When you look at the cover of Sigurgeir Sigurjónsson’s 2009 photography book, The Little Big Book about Iceland, it feels as if the book is looking back at you.
It’s the strangest sensation. If feels as if you’re looking into the icy blue and all-seeing, all-knowing eye of a prehistoric creature that has awoken from its sleep but remains calm and cool—and into the very depths of Iceland.
Turn the book around and another eye is staring at you from the back page, only this one is flaming red, angry, flaring—on fire. Iceland, the land of contrasts, red, blue, fire and ice. It’s a cliché that has been repeated too often yet is so true.
I wonder if this is the effect the photographer, famous for his popular books Lost in Iceland and Found in Iceland among others, aimed to achieve with his choice of photographs for the front and back cover or if I’m reading too much into it.
They are really just aerial photographs a volcanic crater lake and what at first glance appears to be an erupting volcano, but is probably just red clay.
Where they were taken exactly I wish I could tell you with absolute certainty, but I can’t. This book namely has a huge flaw—captions with place names are missing.
Perhaps it was decided to leave them out due to lack of space; the book really is small, 9×9 centimeters. Or perhaps captions are lacking for pure artistic reasons and to add a layer of mystery. I get that. But even if it is a work of art, people will want to visit the places portrayed in it.
However, concerns that the photographs cannot be fully enjoyed because of the book’s petite size can be put aside. This format works perfectly, with primarily panoramic photographs covering each spread. Plus, it’s handy. A miniature dream.
The photographs are quite diverse. They’re shots of landscapes and natural phenomena, mostly, which, by definition, are diverse when it comes to Iceland.
But the book also features towns and villages, natives and tourists, animals, traditions and even history: there are some photographs of the volcanic eruption in the Westman Islands in 1973. Overall, it’s a good overview and a good representation of Icelandic nature and culture.
However, the chapters are a bit disorganized. There are chapters for each region, north, south, east, west, the West Fjords and the interior—which is fine—but they are given unequal weight with a different number of photographs in each chapter.
Maybe I’m being overly obsessive and organized, but I would have wanted to represent each region equally. Purely for reasons of symmetry, if nothing else.
The subchapters also seem a bit random, the Golden Circle, the Westman Islands, Vatnajökull National Park…. I get the feeling that the photographs in this book—despite being good—are the leftovers, so to speak. Photographs from Sigurjónsson’s collection that didn’t end up in any other book.
That said, all of these photographs are admirable in their own right. Being small and light, The Little Big Book is a clever gift idea, a little slice of Iceland. It’s not even a trailer, but a teaser, announcing a soon-to-be premiered blockbuster.
The premiere, of course, is when you travel to Iceland one day and look at all of these places with your own eyes (although you might encounter some difficulties locating them).
Until then, you can use this book to dream about Iceland and travel there in your mind—experience the country through the eyes of the lens and eyes of Iceland.
The Little Big Book about Iceland by Sigurgeir Sigurjónsson, published by Forlagid in 2009, can be ordered on the publisher’s website, forlagid.is.
Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir