Martin Bruno Takes Iceland

Paris based, half-Dane Martin Bruno photographed the hauntingly beautiful people and landscape of Iceland, his work published into the acclaimed photography series Portraits de Villes. Wolf spoke with Bruno in Paris about his time in Iceland and the essence of the Icelandic spirit. 

Bruno says:

In the Portraits de Villes: Reykjavik book you have a lot of purity. The air is very dry and clear. The architecture is very unique. You could be in Siberia but at the same time you could be in a suburb of London.

I was always aware of Icelandic mythology and Scandinavian mythology. When you’re in Iceland you can feel it. You have the Northern Lights and all the volcanic systems. You could be on another planet. I went to Iceland around 20 times between 2001 and 2012.

Icelanders all want to show you the spirit of the country. At the time I was there, Icelandic Music was really developing; Björk and Sigur Rós were becoming really big. I wanted to see all the concerts and was immersed with so many different people. I found that in a way, all Icelanders are artists. They finish school and they play guitar, they draw.

Iceland today is even better than it was 10 years ago. With the economic crisis people have become more aware and more responsible. They want to party all the time, they think maybe this is the last year that I can be as free as I am. They have less money so they use what they’ve got. They are very practical; if they’ve got a skill, if they can play music or take pictures, they use that.

The youngsters have people around them to tell them how life was 30-40 years ago and it keeps them humble. Maybe a certain lifestyle will skip a generation. After all, their grandparents wouldn’t have change cars every other year.

Icelanders love their country. Even if they go abroad they always say they want to come back to their country. It’s the main thing I heard from the oldest and the youngest.

They all have this feeling that the elves really exit.

Living outside in the nature is very important, even if it’s cold.

It’s important to have your own private World. Icelanders have a strong conscious of the group. You have your group of friends but you keep your secrets close. It’s a small country; there are not a lot of people so you have to keep your personal life close.

Iceland is known for their sagas and their great writers.

In feudal times landlords in Denmark and Norway would send younger sons to Iceland to find settlements in new land. The Danes have a deep respect for Iceland, it has such a difficult landscape, there is no forest, and they have to do everything by hand and with the Icelandic horses.

When you’re there, there is no time dimension. You can really feel the past on the land you walk and that’s what interests me.

Showing friends it was like Voyage de la Centre de la Terre, they’d say well is it really that different and I’d show them the photographs and they’d say oh yeah! I love travelling but for me I didn’t have to stay in Reykjavik for a year, I mean I could have stayed there for at least 2-3 years! However at the time I was photographing I had a young daughter so it made it difficult to leave France.

I found that artistically there was not enough support in Reykjavik to sustain yourself. You go there for 20 days to shoot, then back to France to edit the image, sell in France and England and then return later to Iceland with a fresh idea. Icelanders need you to come with fresh ideas; they don’t need you to be there all the time (Laughs).

Words: Laura Phillips