Jökulsarlon is my favourite place. Often it is not at the top of my list, but if you consider what percentage of my successful images come from Jökulsarlon, both the lagoon and the beach, (we are talking in the region of 80%) it is hard to deny that Jökulsarlon is my favourite place. But because I am there so much, my senses are kind of numb to the outstanding scenery. I have customers tugging on my sleeve in excitement because they see a seal and I am just like “aha”. Landscape photographer David Clapp once asked me on the shores of Jökulsarlon if I ever get bored being here all the time and I explained that if I am bored with this place then there is something seriously wrong with my head, sometimes I am bored. So this article is about Jökulsarlon and the aurora experience, but mostly it is an examination of how we can become complacent in the presence of great beauty.
At this point, I had been taking Northern lights photographs for 10 years. My early obsession with capturing every possible aurora that was thrown at Iceland was often rewarded with deep feelings of awe. People talk about standing on the edge of the grand canyon and in the presence of such magnificent beauty, they feel small and insignificant. Although I have never seen the Grand Canyon and can’t relate directly to this feeling, I can report deep sensations when you witness a good aurora storm the first few times. I am not sure if I was hypnotised by the lights, or high on nicotine, but I suppose an overwhelming humbling in the presence of such massive solar energy. I guess what happened was some sort of enlightenment. Enlightenment happens on an astro-physical level, so why not? Maybe I was jolted into some Kundalini awakening, but I remember thinking that smoking cigarettes seemed pretty pointless. (I did quite some years later.) So in meditative terms, I was in the present moment, (that’s what cigarettes do – small scale) I was SO in the present moment.
Since, then I have turned this into a business and more importantly I have taken the business to Jökulsarlon. As a consequence I have built such a collection of photography at Jökulsarlon including many beautiful Auroras reflecting in the lagoon among the ice bergs. A consequence of seeing auroras on the lagoon many times is that the feelings of awe become fewer and further between. I started to feel jealous of customers who were getting their first experiences.
Another consequence of doing this regularly is that I have damaged my body with so much cold exposure. I remember the early days when I would try to feel better about the excruciating pain in my fingers by telling myself that this was an excellent job – stop complaining! Some years later and my Reynaulds syndrome is fully developed. The 1000s of hours driving has left me part crippled and I now suffer regular disability.
Night of Ghosts was taken on one of our Winter workshops, this was January 2015. I took around 10 images with the same frame but after taking the shot above, something made me stop taking the photos and just stand and look at the scene. Those auroras and their reflections were clear and they were dancing around, but there was a thin veil of mist moving eerily among the floating ice which made them look like ghosts. I was there in the moment with such an incredible scene in front of me. I could have witnessed all that if I was taking the picture, I mean, I don’t have to close my eyes when the shutter opens, but here I felt like capturing it would have been inappropriate and disrespectful of the moment. These few seconds were just for me. The picture above was the picture before and it doesn’t reflect my experience although it is helpful for the reader to understand some of my experience.
Is there a point to the story?
Yes. Practice being in the moment it is the most important thing. It can be easily achieved by dropping whatever you are doing and just breathing.