas.  Eating out is pricey so plan to make your own meals to save some dough.
  • Its cold!  Pack warmly as Iceland is cold, windy and rainy most of the time.
  • The majority of Iceland is not populated. Mostly the coastline is habitable.  You won’t have any trouble finding some peace and quiet.
  • Renting a camper van is a great way to see Iceland – this is what we will be doing.
  • Reykjavik is the capital and the largest city.  Lots of the natural wonders of Iceland can be seen within an 1 hour and a half drive or bus from the capital including the famous Blue Lagoon natural hot spring.
  • The Blue Lagoon requires reservations and tickets.
  • The country is 95% native Icelanders  and they speak Icelandic but most people also speak English at least in the more touristy areas.
  • The Ring Road or RT1 circumnavigates the entire island, its paved all the way but you will come across one way bridges.

Iceland from Ugmonk on Vimeo.

Tips from a friend who often goes camper vanning in Iceland:

  • You won’t get lost on the ring road.
  • Do your research beforehand so you have names and locations of campsites along the way. Many people speak English but not all.
  • Larger towns have grocery stores where you can pick up what you’ll need to cook at the campsite, otherwise, you go to the individual bakery and fruit market for your supplies. If you have dry snacks you like and want to bring, pack those. But pay attention to the weight of your bag.
  • We each had a large roller duffel and we packed sleeping bags as well.
  • When we rented our camper, we also rented the linen package that came with towels, blankets and pillows. Do that! Bring a few extra small (dark – just in case you want to use them to cover windows) towels in case your towels don’t dry.
  • Everything is expensive. Plan on it and forget about it.
  • We used credit cards everywhere though have CC cards with a chip and set up a pin because some places have that double security requirement.
  • The campsites we stayed at had hot showers and toilets. One had laundry but everything takes a long time to dry so I wouldn’t count on it. If you choose to do laundry at some point, find a laundromat in a larger town and use the hours to plan on bouncing around or doing something touristy. We didn’t do any laundry while camping.
  • Pack for all sorts of weather. The highest temps will be low 60s probably. Nights can get down to the low 40s.
  • Weather – You could have sun or rain or sleet or snow.
  • It’s wet – I had two pairs of sneakers in case one got wet and flip flops for showers and a nicer pair of flats to go out.
  • Gear – I basically packed all my athletic wear. Capris, leggings, skorts, tank tops, long sleeve wicking tops and heavier tops to layer. All manner of socks. Hats and mittens and four different weight jackets. The only thing I didn’t wear was the true fall weight jacket but we had spectacular weather and had it been any different I might have pulled that one out of the bag.
  • Bring bathing suits. There is a pool in every town, you can shower there and there are often hot springs.
  • Public pools have strict personal hygiene rules. Put away worries about dignity.  Rules of hygiene are taken very seriously with regard to the pools and all visitors are required to shower thoroughly without a swimsuit before entering the water.
  • Liquor – When you land in Reykjavik, there is a duty free shop at the baggage claim. Buy some stuff there (aka liquor).  Hard liquor is not sold outside of bars.  There are a lot of weird alcohol laws –  Basically if you are a heavy drinker, Iceland is probably not the place for you.
  • Icelandic candy is lovely!

Talking about Artistic Vision in Photography

Developing an artistic vision is when the snap-shooter becomes an artist. Its taking control of your images to express your unique vision.  Its moving from taking shots to making art in the medium of photography.

“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” – Jonathan Swift

Artistic Vision is an artist’s way of seeing, their perspective, their vision, their unique take on the world.  It’s made up of the choices made by the artist – their style, their color choices (or lack of color), their subject matter and everything that makes the work theirs and not someone else’s work.  Artistic Vision is an identity.  An artist’s vision becomes recognizable as the artist becomes more well known.

“An artist is not paid for his labor but for his vision.” – James Whistler

At its core, photography basically a mechanical capture of reality, and camera owners caught up in the gadgetry, settings, specs, and gee whiz latest equipment buzz often seem to forget that photography is a creative art.  The idea that better equipment means better photography dismisses the individual behind the equipment.

“Photography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas. It is a creative art.” Ansel Adams

As with with all creative arts, an artistic vision what separates craft from artistry.  It separates a “photographer” simply holding up a camera and pushing a button, from an artist using a camera as a tool of expression.  Photography because of its lack of hands on mark making is the most challenging of all mediums in which to convey an artistic vision.

“Photography is a contest between a photographer and the presumptions of approximate and habitual seeing. The contest can be held anywhere …” – John Szarkowski

A perfectly exposed photograph with the “right” settings, focus, depth of field, white balance and any other measure of technical skill falls under the realm of craft and really is rather meaningless in terms of artistic vision.  Photographers who attend museum shows and gallery openings for fine art photography exhibits might scoff at some of the less than perfect exposures or a blown out highlights and completely miss the artist’s overall vision.

