Friday, May 13, 2016

We Met In Iceland: A Love Story

Two short years ago, I convinced my wife, Beehive, to join me in a grand social media experiment. The plan was to travel to Amsterdam, meet up with other pinhole photographers, and watch the awesome happen. On Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day (WPPD).

This amazing convergence was concocted largely by Alex, a self-deprecating git from Norfolk, with help from Inge, a charming photographer from Rotterdam. The idea began as an off-handed suggestion on Twitter, growing like a baby as people signed up on the Eventbrite page. This was happening before my eyes, unfolding in tweets, with perfect timing for my attendance.

I work in civil service and I pick my vacation for the coming year every December.  As luck would have it, everything - the grand scheme, the wife's support, the necessary days off - aligned like celestial orbs, portending a good trip and new friends. It felt like unstoppable destiny.

We met in Amsterdam, and, well, we had a blast. Everything was amazing - the city, the weather, the people, the food, the drink, everything! I remember it vividly, and I'd love to write more about it, but this is a love story that takes place elsewhere. 
Amsterdamp, my official entry WPPD14, P6*6, f/167, Ilford FP4, 02:00
After our adventures in the Netherlands, we took the train under the channel and had some days in London, and then off to Reykjavik, Iceland. Beehive had been to London many times, but I had only been through the airport once. So, we stayed in the Portobello Road area, and hoofed it all over town, visiting museums, the Tower, and taking in an amazing performance of Titus Andronicus at Shakespeare's Globe, on the bank of the River Thames. 

I had brought some film with me to Europe that I had never shot as pinhole before: Ilford black and white, and some Fuji Velvia 50 slide film.  The reciprocity failure corrections for different film stocks vary widely, and I rely on the collective intelligence of the Internet for that data, in lieu of testing myself. So, shooting a new film on Pinhole Day was a bit of a gamble. In England I leaned on my old friends Acros and Ektar. 

In Iceland, we rented a "three-door Jeep",  a tiny Suzuki hardtop SUV, and drove a route called the "Golden Circle". We drove through the Þingvellir national park, the geothermally active valley of Haukadalur, which contains the geysers Geysir and Strokkur, and to the Gullfoss waterfall (meaning "golden falls"). I decided to try the Velvia 50.

Gullfoss, P6*6, f/167, Velvia 50 (RVP50), 00:03
I almost didn't make this photograph of the falls. We had hiked down to the falls in the bright May sun and gotten a bit damp from the spray.  Back up in the parking lot, surrounded by the tour buses and milling Germans, the wind was chilling. The sun was bright, much brighter than I like for pinhole, meaning very fast exposures and potential for camera movement and unwanted blur. I loaded my pinhole camera with the RVP50, and screwed an ND filter onto the front. I was cold, the conditions were too bright, but I thought about how I very probably would never be here, in this amazing place, ever again. I left my wife in the Suzuki to warm up, and trudged up the path to an overlook. 

I set up my Gorillapod and metered the scene. Even with the exposure stopped down by the filter, the shutter would only be open for a few seconds. Putting a filter in front of your pinhole requires absolute cleanliness unless you want dust to be visible in your infinite depth of field.  It also prevented me from using the finger-in-front-of-the-pinhole trick to avoid disturbing the camera during shutter movement. 

When I got back to the Suzuki, I had no idea if my exposure had worked. We drove off through a landscape that looked like Hawaii, eastern Washington state, and Alaska, sometimes all at once. 

Back in Reykjavik, I continued to shoot the Velvia50, liking the slightly longer exposures in bright light.  
We walked to the highest point in town, upon which stands the Hallgrímskirkja. A towering concrete church, it took 41 years to build and is designed to look like columnar basalt formations. An elevator takes you to the top of the church, for sweeping views of Reykjavik and the mountains beyond.
Across the street from the immense church, we enjoyed coffee and the open-face sandwiches that are ubiquitous in Skandinavia.Later, that evening, I hopped in the "three-door jeep" and drove frantically around town making pinhole photos in the hours-long Icelandic twilight. We were to fly out the next day and our time in Reykjavik was far too brief.
I visited the Sun Voyager, a harbor-side sculpture evoking a Viking longboat bent on explorations and discovery.
Reykjavik is home to a world-famous hot dog stand. Dating back to 1937, Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur has repeatedly been ranked the best place to get a hot dog in Europe and the world. The customers queuing for a wiener eyed me suspiciously as I twined my Gorillapod through a chain link fence and aimed my camera. In the fading light, I "acted natural" and pretended to talk on my phone during the lengthening exposure.
HARPA is a multi-purpose concert and cultural hall on the Reykjavik waterfront. A glowing glass and steel structure, it houses both the symphony and the opera. 
Reflecting pools in front of the hall were mirror calm as the evening enfolded me.

I raced back to the top of the town, to make a photograph of the Hallgrímskirkja. I perched my pinhole camera on the base of Calder's statue of Leif Erickson, and opened the shutter for twenty-four minutes.  The light was evaporating and I decided to double the original metered exposure as the sky darkened. 

I returned to the apartment, disoriented and excited. I couldn't believe that it was almost midnight and I had been making pinhole photographs so late. 
The next morning, on our way to the airport, we scheduled a detour to the Blue Lagoon, a hydrothermal spa, conveniently situated to extract one last payment from tourists who would sip ten-dollar beers in the silica-rich water. The landscape is otherworldly, and the pool is ringed by volcanic rock that would cut your feet to ribbons if you chose to escape overland. Those same rocks hide the geothermal plant that supplies the hot water to the spa, but beneath the low clouds it was truly surreal. Again, I reminded myself that this might be a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I set up my camera before catching the bus to the airport. 

When I finally got home and had my film processed, I realized my love for Fujifilm Velvia 50.  I've been shooting it ever since.  All photos made with the P6*6 3Dprinted pinhole camera, uncropped and as scanned without alteration. 

1 comment:

Thanks for the input!