By Laura Kicey
Photos Courtesy of Laura Kicey
Several months ago we connected with Ambler photographer Laura Kicey by a cool twist of fate. I was thrilled to learn that Kicey was gearing up for an exploration and photo journey through Iceland. Kicey worked closely with kickstarter.com, a website offering a very innovative and productive way to fund creative endeavors. Through kickstarter.com, individuals across the United States can communicate an interesting, creative idea to a network of people who offer a tremendous source of encouragement and potential funding for the project. Kicey raised all of her funds for her trip thanks to a group of 32 strangers who pledged a total of nearly $3,000. She returned with thousands of images – 260-plus of which are now available on Flickr. Kicey stated she is considering a trip to Alaska next year because “I love cold, icebergs, remoteness, etc…so it is right up my alley.” And, after looking at her captivating collection of photos, we could not agree more. The following is part one of our three part series following Laura Kicey’s Icelandic adventure.
Every step leading up to my adventure in Iceland meant moving forward without any sense of what was to come. I was not sure I could afford the trip at all, which prompted me to launch an art sponsorship program. Likewise, although we have been friends for years, my travel companion Sandra, (who lives in Stockholm) and I had only met once in 2005. And, despite having seen many photographs and some movies of Iceland, nothing could truly prepare me for what I was to experience. Similar to the all-too-common sign we would eventually see on one-lane roads in the more rural areas of the country – BLINDHÆDIR, which indicated that you were about to crest a hill blind, without any sense of what was approaching from the other side, this trip rested on a hundred leaps of faith occurring on an almost hourly basis. It had been several years since I had traveled beyond North America and the need to venture outside the country was becoming quite strong. While planning for the week-long trip, I realized that even though I had a companion to share the costs and I was going to keep myself to a strict budget, it would still be a financial stretch. One of my friends, joking that she would like to live vicariously through my trip, offered to become my sponsor as long as she could have a print of one of my photos from the excursion. At first I scoffed at the idea. But, soon it started to become clear that I couldn’t afford the trip on my own and might have to take my friend’s offer seriously.
Around the same time, another friend alerted me to the launch of kickstarter.com, a website serving as a platform for users to gain sponsorship for creative projects, so I was one of the first people to sign on and present a project. In return for financial backing, sponsors would receive their choice of a print from the trip. Because of the generally turbulent economic climate, I was not anticipating a great deal of interest in such a project – and was genuinely surprised when I ended up raising close to $3,000. Sure, most people could not afford a huge contribution, but so many people – friends, family, complete strangers, even kickstarter.com staff members – all became intrigued enough to become involved, with the result that the trip essentially paid for itself. The added dimension of sharing my trip and the images I would create with my backers created a certain level of excitement for me, and even posed a challenge to my abilities. Once I reached Iceland, I realized that the beauty of the country speaks for itself; for a photographer, it was more a question of being able to do it justice in the limited time I had.
While driving to JFK, I received a constant flow of text messages from my traveling friend, Sandra, who had arrived in Reykjavík much earlier in the day than I. Though she had made it quite clear in advance that “Iceland is PURPLE!” – the whole island seemed to be carpeted in purple lupine flowers (the Nootka Lupin or Alaskan Lupine) by the time I was looking out the plane as we landed. As the midnight sun sat low on the horizon, the sky, the mountains, and the earth – everything was truly glowing violet. To all appearances, I was landing on another planet.
The Flybus, an airport shuttle service well-equipped to handle the influx of travelers coming into Reykjavík, ferried me and the other stragglers on the last arrival of the day through a delightfully lavender but scarcely populated lunar landscape to drop off each of us at the door of our respective hotels. As one of the last two riders to be deposited outside Hotel Cabin on the waterfront around 2 a.m. local time, I was able to watch the single hour of Icelandic night pass – more of a twilight than a real darkness – and then track the sun as it went back on the rise immediately. Across the water, I could make out a huge, looming, deep purple mountain, with a thick, cottony indigo cloud obscuring its peak, and a sliver of moon hanging low in the sky… and the air was filled with the scent of flowers. Despite my delirium, I wanted to grab someone off the near-empty streets and dance from the thrill of this sight. Instead, I tried to keep my composure and checked into the hotel to find Sandra sleeping in our tiny room with paper-thin walls. She awoke and we talked excitedly until our eyelids grew too heavy.
