Iceland 360° – The Top Ten Places is a bilingual, Icelandic-English, photo book by Vilhelm Gunnarsson who has worked as a photographer at the daily newspaper Fréttabladid since 2003.
Gunnarsson has been awarded for his press photography and his pictures have been published widely in the foreign media. This is his second photo book. The first, published in 2010, features the volcanic eruption in Eyjafjallajökull.
His photos from the 2011 Grímsvötn eruption are equally stunning, most notably the one of farmers herding sheep in the ash-stricken rural region near Kirkjubaejarklaustur published on p. 20-21 in the current issue of Iceland Review.
This book features more peaceful scenery; the photographer invites us to share his view of his ten most favorite places in Iceland.
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” the foreword says and that’s very true. I won’t dispute the beauty of the places selected for this book but I don’t find them particularly original.
The book might just as well be called: “The Ten Most Visited Places” because it includes the country’s most frequented tourist hot spots, such as the Golden Circle, Landmannalaugar, Jökulsárlón and Mývatn.
That being said, there is a reason for these places being so popular among tourists. The lava formations and clear waters of Thingvellir in striking autumn colors look like a painting of a fantasy world and even more so the colorful hills of Landmannalaugar.
One may never tire looking at pictures from these areas but it still feels like you’ve seen them a million times before, that is if you’re an Icelander, a regular visitor to the country and/or have browsed through many photo books of its landscapes.
Therefore I applaud new perspectives and motives, such as a cow and foal kissing on a field of buttercups in the Golden Circle chapter (I seem to remember having bought this photo as a postcard once) and a lone black horse against the yellow, red, blue and green backdrop of Landmannalaugar.
I also find the picture of pink flowers in the green moss of Thórsmörk particularly beautiful, as well as the one of the adorable baby foxes playing in the same chapter and the redpoll tweeting on a branch in the Skaftafell chapter.
The glacial lagoon Jökulsárlón may be one of the most photographed locations in Iceland but the melting icebergs constantly form new sculptures. Gunnarsson’s photo of a piercing blue iceberg with a hole in it and a flock of Arctic terns hovering above truly captures one’s attention.
Not all of the chapters are “clichés”. I was pleased to find Borgarfjördur eystri in the East Fjords covered, where reindeer curiously sniff at the photographer in a snowy landscape. In fact, all of Iceland’s regions are covered except for the West Fjords, which I miss.
Each chapter opens with a description of the location at hand and is a bit heavy on the adjectives, in my opinion. I would have preferred more historical and geographical facts over sometimes pretentious descriptions of what it feels like being in the places featured.
For example: “Mist droplets bead upon our faces and it is impossible to see how far the water travels into the canyon. It is an extraordinary sensation to stand on the edge of the cliff and feel it tremble from the force of the waterfall,” it says on Gullfoss.
Pictures say more than a thousand words, they say, and I agree. Besides, just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, everyone has a different experience of Icelandic nature—sometimes it cannot even be put into words.
The photographs alone are enough to encourage people to travel to these places. Which is why I would also have wished there were a few more photographs of places off the beaten track. Icelandic nature is best experienced in solitude.
What also bothered me about this book is that there is no table of contents and no page numbers. And the English version could have been proofread a little more closely.
Other than that, the pictures are certainly beautiful—my favorites are the ones including flora and fauna—and perfect for someone who has never been to Iceland and has never looked at a “best of” photo book from the country before.
Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir