Iceland, a most curious island – Part 2

Part 2 of Danny Fernandez’ Icelandic adventure; it will inspire, teach and make you want to visit this beautiful country. If you missed part one, read it here.


By Danny Fernandez

The Highlights

The overall highlight (sorry if this is cheating) was the nature itself. The country is very varied in what it has to offer, and the scenery changes dramatically. You could start the day in rolling green hills, cross the icy snout of a glacier and pass moss covered lava fields in the space of a few hours. There are so many waterfalls, ranging from mighty to tiny. At one moment my girlfriend and I counted 25 waterfalls on the mountain facing us. I would consider it a good day if I saw just one waterfall, but on some days we probably saw more than 100.
Iceland Fuji blog Danny Fernandez Photography (2 of 35)
Iceland Fuji blog Danny Fernandez Photography (22 of 35)
Iceland Fuji blog Danny Fernandez Photography (17 of 35)
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I kinda of fell in love with the Icelandic horses. They are such beautiful creatures. They all seem to be very tame and friendly. At almost every chance, I would stop the car to get photos of them. I was desperate to get beautiful backlit photos during the golden hour, but unfortunately, that opportunity never arose.

There is no more sagacious animal than the Icelandic horse. He is stopped by neither snow, nor storm, nor impassable roads, nor rocks, glaciers, or anything. He is courageous, sober, and surefooted. He never makes a false step, never shies. If there is a river or fjord to cross (and we shall meet with many) you will see him plunge in at once, just as if he were amphibious, and gain the opposite bank.
— Jules Verne, A Journey to the Center of the Earth

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Iceland Fuji blog Danny Fernandez Photography (4 of 35)
Iceland Fuji blog Danny Fernandez Photography (5 of 35)

Due to the geothermal activity, there are many natural hot springs and pools. We visited Seljavallalaug (one of the oldest outdoor pools in Iceland, built is 1923), which was spectacular. The pool is set in a picturesque valley next to a river. It takes a short trek to arrive there, but it is definitely worth visiting. Prepare to bathe in algae filled water as the pool is cleaned just once each summer.

Iceland Fuji blog Danny Fernandez Photography (9 of 35)
Iceland Fuji blog Danny Fernandez Photography (10 of 35)

On the second night of the trip, we were fortunate enough to witness the northern lights in Vik. This was an incredible experience. As I had only seen photos/time lapses of northern lights, I was surprised at how they move and dance across the sky. At times they were like the final whisps of a flame, in an attempt to stay alive, at other times they appeared to explode in the sky, spreading in all directions. The last scene of the spectacle looked like ten people flashing torches on the clouds, illuminating them as if the gods were having a party.

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Skógafoss is one of the biggest waterfallls in Iceland (being 25m wide and 60m tall). We visited early in the morning and there was a rainbow fixed at the base of the waterfall. There is a walk which you can do to the top, which is well worth it. However, I thought the most impressive views were from the base.

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About 9km from Skógafoss is a wreckage of an US Navy airplane which crashed in November 1973 (fortunately no one died). The remains of the plane can be found on Sólheimasandur black sand beach. Arriving to the location was a little difficult (without a 4×4) and we had to walk a few kms across a barren landscape to get there. We were blessed with sunny weather and really enjoyed exploring the wreckage (you can go inside it, which is a little eerie).

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Jökulsárlón is a glacial lake where huge chunks of ice break off the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier and enter the Atlantic ocean. This place was phenomenal. We arrived just before sunset, and watched the sky turn red (contrasting the deep blues of the ice) as a thick mist rolled over the glacier and onto the lake. There were seals swimming in the water.

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A short walk from Jökulsárlón is an area known as ‘Icy Beach’, which is where the lake actually meets the Atlantic. The lake and the ocean push huge lumps of ice around and many of them get washed up on the black volcanic sand. We spent a night and the following morning here and the icy sculptures are forever changing shape and being replaced.

