When I first heard of the photographic book Legend by Fiann Paul, portraying people dressed in Viking-style in Icelandic landscapes, I imagined it would depict scenes from Norse mythology.
I envisioned the race between Ódinn and the giant Hrungnir on their horses Sleipnir and Gullfaxi, Thór in battle with a group of giants amidst flashes of lightning as he strikes his hammer Mjölnir, the goddess Nanna dying from grief after losing her husband Baldur, a ship with their bodies being set aflame, and the giant Thjasi snatching Idunn, the goddess of youth, disguised as an eagle.
Perhaps difficult to portray in a photograph, but there is certainly enough material and with a little magic à la Annie Leibovitz—and enough funding—surely not impossible. At any rate, the idea got me excited.
However, I soon realized that Legend is a different kind of book. It is perhaps based on Norse mythology and Viking legends to some extent, although the photographer, who also plays the role of “The Seeker” in the pictures, says he was inspired by Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha and Mel Gibson’s Braveheart.
The idea is to tell a story of how “The Seeker” finds “The Legend” and is supposed to make the reader identify him or herself with the archetype of the hero and his or her dream and goal with the personification of the legend. “Maybe your own legend calls out to you through this image,” Paul writes.
The book is divided into 33 chapters, each of which contains a photograph and a short text on how “The Seeker” comes closer to finding “The Legend,” beginning with the birth of both.
There are some cool photographs, like the one of a child in a (Norwegian) forest in Chapter 7. It is beautifully framed by the trees and the horn the child is holding, the color green is warm and inviting and the child has a dreamy look in its eyes.
I also like the photograph in Chapter 1 of a woman in a pool. She swings her head backwards so that drops of water fall out of her long hair forming a half circle. They look like crystals in the gleaming sunlight.
However, most of the photographs strike me as unconvincing stereotypical images of people from the Viking era.
The models are just too pretty and shiny to look like they’re up for a fight. Sort of like the Desperate Housewives dressed up as Valkyries.
If someone would as much as growl at them they would throw away their swords and shields and run as fast as their skinny legs could carry them.
It’s like the models in the book are posing for Tyra Banks on America’s Next Top Model as the “Scandinavian-Icelander” (whatever that is), only she would criticize them for not looking sincere.
Like in Chapter 14 where the woman is inside an ice cave and is supposed to look scared or cold but only appears to be attempting a sexy pout (perhaps thinking of Teri Hatcher).
And, although the surroundings are beautiful, there is something about the lighting and color processing that make the landscapes (all of the photographs but two were taken in Iceland) murky and dull.
Like the aforementioned ice cave, which should be a striking blue, but is instead reflected in a boring gray color.
The text which accompanies the photographs might be encouraging to some people but it gives me nothing.
For example, Chapter 14 reads: “Occasionally you forget about Your Legend, separating from Her for a long time. Lack of fire for your vision and your life takes away the heat and then the world turns into cold ice that surrounds Her. Even during this interlude, Her gentleness and confidence are inspiring.”
To me, this reads like a wishy-washy self-help book and I would have preferred a real story. The interplay between the text and photographs doesn’t really work and the outcome is a little silly.
Which is a shame. This book has great potential. It isn’t all bad but with some adjustments, a rougher and more colorful look and more convincing acting, it would have been so much better.
Legend was published in Icelandic and English by Salka, Reykjavík 2009. The book is available in the publisher’s webstore.
Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir