Iceland’s in my head


I’m having a hard time coming back down to earth. Work took extra concentration this week. I’m seeing mountains. The landscape seems mismatched here. Where’s the sea, just around that curve? Oh, wait… I’m no longer in Iceland.

I still don’t know how to sum up the trip. The details seem fuzzy already. My friend Jane and I landed in Keflavik on the last Monday of September, traveled first south and then east and then north and west and then back to Reykjavik and left the first Monday of October.

I took only film cameras, and I love the resulting colors I got on these initial rolls.

I can still feel the mist from the waterfalls. I can still see the mountains in the distance. I can conjure up the sulfur-y smell of the thermal pools. The stoic horses, the mighty wind, the pelting rain, the sudden rainbows. Who could stand in sight of these things and not be moved, or fundamentally changed?

 

There were bumps, like our baggage leaving the airport with someone else (but fortunately coming back before we left the car rental); a punctured tire that fortunately got resolved quickly because we were lucky enough to be in a town with a tire shop; misguided directions from Google maps that put us quite off-course a few times; house spiders that didn’t bother my travel companion, but that tested my spider-tolerating capabilities. The rest of it, though–a tomato-lentil soup with big hunks of crusty farm bread in a cozy coffee shop; the snowy mountain pass; the spectacular sunset one evening; the sea spray and the mossy rocks and just the surprises the landscape offered around every curve–all of this is firmly implanted in my psyche.

Maybe I’m waxing poetic because I’m not so well-traveled, but it all makes me ache for more. I can’t wait for the next adventure. I can’t wait to see the next mountain range or seaside cliff. I can’t wait to feel the air and the wind and the water of the next place. I can’t wait to be changed again. Until then I’ll keep looking at my pictures and remembering how I felt when I was there.

I shot 16 rolls of film. Six 35mm rolls and 10 120mm rolls. I wish I’d shot more, and gone a little more slowly and patiently. But, the wind and the cold were more of a factor than I expected. I wrote and took notes but even those got chaotic, and so now I’m not sure where I was for some of these photos. Whatever. I was madly in love with everything. Not much else matters when you’re swooning, does it?

I’m still waiting for five more rolls, so I’ll write more and share those photos soon. The photos in this post were taken on a Minolta SRT-102 (my favorite camera), a Bronica SQ-A (my other favorite camera), and an FPP Debonair–a $20 plastic camera that I used for the first time on this trip and that I think is actually really terrific. The films reflected in this post are Kodak Portra (160 and 400 ISO), Kodak Ektar (100 ISO), and a Kodak Gold (200 ISO) I soaked in grapefruit-habanero kombucha, which made for some subtle color shifts and some streaks; more subtle than I expected but I still like it.

If you’re interested, you can see more from these 11 rolls on this flickr album.

waking up from the dream that was Iceland

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near Selfoss, Minolta SRT-102 and Kodak Portra 160

Oh, Iceland.

I was rendered speechless. I mean, that’s not surprising–it happens to me often as I’m better with writing words than speaking them. But, I said “wow” way too many times. And “stunning,” “beautiful,” “really?,” “oh, come on!,” “holy shit,” “oh my god,” and other noises and nonwords like grunts, gasps, etc. And then after a while I just shut up because, seriously, Iceland.

I don’t regret only bringing film. I brought four cameras and used all four of them. I brought some filters and a tiny tripod and didn’t use those at all. I winged it (I might look up the accuracy of this term later, but for now I’m using it) and took a chance on my Minolta SRT-102 battery holding up because I realized I should have a backup just a little too late and couldn’t get one in time. Sure enough, the minute I loaded that camera the battery was dead. So I had zero cameras with a working light meter and had to rely on a light meter app on my phone. I’d been doing this with pretty damn good success with the Bronica, but I hadn’t used it for 35mm film. All in all, metering in Iceland is no picnic (snow, black sand, mountain shadows, sun and then suddenly no sun, yada yada) but I think it all worked out okay.