Iceland Fuji blog Danny Fernandez Photography (19 of 35)
Iceland Fuji blog Danny Fernandez Photography (20 of 35)

I love the Eastern Fjords and we spent 2 days driving along them. The fjords are so vast, beautiful and peaceful. I think these were extra special to me as I had never seen a Fjord before. There is one town called Seyðisfjörður (population 665) which I particularly loved. It seems to have a strong artistic community there, with some galleries, public sculptures and beautiful walks. It’s the kind of place that makes me want to rent my flat out and spend a summer there.

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Iceland Fuji blog Danny Fernandez Photography (26 of 35)

We went whale watching in Húsavík, an extremely pretty fishing town. There are many species of whales and dolphin which visit the bay, and we were fortunate enough to have a humpback whale swimming around and under our boat for around 15 minutes. It was the closest I’ve ever been to a whale and was a very memorable experience (freezing cold though!).

Iceland Fuji blog Danny Fernandez Photography (29 of 35)
Iceland Fuji blog Danny Fernandez Photography (30 of 35)
Iceland Fuji blog Danny Fernandez Photography (31 of 35)

Akureyri is Iceland’s second largest urban area as is located in the North of the island. When we drove into the city we were taken aback by seeing so many cars and people. We had come from days of driving through almost unpopulated landscapes and passing perhaps 10/20 people a day, to a city with traffic (albeit not much).

Our trip began and ended in Reykjavik. We spent out first and final 4 days there. Reykjavik is a very nice city, and we particularly enjoyed the many cute cafes. We didn’t experience the nightlife which is it renowned for, but heard it’s very good. I was really impressed by Harpa, a beautiful mirrored concert hall, and Hallgrimskirkja, a modernistic cathedral in centre of the city. We also enjoyed walking along the old fishing harbour and exploring the beautiful botanical gardens (with a nice little cafe in the middle of the gardens).

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Other general observations.

The country is extremely sparsely populated. According to Wiki ‘it has a population of 329,100 and an area of 103,000 km2 (40,000 sq mi), making it the most sparsely populated country in Europe.’ Bearing in mind that more than two-thirds of the population live in Reykjavik, when you leave the capital city, it’s gets very, very lonely.

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I got the impression that nature seems to be the highest priority. It appears as if no river were diverted, or mountainside cut into, in order to accommodate humans. There seems to be a harmonious balance of humans living alongside the beautiful virgin nature of the country.

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Being a witness to the untouched landscapes of Iceland was a unique experience: being able to see what the world may once have been like, before humans came and messed things up.

Iceland seems to be a good model for other countries:

‘Consistently rated the most peaceable of all countries in the world by the Global Peace Index, Iceland has reduced its military expenditure to zero, has no armed forces, and has reduced the inequality gap between rich and poor.’ -Scilla Elworthy

The Icelandic people are very jolly and most of their surnames end in ‘son’.

The names of places are mostly unpronounceable.“Eyjafjallajökull”. ‘Nuff said.

There are sheep everywhere (there are many more sheep than people). They often run across the road so you have to be very careful as you drive.

No one uses cash. In fact I only saw cash twice in 16 days. You can pay for everything by card.

Because of the lack of people, it was great to get out of the car and observe the silence.

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Driving along, you can see many huge boulders that have fallen down the sides of mountains. These things can be huge – easily large enough to smash through a house or destroy a car.

Everything is very expensive (at least compared to Barcelona, where I live).

They eat all parts of animals (the least appetising being boiled sheep’s head and ram’s testicles). In Iceland, I was happy to be a vegetarian.

They have their own type of yoghurt (but it’s not actually a yoghurt) called Skyr, and it’s delicious.

There were many more obese people that I expected (which could be explained by their love of hotdogs and coca-cola). I didn’t see any vikings.

