Iceland: The Warm Country Of The North, by Sigurgier Sigurjonsson
Iceland, a country I have yet to visit but would definitely like to visit at some point, is a country with a fascinating if somewhat peripheral history to Europe as a whole. Whether one looks at its more recent political troubles, its long legacy of rule by first Norway and then Denmark, which turned a bit too authoritarian during the course of the 1800’s, leading to widespread discontent, or one looks back to its origins as a Norse settler colony in the remote reaches of the North Atlantic that managed to survive despite intense isolation, there is a lot about Iceland that is compelling and interesting. This book chooses to look at photography and the striking terrain of the country as being a source of compelling imagery, and in the skilled hands of the author this photography is very impressive, as the stark and remote wilderness of Iceland proves to be the source of a wide variety of beautiful photography of mountains, glaciers, waterfalls, fields of beautiful subarctic austere beauty, and animals like horses. All of this suggests Iceland to be an immensely beautiful place well worth seeing for oneself, which is the goal of all good photography books like this one.
This book is about 150 page or so and it is divided into three parts. The first part provides six contrasts present in Iceland, from its status as an isolated country on the one hand to an entire strange and beautiful world on the other, from it being always change but also always the same, from the land being ungrateful but also generous in other ways, from having a very local but also global literature, being both full of powerful forces like volcanos and the fury of the winter winds but also a place of fragility, as well as being a land of tender indifference. This is followed by the bulk of the book which consists of beautiful photography of the terrain and people of Iceland, which makes this book well worth having as a coffee table work if one has that sort of inclination. The third part of this book gives some facts about Iceland, including statistics, information about geology, erosion, geothermal energy, climate, flora (both plants and lichens), mammals, birds, the history of Iceland, language, economy, political organization, and Iceland’s rich tradition of medieval sagas. While this book is by no means the last word on Iceland’s land and history, it certainly makes for a good first word that includes a lot of material for the reader to think about.
There is even a sense of the poignant in this book, something which one might not expect. Some of this touch of melancholy comes in the photography of a beautiful but fragile natural bridge that is shown with people walking all over it that later ended up falling between the time of the photograph and the publishing of the book. There are photos of people here that help to show the “small world” phenomenon of people doing many things at once because there are few people in the country. There are even poignant comments, for example, about the volcanic eruption leading to the flooding of a region that had previously been a major agricultural area of Iceland, as well as a talk of Iceland’s history, including the death of many of its people during the period of the Little Ice Age some four hundred years or so ago. There is a lot here to remind the reader that life in Iceland is tough, and even with Iceland’s beauty there is still a lot of risk and a lot of conditions that need to be overcome when one lives in such a region that is so far from other countries.