Anyway, I dropped 11 rolls of film off at a local lab and had scans in under two hours. Someday I really want to do this part of it myself, but I don’t have the time right now and am grateful to the two labs that do it for me. I sent the three rolls of black and white film, one roll of Lomography purple, and a roll of slide film all off to The Darkroom yesterday, so I won’t see those for a bit longer.

Taking six days off of work means I’ve come back to a pile of things to sort through, but I’m grateful for a supportive team that made it possible for me to leave. I’m grateful to my friend Jane for asking me to go on this trip with her. I’m grateful for the peanut butter we ate in Iceland because it was excellent and saved us from what might have been iffy moments of hangriness.

I’m still trying to process the trip and I’ll write more about it, and share more pictures, when I have a little more time this weekend. But here are a couple for now.

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one of the many waterfalls, in south or east Iceland, Minolta and Portra
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Icelandic horse, FPP Debonair (Plastic Fantastic), Kodak Ektar 100
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Black Sand Beach in Vic, Minolta and Portra 160
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fence and open land, Bronica, Kodak Portra 160

In one week…

…I’ll be on my way to Iceland!

Yesterday I packed my camera bag, and in case you’re interested, this is what’s in it currently (subject to completely change if I panic about my choices next weekend):

  • Bronica SQ-A with 80mm lens and 50mm lens (debating the need for the 50 and it will go if I need more space)
  • Minolta SRT-102 with 50mm 1.4 Rokkor lens (and I just had to go check this because I just realized I’ve been tagging my Instagram photos with this camera with #MinoltaSRT201, which is ridiculous because it’s my favorite camera and how could I not remember that???)
  • Olympus Pen EE3, because it’s small and cute and I have some ideas for it
  • about 30 assorted rolls of 120 and 35mm film, mainly Fuji Acros (120 only), Portra 160 (120 and 35mm), Portra 400 (35mm only), some T-Max, some Ektar (120 only), and some Lomo Purple
  • a lens cloth and brush
  • shutter release cable
  • a few filters and filter holder

Since my camera backpack will be my only carry on, I have to leave room for the necessities–wallet, passport, headphones, Ipad (haven’t decided if I’m bringing this) or book, sunglasses, eyeglass case, charging cord, and yeah, now I’m thinking the 80mm Bronica lens might have to go because of all this.

And this is why I like road trips. I can bring everything I think I might possibly use (and of course use only a third of it). It’s hard to narrow things down to what you really need, or will want to use, when you’ve never been to a place. Oh well, I have to do it. And I can’t drive to Iceland.

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Lake Michigan, fiery red

In the last few weeks I’ve been around sick people, and I’ve been a little smug about this because I don’t get sick very often and the last time I got sick was coming home from Peru a year and a half ago. I’m pretty healthy. But I napped yesterday and when I woke up my eyeballs felt weird and I had a tickle in my throat. And this morning, my throat and my head both hurt. I have a week to shake it off, and hopefully it won’t sideline me because, well, work and all that.

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my father and my daughter having a chat

 

Anyway, Labor Day weekend was mostly beautiful weather punctuated by some lovely storms. Our daughter was with us from Texas. My dad came for an overnight. My heart felt full. Neighbors were around and the annual year-end potluck and goodbye summer party happened and we all got to see a gorgeous storm cloud roll in.

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storm over Lake Michigan
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after storm

And just like that, summer was a wrap.

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the lookout, and fungi
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fungi and pine needles

Speaking of road trips… there was a camper tucked into the woods and I’m so glad we noticed it as we drove by one afternoon. I went back three times after we first saw it, just hoping no one had taken advantage of the “FREE!! (please take)” sign because I couldn’t wait to photograph it. I hope it stays for a while because it might be even lovelier in the fall, or maybe with a little snowfall. Although the owner won’t be thrilled if it remains, I will be.