They seem to like good coffee and have many cute cafes with good cakes (at least in the cities).
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Iceland Fuji blog Danny Fernandez Photography (8 of 35)
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Iceland Fuji blog Danny Fernandez Photography (27 of 35)

What’s next?

On the way back from Iceland we had to stop over for a few hours in Oslo. Flying over Norway made me want to visit! The older I get, the more I realise my love for nature (perhaps as I’ve always lived in cities). I love forests and lakes and Norway seems to be full of them. I definitely want to experience the northern lights again, and they can be seen there.

Reflections on the trip.

I couldn’t give a higher recommendation than to visit Iceland, and think everyone should see it in their lives. It is unlike anywhere I have ever seen, and the beauty of the place is breathtaking. We were extremely lucky with the weather (it was sunny most days of our trip) and this made a huge difference to our experience. I would recommend visiting in the summer, but I imagine it would be equally as beautiful (but in a different way) during the winter (plus you would see the northern lights in the winter). It is an expensive trip, but it’s one which I will never, ever forget.


To see more images from Danny’s trip to Iceland, please click here.

Thoresby. The end of an era

By Chris Upton

personThe 10th July 2015 was a landmark date in the history of Nottinghamshire. When the last shift at Thoresby Colliery finished on that day not only did it mark the end of 90 years of mining in the village of Edwinstowe but it signals the end of mining in Nottinghamshire.

The pit opened in 1925 and over the years has employed tens of thousands of local people. It was one of 46 coalmines in Nottinghamshire, which supplied more than 14 million tonnes of coal per year at their peak in the early 1960s.

The first two shafts were sunk to 690m in 1925 and subsequently deepened in the 1950s to the current pit bottom at around 900m depth.

Thoresby Colliery was the first to have fully mechanised coal production and also the first to achieve an annual saleable output of more than a million tons, it became a star performer in the British coal mining industry.

In the late 1980s it raised output to exceed 2 million tons, regularly smashing it’s production records, and the colliery became known as the Jewel in the crown of Nottinghamshire mines. A crown sits proudly on the headstocks in recognition of this achievement.

When the coal industry was nationalised in 1947 it employed a million men at 1,503 pits; prior to the miners’ strike in 1984, there were 180,000 miners at 170 pits. Today there are just two deep mines left, employing about 5,000 men, at Thoresby and Kellingley in Yorkshire. Kellingley will suffer the same fate as Thoresby and closes in the autumn.

UK Coal say market pressures have led to the closure of Thoresby Colliery. Coal generates more than a third of Britain’s electricity, but it is cheaper to import coal from countries such as Russia, South Africa and Colombia than to mine it in the UK.

For the past few months I have been recording the colliery, it’s buildings, plant and people for posterity. It was my aim to create a comprehensive record of the pit at a specific point in time immediately prior to its closure.

It was a chance conversation after giving a camera club lecture that started the ball rolling. A chap in the audience worked at Thoresby and was unfortunately in the first wave of redundancies. He asked if I would be interested in visiting the colliery to take a few pictures. It was a fantastic opportunity and I jumped at the chance. He put me in touch with the Health and Safety manager, I explained what I would like to do and we were off and running. It was at this point, after I had gained their agreement to document the colliery, that the full extent of the task dawned on me.

Starting the project

I visited the colliery on seven occasions, at different times of day, in different lighting conditions, including dawn and dusk. I planned each shoot but found that an outline plan whilst retaining a degree of flexibility to react to opportunities worked best.

At the outset I just toured the site to give me an understanding of the buildings, the machinery, the operation and the people. I took snaps to create a digital scrapbook to help me plan my approach. Essentially I was imbibing the atmosphere much as I would do when visiting a foreign destination for the first time. I wanted to get a real feeling for the place before I started the photography in earnest.

Health & Safety manager Grant was so supportive of my visits giving me more time than I could have wished for.  Even coming in at 3.30am for a dawn shoot and returning to work late in the evening to get “the best of the light” didn’t diminish his enthusiasm. In fact he joked that, after watching me, he would now be able to take the best holiday snaps ever! I hope he does.

