Project

320 Icelanders: Portrait of a Nation in Varvara Lozenko’s Project

Visiting Iceland for the first time as a volunteer, Varvara Lozenko was fascinated with the locals and decided to create a collective portrait of the nation


Varvara Lozenko

Photographer from Moskow. Studied linguistics and art history in Moskow State University. She is inspired by Ryan McGinley, Yann Arthus-Bertrand and Alain Laboile.

“320 Icelanders” is ethnographic research, like that Amundsen, Nansen, and some Russian travelers of the past, such as Miklouho-Maklai and artists like Vereschagin and photographer Prokudin-Gursky would do. But a hundred years ago there were still blank spots on the map, undiscovered parts of the planet, and now there are none, everything is on Google Maps. To make a discovery we need to find a different dimension for traveling, the fifth dimension. For me that fifth dimension is the dimension of the human soul. I don’t want to sound strange, so maybe it’s better to simply call it the human dimension.

Maybe you have noticed that almost everyone coming back from Iceland has tons of images of landscapes: waterfalls, geysers, mountains, sheep, but not a single human picture. One might even imagine that this is an uninhabited island. That, in part, gave me the idea of doing a series of portraits of the population of Iceland. Another point was, when I first went there, I was impressed by Icelandic good looks, by the beautiful people I saw. I was thinking that maybe in Iceland there are more beautiful-looking people than anywhere I had been so far. But then I realized that it was not just the looks that I found remarkable, it was also the softness of temper and of voice, gentleness of manners, and genuine niceness, taken literally.


{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/ice_01.jpg”,
“alt”: “320 Icelanders: Portrait of Nation in Varvara Lozenko’s Project”,
“text”: “Alvin Möller, 11, Hugbjört Möller, 7, and their dog Grímur. I met their parents and did a family portrait on their farm Ytra Lón in summer 2007. Alvin was six at the time and Hugbjört about two. At the end of January 2013 I revisited Langanes peninsula and their farm, the North-Easternmost farm in Iceland. The kids had grown: Hugbjört learned to incubate and grow chickens, knit, make fried eggs and developed an interest for fashion design. And Alvin now plays football and is writing a book on magic rituals. This photo was taken on January 30, 2013, in the midst of a snowstorm.”
},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/ice_02.jpg”,
“alt”: “320 Icelanders: Portrait of Nation in Varvara Lozenko’s Project”,
“text”: “Æsa Gísladóttir, 36, owner of the hostel in Vik. We met when Æsa suggested to Haraldur, at whose house I was staying, to take me up to the mountains where the Northern Lights can better be observed than from the Myraldur Valley. It was January 12th 2013, my first day in Iceland in wintertime, and such amazing luck!”
},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/ice_03.jpg”,
“alt”: “320 Icelanders: Portrait of Nation in Varvara Lozenko’s Project”,
“text”: “Guðrun Marta Gunnarsdóttir, 61, and Sigurður Sigfusson, 72, from Þorshöfn. She used to work in the fish factory; he is a long-distance truck driver now retired. Siggi is a genius of accordion. When he takes his instrument out and sits down on his terrace to play, the few passers-by (because Þorshöfn is a very small place) stop to listen and applaud and yell encouragement from the street. The duet performs Icelandic folk songs as well as Siggi’s own music.”
},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/ice_04.jpg”,
“alt”: “320 Icelanders: Portrait of Nation in Varvara Lozenko’s Project”,
“text”: “Hans Eiriksson, 69, retired bus driver from Stoðvarfjörður. We were driving on A-1 in the East Fjörds, a few kilometres before Stoðvarfjörður, when I saw a fisherman on the righthand side of the road. It was the first human being I’d seen for dozens of kilometeres on the way from Djupivogur to Egilsstaðir. When we stopped and I came up to Hans, surprisingly, he started putting his rod together as if preparing to leave. I asked him what was wrong. ‘No catch today,’ he replied.”
},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/iceland_06.jpg”,
“alt”: “320 Icelanders: Portrait of Nation in Varvara Lozenko’s Project”,
“text”: “Hilmar Pálsson, 62, insurance agent from Ísafjördur. We met as he was getting ready to set off on a three-day adventure trip. Five or six people were taking part in it: all of them Hilmar’s friends also insurance agents. About five minutes after this shot they jumped into an overloaded (with camping equipment) jeep and were off. Hilmar said that in Iceland it is customary to insure everything: yourself, your house, car, stable, garage, horses, dogs, cats – everything. The weather was quite bright, if not exactly sunny. It was towards 3 p.m., it was Saturday, June 28th 2014. ”
}