We rose in time to catch the tail end of breakfast downstairs: simple but traditional Icelandic fare. Well before I had left Iceland, I had become addicted to the tangy yogurt-like breakfast staple called skyr – actually a traditional Icelandic cheese – so I was overjoyed to be greeted with a full bowl, topped with fruit and cereal, alongside toast with cheese, boiled eggs and cucumbers, and a much-needed cup of coffee. We set off towards downtown Reykjavík to collect our rental car, pick up something for a picnic lunch at the ‘big’ (though by US standards quite diminutive) Kringla Mall, and then indulge in what would be the most touristy of our day trips: the Golden Circle, which includes Geysir and Gullfoss – a full day of geysers, glowing blue pools, and waterfalls in the southwest region of the country, on the Reykjanes peninsula.
Travel on the Ring Road, the main highway around the coast of the country, as well as most other roads on the Golden Circle area, is fairly smooth and fast-paced, and gave us our first taste of both the scenery and the experience of driving in Iceland. The roads both inland and coastal are generally punctuated by roundabouts, and on either side you regularly see clusters of tiny native horses, long stretches of flat ground carpeted with the vibrantly purple lupines, otherworldly stretches of lumpy volcanic rock thickly covered with gray-green moss, or distant snow-capped mountains. The contrasts and colors can’t be compared to anything I’ve ever seen, but if I had to draw a comparison, I would liken it to the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, the deserts of the West, the moors of England blooming with heather, the surface of the moon, and Alaska, all rolled into one. Iceland offered a cornucopia of vibrant lime greens, chartreuse, black, purples, sage greens, rich blue-greens, hearty rusts and deep reds. As we spent more time among such landscapes, it became easier to understand why the Icelandic people for the most part believe in what they call “hidden people” – trolls, gnomes, elves, fairies and the like. The strange rock formations, the traces of brute natural forces, the flora and the fauna are all so entirely unique and possess strongly anthropomorphic and supernatural qualities, one cannot help but be charmed by the notion.
Our first stop was at a massive crater called Kerið. On the face of it, it seems difficult to muster enthusiasm for a large hole in the ground. When the powerful geo-forces of the island go to work, however, this particular hole in the ground becomes an intensely blue-green pool of water, ringed in gold-white mineral deposits and black rocks, surrounded on all sides by volcanic earth of a warm maroon hue. Neither Sandra nor myself being keen on heights, we redirected away from perilous drops back to the safety of solid land.
In our few hours on the road it appeared that there are no longer any truly wild horses left in Iceland, as every herd we came across was fenced in, along with much of the burgeoning sheep population and scant numbers of cattle. Even from a distance, it was obvious that the demeanor of the Icelandic horse is quite different from your typical thoroughbred or even wild pony from any other part of the world. We pulled over to admire some and they ran off towards their feed trough, apparently expecting us to fill it. When we caught up with them, they were inquisitive and playful, jumping, rearing, scrunching up their remarkably expressive faces, with thick manes whipping in the strong winds. Though we didn’t have time to take a ride this trip, I know I will find time for a tölt (a gait that is unique to Icelandic horses- a fast and very smooth ride) on my next visit to Iceland.
Laura Kicey is a photographer and artist based just outside of Philadelphia, PA. Her work has been shown in a number of galleries regionally, and has appeared in numerous publications internationally. Laura can generally be found lurking in dark alleys and other places she likely should not be. For more of her work, visit her website at: laurakicey.com. Laura’s email is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Continue on and read part two of Kicey’s travelogue.