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Michele Clement: Stranger in a Strange Land

Words and photographs by Michele Clement.

Green and mossy, black and white, shades of foggy grays, soft-hard, flat and mountainous, just begins to describe the landscape of Iceland. Hot lava beds are a mere 640 feet below the surface. Steamy sulphur streams and free range geysers pepper the landscape. There are no natural trees in Iceland so horizons are clearly seen, calling more attention to the unique stark quality of the natural rock and lava formations.

One immense flat field of matt black lava powder held large rocks and boulders randomly placed and with great distances between them, as though the Gods had long ago abandoned a game of marbles. Waterfalls are abundant year round. Iceland’s cold tap water is glacier water while the hot is pumped out of the ground from natural hot sulphur springs. A morning shower brings back memories of sepia toning in a warm, dark place.

All of that was part of my experience in Iceland recently when the Advertising Photographers of Iceland invited me speak and show my work  at their 80th anniversary celebration weekend seminar. I jumped at the chance. Who wouldn’t enjoy such a change of scenery with the perfect excuse that it’s business related; tickets and hotel paid in exchange for my time.

With rather short notice I had to review my new work and create a fresh presentation. I hadn’t given a lecture in a few years, my work had grown and changed in many ways. They wanted an over view concerned primarily with advertising work. I was happy to oblige, explaining that I would mix my personal work into the lecture where appropriate because I cannot really separate the two. Each feeds the other in ways that create a style and approach that is unique to an artists final portfolio.

Emails flew back and forth in rapid succession to several members of the organization, as yet faceless with unpronounceable names. The quality and flavor of their varied English brought a smile to my lips more than once. There were interviews to schedule with local newspaper and television stations once I arrived.

*The first time I sat through a conversation held in the Icelandic tongue I was fascinated. Although there seems to be an overall Nordic cadence to the language, at times there is a Russian or  German flavor. I’m used to hearing and speaking Spanish here in California and can pull the basic meanings from Italian and French, but there I was truly at a loss. Fortunately everyone speaks English, which is taught in school along with Danish.

The trip lasted 6 days from take off to return. S.F./Minneapolis./Reykjavik – Reykjavik/Montreal/S.F. Upon my arrival at 8 a.m., Christophe, the person responsible for my being there, was standing outside customs with my name emblazoned on a large card. We waited until Christopher Morris , the documentary photographer, and his wife, Vezda, arrived from N.Y. Tired and in much need of sleep, we piled into a van headed for pre-scheduled  interviews with the newspaper reporter writing an article about the event. So off we went to a funky bar/café that reminded me of North Beach in San Francisco. After two strong cups of coffee and a big breakfast of eggs and bacon, we took turns being interviewed. The writer was a photographer himself, taking many of the photos published with his articles. He enjoyed talking about photography and knew his subject well, which made the time go quickly.

After a few hours rest, we met for dinner. It was late and the sky was full of light. I was in the land of endless day, at least  for this time of year. The sun never really sets, but dips below the horizon creating a dawn-like quality for a couple of hours, then brightens to full strength again. I can only imagine the reverse during their winter when it is dark for most of the 24 hours. This time of year people come out late to congregate in  the bars and restaurants. Many locals exist on little sleep during this season. Bars are opened until 5 a.m. and stores open late in the morning.

Saturday was the main lecture day for professionals, and Sunday was for any amateurs interested in the event. Three photographers, 1 1/2 hours each. And such different work. One woman, from Norway, a third generation portrait photographer. She works at her family’s studio and does mostly wedding portraits. Her images of brides were so refreshing and full of life. Some ads that she had done contained energetic portraits with the subjects participating gladly, as was evident from their expressions and body language. This charming young woman stumbled a bit with her English, but her work was confident and disarming.

Christopher Morris is a documentary photographer from the United States. He has been to many wars and back, currently one of four photographers that cover Bush at the White House, one month on and three off. His presentation was not only fascinating in it’s subject matter, but to hear how his life is scheduled by assignments all over the world, many situations being life threatening, was a sobering experience on many levels.

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MANHATTMAN is hosted by Norman Maslov, whose Agence Internationale, represents a small group of wonderful photographers. This blog showcases images from these artists along with scribes about music, films, food, gin martinis and hats. Pontifications from a native San Franciscan and his extended family and friends. So it goes.

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