First, I was thinking of the number 100 simply because it is such a nice number and also the average expected limit of a human life. But then I realized that 320 was a better and more meaningful number for Iceland. Because it is 1/1000 part of the population. I take pictures of people of every age and social group, doing all kinds of jobs, living all around the country. I also do small interviews to find out about the person, the place he/she lives in or the country in general, or all that, depending on how much time the subject can spare. The texts come together with the pictures – ideally, the final result should be a book.

“320 Icelanders” does not mean there are 320 pictures – some portraits are double, some triple, sometimes it is a big family together.


First visit to Iceland

I first came to Iceland as an environmental volunteer in summer 2007. I was cleaning the beach and planting trees. From the very beginning, even before I first set my foot in Iceland, I knew that I had some kind of a mission there. I didn’t want to be a tourist who comes for 10 days and leaves forever. As I was pulling ropes and fragments of fishing nets out of the sand in Langenes, I was trying to think of a project to do there as an artist. Because I am an artist, after all. In the breaks between work I was meeting some extraordinary people – farmers, teachers, doctors, fishermen, pilots. They all had amazing stories to tell and this got me close to my concept. I decided to preserve this principle of random meetings with people for the whole project. That’s why I often turn down suggestions to introduce me to some really famous people – if I am to meet them, I have to run into them by chance.

Call it divine providence or whatever, to run into someone really famous – a music star or a high-ranking politician in a supermarket or in a street in downtown Reykjavik is really easy. Also to establish a contact – no one puts on airs there.


{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/ice_07.jpg”,
“alt”: “320 Icelanders: Portrait of Nation in Varvara Lozenko’s Project”,
“text”: “Jón Hólm Hafsteinnenson, 46, works as a docker in the port of Siglufjörđur, downloads fish containers from in-coming ships early in the morning and uploads processed and frozen fish in ice boxes onto huge refrigerator ships in early afternoon. I took this portrait picture of Jón later in the afternoon when his work day was almost over. It was one o’clock, the weather was calm, but frosty. Jón confessed that he doesn’t have a computer or email address. So when this picture was published in a magazine I had to send it with regular snail mail. I hope he liked it. The fish in the photograph was carefully selected by him – it was one of the biggest cods from the morning catch.”
},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/ice_05.jpg”,
“alt”: “320 Icelanders: Portrait of Nation in Varvara Lozenko’s Project”,
“text”: “The boy from the ferry – he was waving as the ferry, Baldur, was coming to shore. I was standing on the pier, and the boy was on the second deck, probably 15 meters from me, and he was smiling and waving his hand. It was apparent he was thinking it was him I was photographing and no one else. The next day I met him again, he was with a girl, most probably a sister. As soon as he saw me he yelled, ‘Myndir! Myndir!’ (‘a picture, a picture’). So I pretended I was taking a picture of him again. On the third day I met the children in the harbor; they were either leaving or seeing someone off. That was when I asked him to pose for me for real. For some reason I decided at one that this would just be ‘The Boy from the Ferry’. The weather was very clear, it was quite cold, but not as cold as on the day before. It was Sunday, July 6th 2014, around 4 p.m.”
},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/ice_08.jpg”,
“alt”: “320 Icelanders: Portrait of Nation in Varvara Lozenko’s Project”,
“text”: “Einar Kristinn Helgason, 22, and Guðlaug Sigriður Gunnarsdóttir, 24, fish factory workers from Heimaey island. We met on Tuesday, June 10, 2014, at something like 7 p.m., in the harbor, they were cycling around, just for fun. Guðlaug said that the fish factory work was just a summer job for her, in fact, she studies pedagogics and would like to work with people with speech disabilities. The weather was very nice the whole day, with bright sunshine, but in the evening it turned a bit grey, with some rain.”
},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/ice_09.jpg”,
“alt”: “320 Icelanders: Portrait of Nation in Varvara Lozenko’s Project”,
“text”: “Elin Andrea Vikse Helgadottir, 20, from Súðavik in the West Fjörds. Elin works at the Arctic Fox museum, the only real employer in that tiny town. It is located in a small one-story house with an attic. Elin is doing all the work there: she is a barman, a waitress, a ticket seller and a guide all in one. In her childhood her dad took her hunting so she knows quite a lot about arctic foxes. While I was taking her picture outside, the wife of the museum director was having a panic attack because the star of the collection, the white fox, was missing from his customary place beside the brown one. It was Friday, June 27, 2014, the weather was calm, almost without wind.”
},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/iceland_07.jpg”,
“alt”: “320 Icelanders: Portrait of Nation in Varvara Lozenko’s Project”,
“text”: “Kristinn Nikulasson, 54, mechanic from Kópavogur, one of Reykjavik’s major suburbs. In summer he spends a lot of time on Flatey island where he has a summerhouse. There is a huge difference between a normal summerhouse and a summerhouse in Flatey island. Usually a summerhouse is something with a light structure, maybe even without serious heating facilities, where you can spend time from June till August. Kristinn’s house is called ‘The House on the Cliff,’ it was built in 1871. And his Fergusson tractor was made in 1958. Kristinn fixed it with his own hands and is very proud of it. We met on Flatey island quite close to his house where he was driving in his tractor. There are no cars in Flatey (for reasons of protecting birds) but almost every serious holidaymaker has a tractor. It was Saturday, June 5, 2014, it was getting close to 4 p.m. The weather was very cold, with a strong wind.”
}