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FREE!! (please take)
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welcome
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may need some work
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tucked into the woods

There are a few more photos from these two rolls, both Kodak Ektar 100 ISO shot with a Bronica SQ-A, here.

If you’re feeling it, send me a little luck to get over this bug before I’m Iceland bound, please and thank you.

(nearly) Iceland bound

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moonflowers in the garden at Cherry Point Market

In just under two weeks I will wake up in a different bed every morning for eight mornings as I travel around Iceland with my friend Jane. We don’t have an itinerary or firm plans other than to see the beautiful landscape and get to each resting spot each night–this is the way I like to travel. If you make firm plans, what do you do if something exciting or interesting lands in your lap? I don’t want to say no to anything.

I can hardly believe it’s almost here! And I’m finally starting to feel mostly ready. I’ve broken in my new hiking boots. I know what clothes I plan to take. Most importantly, I know exactly where my passport is (I don’t always know where anything is). And I know work will be okay without me.

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lavender, also at Cherry Point Market
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dill flower, Cherry Point Market

In the meantime, I’ve been stockpiling film and I’m nearly certain about which cameras I’m taking. I also just sent six rolls of film for developing and am tentatively planning not to shoot any more until the trip–I’ll be too busy, anyway.

I stood on the deck at the cottage last evening and had a moment about leaving. The more I stay there, the harder it is to leave. When I get back, the corn stalks will be bleached and maybe even mowed down for the season. The trees will be well into wearing their colorful fall wardrobe. The summer will give way to fall and the nights will get cold. I’ll hear gunshots in the woods when I go out for walks as locals prepare for hunting season. The lake will chill and get moody and wild from fall storms. These things happen whether I’m there to see them or not, but I don’t like to miss a day there, even if it is for leaving to go on fun adventures. It feels a little selfish, but it is this: my heart stays there.

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mullein field
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grain (barley, maybe?)

While I’m waiting for film, here are some photos from high summer. I got a little sloppy this summer with my note-taking, so I don’t know exactly when I shot this roll, but I think it was either late July or the first days of August. In fact, my note-taking was non-existent for this roll; I thought I had Ektar ISO 100 in the camera when I shot it and was a bit surprised when I finished the roll and found that it was Portra 160 ISO. Oops! So my metering was a bit off but I think Portra was forgiving. My favorite is the moonflower. I just love those.

I have shot 46 rolls of film so far this year. I didn’t set out with a goal, but there you go.

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forgotten memorial
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windbreakers

The whole roll is here if you want to see a few more.

the wild rose bush

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There’s a wild rose bush on the side of the road that leads to the community where our cottage is. It produces some varying shades of pink roses, and we’ve been watching it expand over the last 15 years at least–maybe longer. It usually begins to bloom in late June and is done by mid to late July. Passing by when it’s not in bloom you’d never know it’s there. But when it’s blooming… wow. It’s even creeping up into the trees behind it and spreading across the ground inching closer to the road.

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I don’t use slide film often because it costs more than negative film and also costs a small bit more to process. I’m less confident with it and it’s less forgiving, too, and with only 12 shots to a roll of 120 film in my Bronica SQ-A, it feels like too much of a gamble. Not that I have much experience with slide film. I’ve shot a few rolls now of Fuji Velvia 50 ISO and I like the cool, rich colors. Plus the negatives are really neat to look at, because they’re positive images. So I like to have a roll or two hanging around for just the right subject, and the wild rose bush earlier this summer seemed perfect.

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of poppies and solitude

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I like to take pictures in the herb and flower garden at a local farm market. There’s a lavender labyrinth there that brings the masses right around now, when the lavender blooms and casts its purple hue across the garden grounds. Smack in the middle of the labyrinth is a raised garden bed, and it’s here that I like to go in the golden hour before sunset and commune with the bees as they dance around the blooms. I like this spot best in June, before the summer crowds descend on this place, right when the poppies open and before things begin to wilt and brown from the summer heat.

