Category Archives: Iceland

Lava Flower at Sunset, North Eastern Iceland

Lava Blister Iceland

If you drive the ring road in Iceland, maybe one of the hardest stretches is from Myvatn to the east coast and then down to Vatnajökull glacier. Not a lot of places to stop, and a long stretch. To be sure, it’s hard to find any stretch of Iceland that isn’t beautiful, but on this stretch through the interior there isn’t a lot of opportunity to stop and take breaks or dine or pee. One thing different about Iceland now versus 10 years ago is that the ring road is much “improved,” which means it is elevated and without nearly as many places to just pull off. That is bad for a photographer. Maybe it’s good for driving, unless you like to stop. On this stretch there aren’t any towns along the road either. Tiring and long, but then you get to the coast. And it gets really beautiful.

Toward the middle-end of this long drive, we took something of a long-cut. I’d like to say we had so much extra stamina and devil-may-care and photographic joie de vivre that we decided to do some extra driving on an already long day when we would be setting up the tent at a crowded campsite in the near dark at 10 PM or so. But no, it was an accident, as many of the best things are. By an early point in the trip I had learned that it wasn’t a good thing to do to my wife to stop in the beautiful evening light when we were tired and still had miles to go before camp. I’m much slower as a photographer than I used to be, with a bag full of prime lenses instead of a zoom or two as I did when traveling 10 years ago. But, oops, I did it again. I think this was a worthwhile stop, and we survived.

I’m not enough of a geologist to know for sure, but I think this rock structure might be a “tumulus,” or a “lava blister, but I think it looks like a “lava flower.” I love the gesture, like an open hand or an open flower. Somehow it defines the space it is in, the space around it. To me that takes it just a notch above a beautiful landscape photo, to resonate with the way I see the interplay of mind, awareness, and space.

This image is available as a print at various sizes.

Letting the Images be Themselves

Boat and Cows by Lava Rock, Iceland

I’ve been thinking about how to write about the problem of working from an “I” to a certain kind of photography. As I was driving to bring more matted prints to a gallery in Vermont this morning, I was listening to a recording of a Buddhist teacher. One phrase popped out at me: “The view is poisoned.”

My teacher, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, talks about different kinds of “I,” including “the reified I” and “the mere I.” The “mere I” is functional but not grandstanding. It’s there to show up for the job, do the work, but not strut about. The “reified I,” on the other hand, can poison perception and altogether get in the way.

Certainly some great art, and some great photography, has been produced by some people with dynamic and hungry egos. Sometimes artifice and ego does not get in the way of art at all. It doesn’t get in the way of a certain kind of expression, but it does get in the way of clear seeing. It’s hard to see through the self, which wraps us in a thick cocoon.

For my part I consider the dance with the artist’s ego to be problematic at best. I’m trying to step aside and let things come up. I am certainly not without self, without projections, without a haze of distracting thoughts and preconceptions. All I can try to do is see through it, relax and let it open up a bit at times.

The image above, cows and lava rocks in Iceland, did have a little bit of me interpreting it in a not straightforward way: I used the infrared camera. I controlled the degree of black and white conversion (leaving just a little bit of the “false” infrared color). And then I did a split-tone effect to mimic what I used to do in the darkroom years ago if a silver-chloride paper with certain tones got a lot of selenium toner. Still, I like to think I mostly got out of the way and let the image come out. There it was, naturally in the world, the cows, lava rocks, boat on water — a dreamy vista. I let that dreaminess manifest without getting too much in the way, I hope.

Ice by Mossy Stream, Vermont 2017

This image is apparently more straightforward, but there was actually quite a bit of work involved. I worked that spot with different prime lenses and different shutter speeds, and then final control of tonality relationships in the image, etc. Still, it’s the same as above. I want to step aside altogether. Something that was there can shine through.

Some of the point of this writing, and the choice of these newly posted photos together is that my style is as broad as what I can manifest through my camera and printer based on what arises naturally and my own skill to work with it.

These photos are available as prints here (Cows in Iceland) and here (Mossy Stream).

I’m sticking with photography. I love it.

Morning Glory, Foliage, and Birches

As I’ve mentioned before in the blog, I’m a fan of ukiko-ee (“floating world”) woodblock prints. A friend, Matt Brown, who is a master of the medium, recently gave me the opportunity to take a workshop on how to make them. (If you are interested, you can contact him through his website, which I designed for him in the 90s (!) and still maintain in fits and starts). I had to think long and hard. He suggested that I could make my vision more special, because the woodblock prints are rarer.

But the more I thought about it, the more I thought, you know, I really love photography. Maybe it is less special, since anyone has some kind of camera in their pocket. I thought, better to keep applying myself to something I can do well, instead of taking up something that will take me a long time to be as good at.

I thought about the range of my pallette as a photographer. A lot of successful photographers have a thing, one thing, that they try to be known for. But I love the range of possibilities, the whole spectrum, from the different ways that lenses draw, the tonal pallette of colors, the tones and forms and textures of black and white; from the smooth buttery blur of a classic old lens to the sharp incredible detail of a well coated and well designed modern prime lens on a state of the art sensor.

