Taking the Ice out of Iceland - personal project about climate change

Published on Wed Mar 4, 2020 by

Really great to hear that a personal project of mine is featured in Feb. 2020's Academy photography magazine. I have a long interest in environmental issues and wanted to create a project to highlight my concerns about climate change. So I travelled to Iceland, got talking to people and for a change undertook a lot of landscape photography.

So below are some tearsheets from the magazine, a link, the article text in full and of course the photographs.

Academy photography magazine front cover

Academy photography magazine tear sheet

Academy photography magazine tear sheet

Academy photography magazine tear sheet

Academy photography magazine tear sheet

Check more of the magazine via this PDF - https://thephotographeracademy.com/sites/default/files/magazine/thebigphotoissue37.pdf

Previous issues are here - https://thephotographeracademy.com/big-photo-ezine

And on to the article in full ....


Traditional landscape photography is ghettoised in the world of large format cameras - Adams, Porter, Weston. If you are lucky you might spot lookie-likies with enormous wooden war-of-the-worlds tripods shifting around at dawn. Head down under some black focusing cloth, muttering about what film they are using and the size of their prints. A certain snobbery. Not for me.

My work is inspired by light, space, people and the fleeting moment. Landscape photography for me, isn't uniquely the scenery. It is the human interactions at play and the feelings they create within an individual.

But hang on, I'm not a landscape photographer. I don't really like landscape photography. So why, a landscaped-based personal project then? Because photography is still a great tool for storytelling. And my story here is climate change. Human-induced climate change.

Taking the Ice of of Iceland project

Taking the Ice of of Iceland project

Taking the Ice of of Iceland project

Taking the Ice of of Iceland project

Even after all these years certain politicians still deny it exists. And many of us feel helpless, it threatens the survival of every species on Earth. Yet it feels as if there is not a lot we can do about it as individuals.

“Climate change is no longer something to be joked about in Iceland or anywhere,” said Gudni Jóhannesson, Iceland's president back in August. His words were dramatically illustrated by Ministry for the Environment of Iceland climate projections. Which suggested an increase in annual temperature of between 2.4°C and 4°C by the end of the 21st Century. Scary stuff.

So I wanted to see for myself if we are taking the ice out of Iceland.

Often photographers say, the better they know a place, the better their photography of it. I disagree - sometimes we have a preconception about a place and it is finding the right image to break that preconception that makes an image great. The one photo that works its magic to tell a story. Simply seeing things with a fresh pair of eyes - not going for the obvious parts of the landscape, works. This adds to the narrative of a place, an outsider’s viewpoint if you will.

Taking the Ice of of Iceland project

Taking the Ice of of Iceland project

Taking the Ice of of Iceland project

My images are just a point in time, a one 250th of a second. They are not a scientific study. Or in any way, a piece of empirical research. But hopefully they show the obvious lack of ice and snow and illustrate the crisis that everyone I met was talking about.

I went in early January, traditionally a time of snowstorms and winter. Iceland enjoys a warmer climate than its northerly location would indicate because a part of the Gulf Stream flows around the southern and western coasts of the country. But it still gets pretty cold.

The grass can be clearly seen and the green of the pine forests remain. Water levels in the lake unusually high, suggesting high groundwater levels and reduced underground freezing. Even to the untrained eye it didn't look like mid-winter. I always try to develop a sense of place, visiting the same location several times when undertaking landscape photography. Almost pre-visualising the image before pressing the shutter - avoiding this in the digital age is difficult. But having an idea what the image will be like is an essential part of the process for me. I'm a restless person and coming from the world of quick-fire public relations shoots and the commercial side of business photography, it is a luxury to slow down my practice. Limit the number of images created. Be purposeful in the act of creating. A different way of working for me. And very enjoyable.

Taking the Ice of of Iceland project

Taking the Ice of of Iceland project

Taking the Ice of of Iceland project

Climate change can sometimes seem like a group of hard-to-grasp concepts, I wanted to make a few images to illustrate an intangible element. It’s something that happens very slowly on a human scale, but very quickly on a geological scale. Hopefully a little personal record from my trip to Iceland adds to the conservation. Personally it made me think both about my practice as a photographer, as well as my impact on the environment as a citizen of the world.

I ended up asking myself more questions than I had answers for. So I can't give any advice, wisdom or even solutions to global warming, I'm afraid. Just the images.

And indeed on reflection I felt a bit of a hypocrite talking about a climate crisis when my return flight from Manchester to Reykjavík created 0.495 tonnes of CO2. So since the journey, I've switched to an energy provider that supplies 100% renewable electricity to my home and studio. And as dull as it is, I have started to offset as much carbon usage that we can afford via one of the many carbon footprint calculators and businesses available online.

A large format problem. So perhaps I do need to ditch all the electronics and embrace the wooden large format beasts for my next adventure after all.


In other news, I've finally caved in and started posting to Instagram - archive and new work every day - follow me at https://www.instagram.com/davidjcolbran.photographer/



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Tags: personal, Iceland, landscape

Author: David J Colbran
David is one of the Liverpool photographers undertaking documentary photography projects - this looks at energy sites and wildlife implications.

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A few years ago I started a project about energy sites and power stations in the UK, examining the boundaries of these sites and impact either side on the natural environment. Read more...

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Liverpool photographer David J Colbran ongoing project photographing leaves with a macro lens and making leaf skeletons project

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Finding leaf skeletons in the woods out and about is fairly rare. I have a couple but thought I'd have a go and making some of my own. Read more...

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