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I’m in love with the poppies, but like everything that grows here they don’t stick around long. By July they are replaced by other blooms, and there can be hundreds of people in this garden milling about, taking selfies. I know this is good for the business owner, but I like this place quiet and peaceful, when I can be alone with my thoughts and hear things growing and buzzing all around me–that’s when it’s really magical.

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A few weeks ago I went into the heart of this garden one evening with my Bronica loaded with a roll of Fuji Velvia 50 ISO film. A young woman who works at the farm was just wrapping up her work there and we chatted a bit before she left me alone with the bees. I’ve only used Velvia a few times but I think the colors and that evening’s light and my Bronica just kind of all worked together to make some real beauty. Who can look at the greens and reds and purples that happen in nature and not be quieted, at least for a moment?

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You can see the rest of this roll here, or an older post I wrote with digital photos from this place here.

 

dreamy

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goatsbeard, Bronica SQ-A and Fuji Acros 100 + close up filter

We wandered the music festival grounds last night. I feel honored to be able to do that, through knowing some lovely and talented people that make it possible for us to experience the festival without having to be actual festival-goers. It’s in a pine forest, lit up with light and art and hope and pure escapism. It’s a surreal landscape.

I took my camera to the meadow just under two weeks ago to photograph this goatsbeard, and the next day as I walked by it the meadow was being mowed. All the goatsbeard, the milkweed, the sweet pea and clover and everything else that was erupting or about to be erupting was gone. There’s more right behind it, but it still made me sad. I don’t like the tearing down of anything, I guess.

middle-of-the-night inspiration

Freighters sing tonight;
their serene calls amplified
in the fog-drenched air

Last week the weather on Lake Michigan was a little too spectacular for early June. Summery, hot, beach weather mostly, with little wind and a bug population that hasn’t gotten out of control (yet).

My friend and co-worker came to the lake to stay and work for the week, and we set up shop at the dining room table and made the most of the lovely view, working when we needed to and breaking when the outdoors beckoned. I’m used to being alone here, but it was nice to have a reprieve from the quiet, especially after work. We had plans to have dinner out one night, maybe a lunch, too, but it was just too nice to bother to leave the beach. So we didn’t.

One evening, the fog rolled in and stuck throughout the night. I left windows and doors open because it was warm enough for it, and was awakened at 4 a.m. to the sound of a freighter’s foghorn, steady and gutteral, in the otherwise still night. Soon after, another foghorn in a slightly higher tone; a duet of call and response. There was no picture to take, so I wrote a haiku.

These are the things that make my heart swell. The night sounds, the morning dew, the sunset colors, the ever-changing lake.

Today the power went out and I couldn’t work for almost two hours. A minor annoyance; an enforced break to walk the beach. A neighbor’s generator hummed, but otherwise there was quiet aside from the birds and the bees, which seem busier this year than ever.

I’m thinking a lot about what there is happening when I have a camera in hand. Sounds, mainly, or a mood or feeling in the surroundings. Last evening I shot of roll of 120 film in the meadow, mainly of the seeded goat’s-beard puffballs dotting a small section of the meadow near the road (these look like giant dandelions that have gone to seed). The goat’s-beard shared space with other grasses and some rich purple sweet pea. It was another windless night; gray and dull skies, warm and a bit muggy, sweet-smelling and earthy. I could hear an occasional low growl of thunder from a storm out over the lake, but louder than that were the bees–near hummingbird sized bumblebees, working around me, a din of their buzzing. I added to my mosquito bite collection, getting fresh bites on my hands as I worked. One of the resident eagles soared overhead and disappeared.

I took notes so I would remember these things–the things that you wouldn’t know by looking at one of the pictures from this roll. The things I might not otherwise remember when this film is developed in a week or two.

This is what I want to explore. Can I impart the sounds, or a smell, or my heart bursting, or the pinch of a mosquito bite? Can I infuse these other-sense things into an image?

spring blossoms/summer fruit

A few weeks ago, after we moved our daughter to Texas but before she stayed there for good (in other words, she came back to town for a bit) we came to the cottage just in time to see the blossoms on the fruit trees.