So here I’ve got two poles of this multi-axis graph of possibilities: a smooth painterly shallow depth of field blur from an old lens that does that well (the same old Olympus 50/2 that drew one of the photos from last week’s post), and a modern lens below a waterfall in Iceland. Both I like, along the “nice color and dreamy” axis — but also both representing different ends of the range of detail (though the moving water with a slow shutter speed is rather blurred in a way I love).

Waterfall River, Angelica, and Basalt Cliff, Iceland

There is so much in the range of my possibilities, and though there are many my body of work doesn’t include, when I think about the range of possibilities it brings me great joy.

Melting Glacier Chunk at Black Sand Beach, Vatnajökull, Iceland, 2017

Melting Glacier Chunk, Iceland

(this image can be seen in higher resolution and purchased as a print on its page)

I’ve recently been in Iceland, for two weeks. I’m still evaluating exposures I made. I have a lot of work to do on this as on so many other things, including hanging a show of photos soon. It’ll be a while.

With three hurricanes simultaneously in the waters off the east coast of the US, Irma breaking records and destroying Carribean Islands, about to destroy some parts of Florida most likely, with Houston still struggling to rescue people from hurricane Harvey, it seems like a good time for everyone to point out why this is happening. The oceans are warmer than what used to be considered normal. This fuels bad storms, much worse storms. The global climate is changing because of human carbon emissions. The glaciers are melting, in Iceland and everywhere.

So this glacier on the east coast of Iceland, Vatnajökull, of course is receding, melting, calving off chunks. I guess it’s usually normal in Iceland for there to be chunks of glacier on the beach nearby in summer, but on this day, I took my shoes off and the black sand of that beach was quite warm underfoot. This chunk of glacier was melting fast into the water at the edge of the beach.

It’s always funny as a photographer, or a human in general, to revisit an experience. I had been in Iceland on a honeymoon ten years ago, with no expectations. That was completely mind blowing.
(My Iceland page is so far mostly those older images, but I will be adding new ones no doubt.)
This time I was loaded with better gear and more skill as a photographer on the positive side, but on the negative side I was burdened by mind full of concepts of ICELAND to try to push past and be fresh. We’ll see if I managed to see freshly for more than a few bursts here and there.

This was made with the Contax G 90mm lens, and old and inexpensive film-era lens, adapted to my modern camera, which is one of the sharpest and most aggressively contrasty lenses I’ve ever owned, if not the most.

Of course everything was different, even though it was the same time of year. It was relatively warm in the days, and I guess we were lucky to have little rain. That also meant fewer weather-clouds. On the one hand we could walk and photograph mostly without being wet and cold. On the other the weather was a little bit less interesting. Of course the warming climate is, um, “interesting.”

I called up a friend who is a college professor in Chinese culture, literature, and I asked him if it was true that there was a Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.” He told me he thought it was a myth that we think that is a Chinese curse.

Well, cursed or blessed, we are certainly living in interesting times, weather-wise and other-wise. I miss being a bit bored sometimes.

Black and White Sheep on Curved Road, Iceland, 2007

This follow’s last weeks post with a curve. Somehow this image bumped a long line of work that is jostling to see the light of day.

I had looked at this in my catalog carefully in the past, but as a color image, and I abandoned any effort to bring it to light. This morning, bumping both other photographic efforts and client web work I need to do, this grabbed me and ran with me all the way to photo of the week this afternoon.

This image can be viewed at higher resolution, and it is now for sale as a print.

Curves on Fjord Edge, Iceland

I’ve been putting together a lot of panoramas from files lately and finding a lot of gems I hardly knew I had.

I had tried putting this one together in the past, but somehow I didn’t have the chops to pull it off, or I couldn’t get my mind to visualize it properly. I thought it didn’t work. This time I think it really works!

This image is for sale and can be viewed in higher resolution here.

Iceland Panorama – Volcanic Rocks and Distant Mountain Seascape

I’ve been wrestling with some newer images — hard to decide about those. But then sometimes some older ones snap into perspective: Oh yes. I put this panorama together from the iceland 2007 trip the other day, and it’s one of those, “Why didn’t I do that sooner?”

I also have a lot of “Why haven’t I done that yet?” images. Well, it’s clear why. Not quite enough time for everything…

Moving on after the exhibition spanning the holidays — lots of work to do on the site and the images.

This photo is available for sale and can be seen at a larger size here.

Basalt Column Cliff, Infrared, Iceland

basalt column cliff iceland

Well, it’s been a while since a new photo of the week has been published. The exhibit is down. It’s been a busy time.

One thing I’m up to now is reworking a lot of my images. Hint for photographers, but not for lazy photographers: always shoot raw. As algorithms to demosaic raw sensor data evolve faster than sensors, some high end modern raw processors will do a much better job of rendering images than when they were exposed, if they’re not brand new.

In that process, I’m sorting through the catalog and making piles and piles of work for myself; older images to redo, and new images to bring to light.

