I’ve been wanting to travel to Iceland for years. To me, the most alluring aspect of the country is its landscape: stunning waterfalls, stretches of volcanic rock and views of the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans around every corner. After seeing UK photographer Ben Mostyn’s photos of Reykjavík, shot for a Wall Street Journal travel feature, the remote, Nordic country seems even more enticing—but instead of the scenery, it’s the country’s culture that intrigues me now.
I caught up with Ben to chat about his trip and the process of capturing the unique, interesting personality of Reykjavík. Read more below!
How does this project fit into your style? How did you get involved with this?
I’ve worked with the WSJ before on some travel assignments—they’ve been a great client and very helpful with the process of creating each feature. Due to the nature of tight scheduling, it was pretty last minute, but with the assistance of picture editor Ryan Mesina, I was able to pull together a timetable to shoot each location in the three days spent in Iceland. The WSJ flew me to Reykjavik, and I also brought my intern who is on a work experience exchange from Munich Art College. Hopefully it was something interesting to add to her resume! Stylistically, Iceland was a perfect match for my aesthetic, which is based on muted colours and a natural, uncontrived character—something the landscape and design ethic of the country has in spades. Travel assignments are always a challenge as you’re often shooting a mix of subjects, and it’s great to be able to show a range of disciplines within one project.
Were there any challenges involved with this project? If so, how did you overcome them?
The people I met in Iceland made everything about as easy as it could have been, I encountered nothing but genuine kindness, which was very appreciated. Thankfully everyone there speaks perfect English, which was a huge bonus. I shot a travel assignment in Italy once, and I had to communicate through the Google Translate app on my phone most of the time—to be honest it was pretty embarrassing, and made me put more effort into learning some basics, which the locals always appreciate. There’s also the usual issues of finding your way around a new place, driving a stick shift on the ‘wrong’ side of the road without crashing, and so on. It’s amazing how quickly these things become normal though. The weather was incredibly changeable, but thankfully most of the locations were indoors—this in itself had its own challenges, as I prefer to shoot in a more relaxed way as opposed to lining everything up on a tripod or lighting a room for example. The low light in many situations had a great quality however, and seemed to work with the style of many of the locations.
What was involved in planning/preproduction?
The run up to the assignment had a lot going on—this time of year is typically busy, so I had to move around other jobs, finish off existing shoots, and organise all the travel and logistics at the same time. I was relieved to get on the plane and have it all done. Between Ryan and I, all the locations were contacted ahead of time to make sure they were available to shoot. The brief for the assignment was fairly straightforward, and the country lends itself so well to photography that I wasn’t concerned about getting some interesting material. I also did some research about the destination before leaving, as I knew little about the place I was going to. This can definitely be helpful, as little bits of information you pick up often come in handy later down the line.
What has the reaction to the images been so far?
The reaction to the images has been positive. The client is happy, so I’m happy. As a result, the WSJ asked me to shoot another travel feature in Amsterdam a few weeks after this one, but unfortunately I couldn’t do it as I had too many assignments already booked. It’s a nice problem to have though, and I try to quash any frustrations by reminding myself how lucky I am to be given the opportunity to do such interesting work.
Did you learn anything through the creation of this series?
The main thing I took away from this project was that I want to go back—Iceland is a unique place, and has so much to offer if you’re willing to look around. The people are incredibly stylish, the landscape and the food is incredible and the creative community is bursting with talent. I would love to photograph a personal project there, because in three days, you can only really scratch the surface, and there wasn’t time to shoot outside of the brief. The experience of working on travel assignments also helps fine-tune the process, hopefully making it simpler for the next time.
Check out more of Ben’s work on his website, ctypemedia.co.uk.