A last-minute impulse to seize an invitation from friends led to a fortuitous meeting with Wayne—a fellow traveller, fellow American, fellow nomad living anywhere else but native land, and a fellow reminiscer of the good old days of internet-free India. Through Wayne's eyes and soft-spoken voice, we take you to a special place where solstice keeps the night at bay during this time of the year. Direction Iceland.
– Mona Kim
I have this belief that if we continue visiting new places and new parts of the world, there will always be growth in our lives from the new things we learn and see. As a result, a certain kind of wonder will be kept alive deep inside of us.
My idea to go to Iceland came from this desire to see something completely new. It was a place I only had heard about through old stories like the Sagas and the Edda and seen in photos. The Songs of Ingrid is the name I have given to my different wanderings (or wonderings) around Scandinavia while living there for the past four years. Certain places in the far north have had a stronger attraction for me than the rest: Bergen and Lofoten in Norway, the Faroe Islands, and Iceland. I sometimes associate things with a form of sound, especially experiences. For me, naming a specific experience as a song leaves it with some poetic character, a way to express deep appreciation for being given the chance to have that experience.
My first introduction to Icelandic culture came about seven years ago from a film shot in northwestern Iceland by an Icelandic filmmaker Dagur Kari called Noi Albinoi. The many different shades of muted blues used by the director, the giant snow-covered mountains, the ever-present ice and cold, and the lo-fi soundtrack all left a very strong impression on me, as well as curiosity.
Fast forward to landing at Keflavik International Airport last November, walking out from the airport doors to very wet, very cold air.
The things that are striking about Iceland are the giant open spaces, the extraordinary mountainous landscapes that rise out of the ground, the fact that there seem to be more horses and sheep than people, the reality that stores to buy the most basic of things are few and very far between, the openness of the Icelanders who readily talk about elves and fairies, and the space you seem to have for yourself while traveling around the country. It is so easy to be in the quiet there and let your mind open wide like the big open spaces you find yourself hiking or driving around in.
There is so much silent empty space that finding towns can sometimes be difficult. They are few and far between for a country of this size. In this large expanse of emptiness, there is a special place of simple beauty, located in the south coast: the small village of Vík. The southernmost settlement in all of Iceland with a population of around 300, Vík is built directly on the open sea and has a natural black rock beach in front and the large hills of Reynisfjall perched just above it. It is beautiful to see how this small town is nestled perfectly into the land and hills.
Places that are located at the extremities of any direction – north, south, east, west – or way up on a mountain or way out in the desert, always seem to have a good story behind them and an interesting energy to bathe in. One of the stories of Vík relates to the rock formations, Reynisdrangar, that jut out of the water just off the coast. The old legends tell of a tale of three trolls who, while pulling in their ship from the ocean, turned into basalt sea stacks when the light of dawn caught them near the beach.
Reykjavik, the major center of commerce, communication, music, arts, education and architecture, where two-thirds of the entire Icelandic population live. It is a small, friendly city with many good restaurants (especially for fish), bars, coffeehouses and shops. This is also the home of the Icelandic Elf School, Álfaskólinn, which offers programs on hidden people, elves, and other not-so-often-seen creatures, believed to inhabit Iceland.
Probably the two most notable landmarks in the city are the modern Harpa Concert Hall on the waterfront and the mighty Church of Hallgríms, set in the middle of the city center. The contrast between the two couldn't be more striking: one ultramodern in shape and screaming for the future, the other more ancient in design and founded deeply in the Nordic roots of the Scandinavian culture and mythology. I think this same contrast applies as a metaphor for the people of Iceland.
The Church of Hallgríms or Hallgrímskirkja (kirkja = church) is a stunning structure. The steeply-graded sides of the main entrance tower certainly retain a type of elfin feel. After passing through the door and entrance hall, one enters the nave of the church with its high ceilings and deep sense of calm. I don't normally get religious in Christian buildings, but I remember distinctly blessing myself with the holy water in the nave of the church and feeling the presence of the old Norse gods, and the least I could do was pay my respects.
Another aspect of the church I liked was the origin of its name. Hallgrímur Pétersson was an Icelandic clergyman, poet and writer of hymns. He was simple man who had a difficult life, ran away from home as a youth to Denmark, and wrote powerful hymns in his old age, even in failing health. Because the church does have such a strong Nordic feel from both its design and the presence it creates, for many Icelanders, it has become one of the symbols of the nation and their national identity. It is truly the church of the Vikings: strong, cold, beautiful and powerful as they were.
The modern Harpa Center also deserves its brief due. It reflects another side of modern Icelandic life and demonstrates the design-orientation of Icelanders. They are capable of being at the leading edge, alongside the other Scandinavian countries, in functionality and design while maintaining a strong connection to their natural elements—a combination that is essential to most modern Scandinavian design.
Seven years after watching Mr. Kari's film, I now have a better understanding of the place that had so greatly peaked my curiosity. I understand what the air smells like there, what it feels like to walk on the thick green carpet moss that covers so much of the island, what it feels like to run my hands over the rough, porous black lava rock that is everywhere, how cold the winter night air is when you drive out in the middle of damn nowhere and get out of the car to look for Aurora Borealis in the sky. I know how big those snow-covered mountains are now from standing right in front of them and looking up at them. And I now know where all those different shades of muted blues come from.
Wayne Bregulla is a Stockholm-based photographer, painter, and designer. He has affinity to black and white photography, abstract painting and metal work. Wayne is also the owner and creator of Ramakrishna Designs, a small design company selling ethnic jewelry, rare gems and rocks from around the world. He majored in cultural studies and comparative religion at New York University and took courses in painting and illustration at The School of Visual Arts. "In short, my work is about what I find to be beautiful in this world. Myths, dreams, visions, long quiet experiences, the element of water and the color black are all of strong interest to me and how I relate to my work."