That’s one of the reasons I started working on this series – for me, who comes from a city with a population number close to 20 million, it’s absolutely amazing and unfathomable what life in such a tiny country like Iceland is like. Now, having spent 6 or 7 months in total there, I can say that yes life in a place with no crowds and crowd-generated stress certainly affects people in a very good way. Icelanders are extraordinarily relaxed and easy-going; they never yell at one another, arguments are extremely rare, family scenes or public outbursts of bad temper are close to zero. Also, their positive thinking is remarkable and I have seen many examples of “thought is real” miracles.


Subjects

The principle on which I choose a person to photograph is fairly simple – sometimes it is the good looks of the person, extraordinary physical beauty, sometimes it is the way he or she is dressed (Icelanders are very elegant). There should be something striking to the eye. Sometimes, on the contrary, I pick the most ordinarily looking person in the street, but there is always some kind of connection I feel. Very often, traveling in Iceland, I find myself in places where I can walk for hours and maybe come across one or two people – so of course I would want to photograph them.

The thinner the population density, the more valuable the contact with any human. So yes, if in Reykjavik you can afford to go by looks, in other places you go by different things: human warmth, gratitude for the company of a fellow human, kindness, generosity, selflessness.


{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/ice_12.jpg”,
“alt”: “320 Icelanders: Portrait of Nation in Varvara Lozenko’s Project”,
“text”: “Gudjón V. Magnusson, 28, from Heimaey. He studied engineering and specializes in machinery construction for fish processing. We met on Sunday, June 8th 2014. I was walking in a golf course without being aware how dangerous it can be when someone rudely called after me to get out. So I was trying to get to safety as fast as I could when I saw two or three young Icelanders who were having a smoking break. They were laughing and seemed in a good mood, so I approached them and started a conversation. Gudjón told me he has always lived in Heimaey, was born and raised there, but had never played golf before (Heimaey has one of the best golf courses in Iceland), so his brother and his friends were teaching him. It was around 3 p.m., the weather was very calm, but somewhat overcast.”
},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/ice_10.jpg”,
“alt”: “320 Icelanders: Portrait of Nation in Varvara Lozenko’s Project”,
“text”: “Björn Steinar Blumenstein, 23, student. He studies to be a designer, and would like to specialize in industrial design. At night-time he works as a bartender. He thinks that the feeling of freedom that one virtually inhales in Iceland has to do with the fact that it has no army, no military navy, and there’s very little police around because there’s no need for it. I met Björn on January 18th, 2013, at about noon, in Skólavörðustígur, the central street of Reykjavik. The weather was cloudy and chilly but there was no wind.”},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/ice_11.jpg”,
“alt”: “320 Icelanders: Portrait of Nation in Varvara Lozenko’s Project”,
“text”: “Inga Gottskálksdóttir, 48, and Ragnhildur Gottskálksdóttir, 57, owners of Gotta boutique in Laugurvegur in Reykjavik. All the women in their family take care of the shop – both of the sisters, their mother and Inga’s two daughters. Inga and Ragnhildur’s mother bake cakes especially for that occasion. Everyone who comes to Gotta on that day recieves free coffee and a slice of homemade cake. We met on Thursday, June 5 2014 when I accidentally stepped into their shop because it was raining very hard. It was circa 1:30 p.m.”},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/ice_13.jpg”,
