Varvara Lozenko – 320 Icelanders
“Iceland is an island in the North Atlantic, midway between Europe and the America. It is inhabited by a rare kind of people, unique in every way. 90 per cent of them are the descendants of the vikings from Norway, seafarers from Ireland, merchants from Danmark who have lived in a closed community for many centuries of years. Even in the 20th century, that has seen the birth and development of aviation, Iceland has remained a fairly closed on itself country that did not, until recently, accept any newcomers: there has been almost zero migration, zero new gene flow into the nation. So we can say that the Icelanders are a nation of Robinson Crozoes who were too happy by themselves on their faraway island to be willing to sail away.
Who those happy islanders are and in what way they find themselves and their country different from all other places on earth I am trying to find out in my ‘320 Icelanders’ project. The number 320 is not accidental. The thing is, the population of that country is one of the smallest in the world, just 320 000 people. So if I photograph 320 people living in different parts of Iceland, belonging to different age and social groups, practicing different jobs, the resulting series will be a portrait of 1/1000 of the population. The project is ongoing, so far I have taken pictures and interviewed around 160 people during three trips to Iceland.” – Varvara Lozenko
Æsa Gísladóttir, 36 y.o., owner of the hostel in Vik. We met when Æsa suggested to Haraldur, at whose house I was staying, to take me up to the mountains where the Northern Lights can better be observed than from the Myraldur valley. It was January 12th 2013, my first day in Iceland in wintertime, and such amazing luck! I know people who spent weeks in the country wandering in search of northern lights, all in vain. During the time I spent in Iceland I saw a lot of exhausted photographers with dark spots under the eyes from lack of sleep: people went chasing aurora borealis during the night and spent the days sleeping in hostels. That’s why there is no underestimating what Æsa did for me on that night. For more than two hours she was freezing in her car with a killed engine so its headlights won’t ‘interfere’ with the Northern Lights and thus spoil my pictures.
Æsa has a husband and two beautiful daughters: a blond one and a dark-haired one. All day long she sees to it that the guests at her hostel feel happy and at home. And late at night after putting the kids to bed, she starts baking her own delicious bread for the guests’ breakfast. Æsa has a dog called Panda, two dozen hens and two roosters: one of them is called Frederik (in the pic). Frederik was very lucky in spite of being born a male chicken: once he twisted a wing so Æsa decided to leave him alive and keep an extra rooster (something you don’t normally do if you already have one).
Alvin Möller, 11 y.o., Hugbjört Möller, 7 y.o., and their dog Grímur. I met their parents and did a family portrait on their farm Ytra Lón in summer 2007. Alvin was six at the time and Hugbjört about two. At the end of January 2013 I revisited Langanes peninsula and their farm, the north-easternmost farm in Iceland. The kids had grown: Hugbjört learned to incubate and grow chickens, knit, make fried eggs and developed an interest for fashion. And Alvin now plays football and writes a book on magic rituals.
Aðalsteinn Ingi Helgason, 20 y.o. works at a hostel reception in Höfn. But he is never there. When you get there you see an empty house, with the front door open, so anyone can walk in. Just like the town of Höfn, it is absolutely empty: as if people had lived there, built everything they needed, made it look nice and cozy, and disappeared. At the hostel front door there is a bell, it looks like an ordinary door bell, but when you press it, you hear phone beeps. The fact is, the doorbell is connected to Aðalsteinn’s iPhone, so every time it rings, he knows that someone wants to get into the hostel. He answers: ‘I’m on my way’ and in five minutes he is there. When he comes to the hostel to give the newcomer a room key and a blanket he always leaves the ignition key in his car and never kills the engine. Every day he makes 30 to 40 trips from home to the hostel and back. But he says it never bores him. His name virtually means ‘Precious Stone’. We met on Wednesday, October 9th 2013, at around 15:30. The weather was calm and sunny.
Magnús Jósefsson, 31 y.o, carpenter, ambulance driver, fireman. We met in Grundarfjörður on Monday, October 14th 2013, when I accidentally walked into his workshop located in the docks. He was drilling something but willingly interrupted his work in order to go out and have his picture be taken. This is something I call typically Icelandic behaviour. Picture this: they are in a totally deserted place, e.g. a quasi-abandoned barn of a solitary farm busy doing something, some seasonal work, and all of a sudden a total stranger appears on the threshold. They don’t startle, they behave like this is something that was supposed to happen. Some music was playing in Magnús’s workshop: probably it was ‘One of Us’: we talked some, then he showed me his six-wheel car. He made it himself, converted from another one: in order to make it longer he added one pair of wheels. He needs this car to transport his motorbike, a Kawasaki KX 250. The weather was cloudy but almost without wind. It was around 2 p.m. As I was leaving he told me that the short version of his name is Maggi [makki] Jobba [yobba].