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Gear used

All of the images were shot on a Fujifilm X-T1 or X-E1 camera using a selection of Fujifilm XF lenses including the 10-24, 18-55 and 55-200 zoom lenses and 14, 23, 35 and 56mm primes. I also used a Nissin i40 flash for some shots, though preferred to use natural light wherever possible.

For my portraits, the unobtrusive Fuji equipment allowed me to concentrate on building a rapport with my subjects rather than intimidate them with a large DSLR and f2.8 lens combination. Miners might be tough guy’s and supermodels they certainly are not but they seemed to relax pretty quickly in front of my Fuji lenses.

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There were several challenges to overcome not least the light levels that were typically pretty low in all of the buildings. Because of the poor light I used a tripod fitted with a ball and socket head for as many shots as possible. My cameras are fitted with arca swiss type plates so that I can switch from landscape format to portrait very easily and without having to waste time readjusting the tripod.

The mix of different light sources from tungsten, to fluorescent and natural meant it was difficult to assess the ideal colour temperature. However the decision early on to convert all the images to black & white certainly helped counter that problem!

In a coal mine dust was another inevitable and unavoidable issue. As the miners told me it’s not only the dust you can see that is the problem and I was very careful when changing lenses and using two bodies certainly helped. Thankfully the in camera sensor cleaning worked well and I was pleasantly surprised at the minimum amount of dust spotting required.

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Working on a project

As my photography has progressed I have found that I prefer to look at a series of images that tell a story rather than seeing individual impactful pictures. Whilst I have adopted this storytelling approach in my travel and landscape photography this project was a whole different ballgame. This wasn’t going to be a six or ten image set but a large body of work that had to be planned and created in a certain style. I found this experience fascinating, though at first it was pretty daunting. However after a couple of visits I had captured some shots I was very pleased with and the plan started to fall into place. I think the discipline required in a project such as this has helped me to improve my photography and it felt good to be succeeding in this new genre of social documentary photography.

In an attempt to capture the “feel” of the colliery, and to bring completeness to the project, I also recorded various sounds around the pit and organised a series of interviews with miners past and present. I will be producing mini AV’s including these sounds and using the miner’s comments in my presentations.

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Stretch yourself

It is very easy to stick to what we know in photography and limit yourself to a particular genre. Whilst my experience as a travel photographer, where you are required to be adept at many different genres, undoubtedly helped me there were aspects of this project that were not so familiar. As a result I feel I have grown as a photographer and I would urge you to move out of your comfort zone and try something new. There will be similar opportunities in your area, seek and ye shall find!

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Capturing a piece of history

As I progressed through the project I realised that I was not only taking pictures for myself but that I was actually recording a piece of history, an enduring record of a place that, in just a few months time, would be gone forever. With that came a feeling of responsibility, not only to do myself justice but also to represent the life and work of the mining community. Apart from my family photographs, this project is the most important and worthwhile piece of work that I have ever created. Whilst there is clearly interest in the work now, what will its importance be in another 10 or 20 years?

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A personal perspective

This project has been a fantastic experience. It has improved my photography, taken me into a different genre and enlightened my knowledge of an otherwise mysterious industry.

It has been a pleasure to work with the team at Thoresby, without whom I would not have been able to produce this body of work. Whilst the colliery may not draw its workers from the immediate village area, as in years gone by, their camaraderie, team spirit, hard work and no nonsense attitude in this tough and uncompromising industry epitomise the best of British workers. The closure of Thoresby truly is the end of an era.

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What next?

I feel it is important to showcase my images to as wide an audience as possible, especially in the local area. Therefore, after securing feature in the local and national press, I will be staging a major exhibition in Nottinghamshire and am planning to produce a book – more details to follow.

To see more Thoresby images and to keep updated on the project developments please visit my website  www.chrisuptonphotography.com

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