I went to Iceland at the end of February thinking that I would seek out colour in a world largely devoid of same, and photograph it. Because the idea of going to a place with no colour in it when the things I most like to take photographs of are bright splashes of neon seemed ridiculous, and also because colour is everywhere, if you keep looking.
I abandoned the idea pretty quickly once I arrived. Iceland is like the surface of the moon. In fact, Iceland was used to practice the moon landings, such is the other-planet-like-ness of it's landscape. Also, it was winter, and so the mountains and rocks and plains were covered with a layer of white. There is colour to be found if you really look hard but there didn't seem like much point in honing in on it and using this as the basis for a photographic essay on my trip around Iceland, because to do that would be to ignore all the things I learned about this magnificent country, which mostly centre around the unavoidable and indisputable fact that this is a country that is trying as hard as it can, with all the powers available to it (which is a lot, it turns out), to kill you.
It's disturbing when you realise that there are forces of nature intent on destroying everything that goes anywhere near it, especially when those forces are dressed up in a costume that looks so beautiful that you can't take your eyes off it. And you shouldn't take your eyes off it, because the second you do is the second it will take a swipe at you. Even with both eyes open and focussed on what's going on around you, it will have a good go.
There are great mountains of ice here that twinkle blue in the sun, crashing waterfalls with rainbows threading through them and plains covered in black rock that spread out before you for miles - they look innocent, and they are all deceptive. Underneath the pretty blue ice caps are volcanoes just waiting to explode and fill the air with clouds of ash that rain down on nearby farms and villages, choking all life and destroying everything that has been built. If the ash doesn't get you then the toxic gases might, and as if that wasn't enough, the lava and the water from the melted ice caps will cascade down the side of the mountains and cover all the flat land with strange otherworldly clumps of black lava that will only be trumped by the flood water that will cover that, turning these stretches of land between the high ground and the sea into the biggest rivers in the world for a time. Anything left standing will be washed away. Roads will be blocked off or destroyed completely, and anyone left out in these parts of the country will be stranded and lost (there are websites where you can log the details of your Icelandic road trip so that a rescue party will know to look for you in the event of natural disaster). The volcanoes are all active, and there are a whole collection of them buried under the giant peaks in the centre of Iceland. This is an island situated right over the boundary between two tectonic plates (you can go to Thingvellir National Park and stand between the ridges that signify the break between North America and Europe, and we did, and it was hard to believe that the rocky outcrops we were gazing up at were, in fact, the dividing lines between two giant slabs of the Earth, constantly knocking together and moving apart to create one of the most volatile and angry environments in the world) and they don't want to keep still - they want to cause havoc.
After being in this strange place for a few days, and having heard story after story, from the farmers who live and work at the foot of the now-infamous and completely unpronounceable Eyjafjallajokull (the one that spewed ash all over Europe in April 2010 and everyone's holiday plans were ruined - a ridiculous complaint once you realize what it did to the lives of these Icelandic people), from the hotel manager in the village of Kirkjubaejarklaustur (equally unpronounceable) about a volcano that erupted nearby in the 18th century, killing virtually the entire population of the village - and a quarter of the population of Iceland - in a succession of horrible ways and from our tourguide, Helga, who is well versed in every one of the ways Iceland tries to dispense with it's human population every single day, I came to the conclusion that the only possible thing to do was to photograph Iceland as it is - beautiful but deadly.
Then I realised that actually, despite the murderous nature of this big slab of volcanic rock in the middle of the north Atlantic Ocean, life is everywhere. The landscape wants to kill it, but it thrives anyway. The people who live and work around the bottoms on the volcanoes don't let the fact that on any given day, ten thousand tonnes of lava, water and ash could wash away everything they own and wipe them out too stop them from existing there. They get on with it, and when something does happen, they come back and rebuild and start again. Much of Iceland is completely uninhabitable, and the bits that are aren't exactly a picnic. Every day in Iceland is an exciting new adventure in a land where you could die at any time, simply by slipping on a patch of ice and getting lost down a fissure in an ice cap. If you make it away from the centre of the country where ice and rocks form a hostile medley of doom and down to the coastline, you'll be greeted with expanses of jet black sand that give way to an ocean that does it's best to sweep you away. The tide rushes up the beach without warning and engulfs anything and anyone that isn't paying attention (it happened to me, and I was paying attention - luckily I escaped but there was a second or two where I thought 'yep, this is how I'm going to die'). Just like everything else you've encountered here, it's mesmerizing to watch, and completely deadly to become involved in. I've never seen such an angry sea. The black sand didn't quite resemble the front cover of a goth metal album from 1997 because the sun was shining, but on an overcast day you'd probably be faced with one of the bleakest places on the planet (I can't wait to go back and see it again).
The struggle of the human population to exist in this land of ice, snow, volcanoes and wind that threatens to scrape the skin off your face is mirrored, if you look closely, by the struggle that nature has with itself to survive here. Heather breaks through the snow only to be engulfed by ice and frozen in place. Moss glows green on the rocks of the otherwise barren landscape. This is what I ended up photographing, because this is what Iceland is. Nature struggling with itself. On the moon. Because a few days is all it takes to convince yourself that that is, in fact, where you are.