Lárus Sverrison, 47 y.o., farmer, and Úa, 10 months old, his border-collie sheep dog. Border-collie is the most common in Iceland kind of dog. In rural areas probably the only kind. It was imported either from England or from Scotland, and completely outlived the indigenous Icelandic sheep dog that resembled a wolf more than anything, but a smaller kind. It was a cross between a Russian eskimo dog and something else, most probably a wolf. I once saw such a dog in Reykjavik and still regret not having taken a picture of it. It was probably the last of the kind.
I met Lárus on Monday, October the 14th, at about 12 a.m., when, coming back from a waterfall I scattered his sheep. He was repairing his fence, but was very friendly with me and not at all annoyed at a trespassing photographer. We weren’t able to do much talking though, as Lárus doesn’t speak any English. The thing is, farmers, especially in secluded areas like the thereabouts of Grundarfjörður, live a rather isolated life and don’t meet a many strangers that they would need to speak any foreign languages with. The weather was calm and warm, with no wind.
Þóra Þorbergsdóttir, 82 y.o., lives in the elderly home in Vik. Her days have a very simple and pleasurable pattern: almost all the time she sits in the nicely decorated parlour with the view over the ocean and coastal cliffs, drinks tea and coffee, listening to her opera and accordion CDs and knits. Almost all the inhabitants of Vik, including Þóra’s present-day neighbours, agree that the elderly home living room with its french windows is the best place in town for enjoying the ocean view. Þóra is one of the most active inhabitants of the elderly home: she travels quite often – to see her children, her grandchildren and her sisters. On Sundays she goes to church, sometimes visits her friends in Vik. Two years ago she insisted on moving to the elderly home: it was her own decision, no one pressed her to. After the death of her husband her son was taking care of her, living in her house, but she didn’t want to burden anyone and left for the elderly place. Now she mainly knits. This year she made over 100 sweaters. On the day we met, October 5th 2013, she was making a sweater for her great-great-grandson. A cousin great-great-grandson, but still. The baby happens to be a direct descendant of her elder sister, he was born almost a year ago. Þóra’s sister is 87, she visited her last year, went there by plane: the sister lives in Egilsstaðir.
Urður Ósk Árnadóttir, 8 y.o., performing artist (singing&dancing). We met at a children’s birthday party in Vik: there were a lot of kids aged from 5 to 10 but only one girl was dancing non-stop. I recalled at once: it was the girl who had won the karaoke contest at arts festival that had taken place a few days ago. As soon as she stopped dancing I went up to her and asked her to pose for a picture. Urður told me that to her the whole world is only about music. She dances everywhere: at home, at school, in the street. ‘No one understands me, some people think I’m weird. But I just can’t help it, music is the essence of my life. Whenever I feel lonely, I just dance.’ As she said those words, she ran outside, into the cold, stormy weather and started dancing barefoot. It was Wednesday, October 16th 2013, circa half past five in the afternoon, it was starting to grow dark and misty clouds were forming around the tops of the mountains and coastal cliffs.
Alma Jenny Árnarsdottir, 13 y.o., and Klaudia Wojciechowska, 13 y.o., schoolchildren. They play football, basketball and volleyball. They are serious about sports: have already participated in competitions for juniors all over the country. I met them as I was walking around Grundarfjörður on October 14th 2013, it was 3 p.m. The sports centre with a swimming pool, a football field, a children’s playground and a basketball court is located in this rather small village on a hilltop where rays of sunshine stay the longest and the sound of a bouncing ball reverberates from the surrounding mountains. The weather was sunny, without wind.
Bergur Björnsson, healer, reiki teacher, truck driver. He used to work in a bank, he was also an accountant, a sailor, a fisherman, a sales agent. We met on Monday, January 21st 2013, when I was photographing his bright red chicken-house. It was the only patch of colour in the vast valley where his tiny house lonesomely stands. The chicken-house and a red wheel-barrow made a beautiful red harmony that I was striving to portray as Bergur came out of his house and invited me to come in. Inside, the house was even smaller than outside. It was rather striking that there were three rooms there – ok, three tiny rooms. Everywhere on the walls were portraits of gods, saints, spiritual leaders and gurus, and on the semi-translucent door was the TM sign. ’This doesn’t mean Trade Mark, does it?’, I asked. ‘Of course not’, he said, ‘it stands for Transcendental Meditation’. We talked for a rather long time sitting in his tiny parlour drinking camomile tea. On the next day we met again and went up the Wolf Mountain. That’s where I took his portrait picture. Bergur told me that in his opinion the main uniqueness of Iceland is in the sense of space, that’s what accounts for the freedom feeling so many foreigners experience there. He traveled a lot, lived in many different places, but he never saw any such space – free, without anything in it – not even trees or any other vegetation – such space is nowhere else to be found.
Varvara Lozenko is a fine art photographer doing personal projects as well as assignments for magazines. She was previously featured on Oitzarisme with Izborsk (in 2012) and Dreamers (in 2011). ”I can describe my style of photography as human and ecology oriented, i.e. seeking to restore the lost balance between man and nature.” More info on www.lozenko.com and more images and texts from this ”on going” project can be found on Varvara Lozenko Facebook Page.