This is one that has been on the list for a long time. It’s one example of an image that makes me want to print everything and not show on computer screens. It’s better a bit quiet, and if a screen is bright and cranked up to quite-bright, this image is a bit too hot somehow. The energy is all wrong. I almost didn’t publish it a few times, seeing it that way on the laptop, but when things are calibrated, it’s good. I’m confident it will be a good print.

This image can be viewed larger here.

Twin Rock Outcrop, Iceland Panorama, with Bird, reverse side

Twin rock outcrop, iceland

Sometimes the photo-of-the-week choice is inspired by something I want to write about, which helps, given how many photos I have to choose from. Sometimes the photo pops up in my face, and I have to post it, and there isn’t much to say. This photo has been trying to get itself posted for some months now.

Today I decided to post “this” image, or in any case a panorama from this side of these rocks. The other side has been online for quite a while. I had already worked on the image, so I thought it might be easy to post. Oops.

This was late in the day. It was cold; we were cold, and I’d already been spending too much time at this spot. The light was failing and I was hurrying. Instead of digging out my tripod and working slowly, I pushed up the ISO a little bit and underexposed a bit in order to be able to make hand-held exposures. The original panorama I had made had some noise problems in some of the images. Luckily those weren’t the only ones I had made, and another series was able to work out too. Always slow and fiddly work to make these panoramas. It’s crazy, but they are so glorious when printed large.

Iceland seems to suddenly be a huge destination for photographers. In keeping my ear to the ground, I hear “Iceland” all the time. So for all you traveling-to-iceland photographers: enjoy and be careful. Take your time even if you’re freezing. Use a tripod more than you want to. You won’t be back for too long, this is your chance. It’s just like the rest of life, really.

This photo can be seen larger here, and it is for sale.

Not Too Tight, Not Too Loose; Barack Obama and Kandinsky; Two New Iceland Photos

This print is for sale and in more detail here.

A short, very helpful story goes like this:

A musician asked the Buddha, “How should I meditate?”

The Buddha asked, “How do you tune your instrument?”

The musican replied, “Not too tight, not too loose.”

“Just so, you should work with your mind.”

OK, so what does that mean, and why am I writing about it on a photography blog with Iceland photos featured this week?

My take on the very simple, but not so simple, instruction by the Buddha is that he was talking about how much effort to apply to mindfulness — which is the effort we exert to contact the already existing ground of awareness. The thing that makes this infinitely interesting is that the “sweet spot,” not too tight, not too loose, will always depend on what you are working with, on the nature of your own mind. Ken McLeod has compared this very aptly to riding a bicycle, which is never a static process. You lean a little bit one way, a little the other way, always getting back to balance.

So the way this relates to my photography is that in this mental balancing in meditation, it depends on a lot of things. For one thing, it depends on how much energy you are working with.

And in the composition of a photograph, hopefully there is energy. Maybe a little, maybe a lot. It can all work, whether a lot, a little, or in between, and it’s a balancing act. Just as in meditation, photographic composition can be quite paradoxical. When there is very little energy, connection with stillness — or in a photograph maybe a minimalist composition — there can actually then be a lot of energy as a result of that. In the meditation there might be some bliss in that stillness, or a lot of energy as one suddenly contacts fear of the vastness one might sense in that stillness. A quiet photograph can soar and sing. Conversely, a lot of energy in an agitated mind — or in a wild composition — can actually lose some kind of power, but not necessarily. It’s just a question of how to work with that extra energy. It takes skill and practice.

I’m pleased with the photo above, the black and white sheep separated by a ditch. It has balance; it’s quiet, but out of that some energy pushes out. In this case I had to make the quiet tones sing and become something more than a gray day. It wasn’t easy, but maybe it was easier than working with a lot of energy.

When I was young, I used to try to put a lot of energy into a composition, and it was hard. Of course I’ve always liked Van Gogh, who puts incredible energy into relatively simple compositions. But another interesting case, I’ve mentioned before, is Vasily Kandinsky. His compositions are full of incredible energy. I was drawn to them when I was young, and even more now. Now I look at them and say, “That is mind!” But it’s hard to do that, to work with a lot of energy. When I was young I tried and failed a lot. Now I inch my way toward full-blown expressions of energy, sometimes, while more often appreciating something quiet.

Barack Obama tours the Centre Pompidou modern art museum, Vassily Kandinsky on the walls

The different streams of meditation practice that have evolved since the time of the Buddha have evolved different approaches in how to deal with a lot of energy-in-mind. The subject goes far beyond the scope of this post, or my qualifications to write on such an exhaustive subject. But one approach favored by the Tibetans is very interesting: Space. Can you get in touch with space, with vastness bigger than the tangle of energy in your mind? Be bigger than the wild energy in your mind. It takes practice, but it can work. Interestingly, part of what makes the wild paintings work in the museum context is the space around them. The room is clean, open, white, relatively vast.

So, here’s another Iceland image with maybe more energy than the two sheep by the fjord. These vibrant beached fishing floats are within a vast space. Ahh, let them be there.

Beached Fishing Floats, Iceland

This print is in more detail and for sale here.