“alt”: “320 Icelanders: Portrait of Nation in Varvara Lozenko’s Project”,
“text”: “Bjarni Sigurjónsson, 62, retired. For 40 years he drove tourist buses around Reykjavik. Now he lives there in winter, and spends summer months on Flatey island, where he has a house, completely refurbished and renovated, but originally built in the 19th century, but has with heating, sewage and running water. I met Bjarni on Friday evening, July 4th 2014, when he dropped by for dinner with my hosts – they were having seal. I took this picture of Brjartni in the harbor of Flatey, with the skull of one of the two horses once eaten on the island. The heads were then put into the sea for two years, afterwards the skulls were taken out and put on display under a ‘Welcome to Flatey!’ billboard. Island humor? I guess so. The weather was sunny and windy. It was after 5 p.m.”
},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/iceland_08.jpg”,
“alt”: “320 Icelanders: Portrait of Nation in Varvara Lozenko’s Project”,
“text”: “Óttar Sigurðsson, 54 (centre), Óddur Hallgrimsson, 54 (left) and Ásgeir Valur Flosason, 34, firemen from Reykjavik. We met at the ice-cream shop in the docks that is only known to the local people, but in spite of that is always full of customers. There is a really huge variety of tastes – maybe 40 or closer to 50 flavors, and it is always crammed with kids and pregnant women with prams. It was a little surprising to see three firemen in the uniform, with enthusiasm for children, walk out and sit down on the the bench to enjoy newly bought cones, heavily loaded with ice-cream.”
}

I am trying to do a group portrait of the Icelandic population, and in a group portrait there can’t be anyone more interesting or more valuable than the other. In a football team photo everyone stands in one line – there are no pedestals or tricks to enhance the importance of one person in respect to the other. Everyone is equal. In this project I am trying to illustrate the same idea, in a real democracy everyone is equal and everyone is a VIP. Regarding the VIP phenomenon, which is so prominent in every other country but not Iceland, I would like to say that it is the only place I know where no one is trying to get famous. Maybe getting famous is really a protective reaction of a human individual that helps one to stand out of the crowd, to prove that one really exists. But in a country with no crowds there is no such need – everyone is a VIP. So if you ask teenagers and young people what whey want to do in life, they say: a doctor, a teacher, a dentist, a kindergarten educator, a driver. And no one wants to be a president or a movie star.

Icelanders are very open to their friends. They share pictures of newborns, and tell everyone about their relationship status; they grieve the death of a loved dog or a cat, and try to help a sick person. They have genuine solidarity with one another, not just verbal, but the matter-of-fact solidarity, readiness to help with money, with a car drive, with equipment and building materials for a house for instance. That’s why, I think, in this country social problems are very few.


Book and plans

The project is ongoing so far I have photographed 200 people. It has taken me four trips over two years. I hope to finish the project in 2015. For me, it is important to portray Icelanders in different seasons, ideally, every month of the calendar year should be present. That way the project is more global, it becomes similar to a medieval “livre-d’heures,” a microcosm.