The west side of Michigan grows cherries, peaches and apples (in that seasonal order, too). Also pears, but the first three are the big ones. Aside from tree fruit, the area is also big on asparagus, strawberries and blueberries.

But back to the blossoms. They’re so pretty, and I wish I could tell you I knew from the blossoms which fruit trees I am looking at, but alas, I don’t–unless I remember what was growing in the orchard in the year past. I do know that I like to (very lightly) trespass on the edges of my neighbor’s orchards long enough to get some photos of these trees at blossom time and then again when the fruit is in season. I really hope they don’t mind.

Actually I’m pretty sure these first three photos are of apple trees.

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blossoms, Minolta SRT-102, Kodak ColorPlus 200
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blossoms, Minolta SRT-102, Kodak ColorPlus 200
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blossoms, Minolta SRT-102, Kodak ColorPlus 200
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Bella/blossoms double exposure, Minolta SRT-102, Kodak ColorPlus 200

Aside from enjoying the blossoms, we plucked some spruce tips and tried to make a spruce tip syrup. I was excited after reading about spruce tip syrup last year, too late to pluck the spring tips, but my execution may not have been right. I might try again before all the spruce and pine tips have gone and turned into needles. You’ve got to get them when they’re tender and green.

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spruce, Minolta SRT-102, Kodak ColorPlus 200
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spruce tip collection, Minolta SRT-102, Kodak ColorPlus 200
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spruce tips, Minolta SRT-102, Kodak ColorPlus 200
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spruce tips, Minolta SRT-102, Kodak ColorPlus 200

am I seeing things, or is that just an inversion?

There’s this thing that happens on Lake Michigan, and the other Great Lakes, and probably other large bodies of water, too. When conditions are just right–and here, that’s when the air starts to warm up but the lake water is still cold, or late spring–there is a confluence of temperature and bending light rays that lets you see things you aren’t ordinarily able to see, namely buildings and light that are far beyond the reach of normal vision and the curve of the earth. It’s called a temperature inversion, and like rainbows and fog-bows and northern lights and water spouts and other magical things, when you get to see one you feel a little changed.

I won’t get science-y about it because I don’t want to write about things I don’t understand all that well, but the first time I got to see this phenomena was a Memorial Day weekend about five or six years ago. There was a small group of us on a neighbor’s deck, and I kept wondering if I was seeing some abnormally tall freighter out on the horizon. Only it wasn’t moving, and soon it was joined by other abnormally tall freighters that weren’t moving, and then as the sky darkened there were white and red lights around these structures, some blinking and some steady, and we realized we were seeing the buildings from the city across the lake… which was 80 miles across the lake. One of my neighbors fortunately knew that we were seeing was a temperature inversion so we weren’t in the dark about it for very long.

Anyway, last evening I just had a feeling it might happen. There is a chunk of land south of our cottage that juts out into the lake, and a few hours before sunset it looked weird. Weird as in higher than it normally is, and if you watched this chunk of land as you walked down the bluff to the water line, it changed. It looked like a mirage was happening. I figured the conditions might just be right for an inversion.

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I don’t have a high-end lens for capturing things far away, so these will have to do. The first image is from the top of the bluff, and the second is how things looked just walking down the stairs to lower on the bluff. It went from looking like a cliff to looking like a big alligator jutting out into the lake. On a normal day, this bit of land looks more like the top half of the second image (the alligator’s top jaw and up). A little elevation, yes, but no cliffs.

I wish I had pictures of last night’s inversion, but I don’t think I could have done it justice. So, maybe just imagine it: a crisp, dark night full of stars; a chorus of Spring Peepers; a fairly quiet Lake Michigan; a quarter moon leaving a dazzle on the lake; bright lights, white and red, some blinking rhythmically (think traffic lights), in city clusters, for miles and miles across the horizon.