There is no right or wrong way to use the photographic medium to express one’s artistic vision just as the painters show us that there is no right or wrong way to paint a picture.  You can use tools from no camera, like Man Ray’s photograms to lens-less pinhole cameras to infinitely sharp view camera images from Ansel Adams F64 group. You can create imagery in the darkroom like Jerry Uelsmann’s enlarger composites or create digital composites in Photoshop.  You can create carefully composed grand landscapes or quick rapid fire looks at the people on the street.  The only requirement that will elevate your work to an artistic level is creating your own vision.

“Be yourself. I much prefer seeing something, even it is clumsy, that doesn’t look like somebody else’s work.” –William Klein

Photography is seeing.  Photography is looking at your world through the lens of a camera.  It’s finding what interests you for all the reasons that your unique personal history has created your view of the world.

“To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.” – Elliott Erwitt

Art Prints

About “Someone Remembered” by Edward M. Fielding

With that little background in mind I’d like to talk about one of my photograph called “Someone Remembered” and try to explain my approach in creating an artistic vision with photography.  To me this photograph reads like a story.

“Someone Remembered” takes place in a field in Vermont where an old farm truck took its last breaths and died.  Back in the day before we had modern conveniences such as transfer stations, recycling or even dumps.  Old cars and farm machinery simply ended where their usefulness ended.

I’ve photographed this old truck in the past and it’s a favorite spot of mine.  It’s in the database so to speak – a swirling folder of locations I keep in my head.  Since working with book publishers these last few years creating book cover images, I’ve been working on introducing more and more storytelling in my images. Creating images that feel like a frame out of a movie or page out of a book rather than simple documentation of an object or scene.

Rather any simple documentation of a subject I want the image to create story-lines in the viewer’s head.  Close up shots of this truck in the past suggested to me that maybe the truck was in an accident, maybe the driver was drunk and hit a tree or it was some tragic suicide. Maybe the truck is haunted?

In any case to me the truck has a lonely, sad quality.  At one point this truck was new, and probably the farm was successfully feeding a large family. This truck was driven to town for mail, groceries and the latest gossip.  Each fall the family piled into the truck with a prize winning pig in the back and headed off to the annual country fair for some good times.  Maybe this truck was used by teenagers for a little late night summer necking?

Whatever the case, surely this trucks past is more pleasureable than its sad present state of rusting in a field with its door ajar, its hood split in two threatening to fall the ground, its wooden bed rotten away and it’s upholstered seats chewed away by mice, its springs exposed.

The story in my mind leading up to the final version of “Someone Remembered” was that the truck perhaps slid off the road on Christmas Eve, crashing into a snowbank.  The driver never made it to the party.  Was never able to bring his love a present.  But the love was never forgotten and years later or perhaps every year the sweetheart leaves a present on the front seat for her long lost lover.

So that was my vision that I planned out in my head.  Execution of the vision required waiting until the right moment and waiting for the snow to fall.  When we finally got a good amount of snow I prepared several Christmas boxes that I’d saved from last Christmas , doned my snow pants, high boots, tripod and camera backpack.  

To reach the site required trudging through knee high snow with a heavy pack.  Unfortunately I didn’t bring snowshoes so by the time I reached the truck my legs were exhausted.  I took a few shots of the front of the truck and tried my props in different arrangements, being careful not to trample the snow around the truck until I was ready to move in closer.

Around the side of the truck the final shot came to me pre-visualized.  The snow on the windows provided a perfectly diffused lighting and the interior was nearly monochromatic with all of the rust and brown tones.  The bright Christmas package stood out perfectly.   I composed the image vertically to draw the eye into the interior as if one might enter the truck, perhaps from a child’s angle.  

I placed the Christmas package using the rule of thirds, placing it in one of the “sweet spots”.  I choose a wide open aperture to keep the package in focus but to throw the background out of focus and create more moodiness and mystery to the image.  Further work was done in Adobe Lightroom to desaturate and “age” the colors.

The end result is an image that visually tells the story that I intended to tell. Will everyone see the same story that I see?  Perhaps not but it’s my artistic vision I can’t only express it in my way and put it out there for interpretation. Hopefully it sparks a bit of conversation with the viewer and is more engaging than a documentary photograph that simply says “I saw an old truck”.   Hopefully my vision of reality has a bit more mystery and intrigue.  I want the viewer to ask about that present – who is it it for?  Why is it in this in this old rotting truck?  How long has it been there? I want more questions than answers.