Like a traveller of the past, I am doing a kind of a travel journal. I am putting down in a notebook not just the name, the age, or etc. of the person I photograph, but the exact date and time, as well as weather conditions on that day and hour, and the coordinates (the name of the place, if a bigger town, the name of the street where we met).


{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/iceland_01.jpg”, “alt”: “320 Icelanders: Portrait of Nation in Varvara Lozenko’s Project”, “text”: “Árni Rúnar Þorvaldsson, 37, Raghildur Einarsdóttir, 37, Guðni Árnadottir, 13, Einar Karl Árnason, 12, Sólborg Árnadóttir, 1. Árni works at the Katla-centre: it is an information center for tourists, and a kind of a natural history museum dedicated to the Katla eruptions epic history. Katla is the name of the volcano next to the Vik volcano. Raghildur, Árni’s wife, is the principal at the local school which is all-in-one: daycare centre, kindergarden, primary and secondary school. Their youngest child name, little Sólborg, literally means ‘the sun city,’ I took their picture on Wednesday, October 16th, at about 3 p.m., in front of the kids’ school and their mother’s workplace. There was a strong wind and it was quite cloudy. Árni is a rather common name in Iceland. It means ‘eagle.’”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/iceland_02.jpg”, “alt”: “320 Icelanders: Portrait of Nation in Varvara Lozenko’s Project”, “text”: “Anna Ólöf Jansdóttir, 15, and Aron Fannar Sigurgeirsson, 16, schoolchildren from Reykjavik. We met on Friday, June 5th 2014, when I was walking past the Art museum (Lístasafn). Some people, including Anna and Aron were exiting at that very moment. The young couple looked like they had just married, but in fact they were coming out of an exhibition opening. It was apparent that they are very much in love. ‘Maybe you are just too young to be married?’, I asked as if for no reason. ‘Yes, a bit too young,’ one of the moms, very festively dressed, pointed out. The weather was very warm and sunny on that day, the museum was just about to close, as it was nearly 5 p.m. All the museums in Iceland are open till that time. “},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/iceland_03.jpg”, “alt”: “320 Icelanders: Portrait of Nation in Varvara Lozenko’s Project”, “text”: “Gudbjorg Sigurdasdóttir, 30, Helgi Hrafn Sigurdarson, 2.5, Embla Guðni Jónsdóttir, 8, Egil Arni Jónsson, 2.5, Jón Gunnar Gunnarsson, 35, Sigurdus Gudjón Jónsson, 33, Kristin Sigurdasdóttir, 30, Gudjón Arni Sígurdarson, 4.5. It’s a picture of two twin sisters, their husbands and kids. I took their picture in a cafe at the gas-station in Heimaey island. It was Sunday, June 8th 2014, 5 p.m, the weather was calm, it was cloudy, but with no rain.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/iceland_04.jpg”, “alt”: “320 Icelanders: Portrait of Nation in Varvara Lozenko’s Project”, “text”: “Esther Friðriksdóttir, 19, Valgerður Anna Ólafsdóttir, 19, Iris Friðriksdóttir, 17, from Reykjavik. We met on Wednesday, June 4th 2014, at around 3 p.m. I was walking in the docks, in the Retro cafe area, when suddenly I saw three young girls who were roller-blading on one of the piers. A pier is usually a pier – made of wooden boards – hence not the most conventional surface for rollers, but that’s what those three were doing. They explained that they had invented this sport about two years ago – synchronized roller blading – and have been practicing it ever since. The weather was very warm and sunny, without wind. “},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/iceland_05.jpg”, “alt”: “320 Icelanders: Portrait of Nation in Varvara Lozenko’s Project”, “text”: “Jóhann Haraldson, 23, studies Maths at the University of Iceland. He would like to do software engineering in the future, and has been practicing sports for a long time, tries to train regularly, at least 2 or 3 times a week. Gymnastics is his favorite. We met when I was walking past the sports ground close to the geothermal beach in Reykjavik. He had just started his workout and was hanging from a horizontal bar. It was Saturday, June 6th 2014, close to 6 p.m. The weather was sunny, almost without wind. “}

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