To wander through the Icelandic terrain is to engage with the sublime. Water rushes over falls, it freezes, melts, and calves. Steam vents smolder, volcanoes erupt. The land is alive and seething. Travelers visit to feel compelled by the awe of nature; as they move through these spaces, they encounter a scale that is immense and magnificent. The lungs and heart expand to take it all in.
In the more remote regions of the island’s Highland interior, however, industry has begun to take the land apart. I was able to witness the initial period of construction of the infamous Kárahnjúkar hydropower plant and the associated dams, reservoirs, and underground tunnels, built to power Alcoa’s aluminum smelting plants in the northeast.
The creation of this massive complex at Kárahnjúkar – on the edge of the Vatnajökull National Park, in the largest high desert wilderness in Europe – became a pivotal moment in Iceland’s growing backlash against environmental destruction. Protesters chained themselves to construction machinery and formed a human chain to block access to the site. Despite local and international controversy, ultimately the project was completed.
The conflict was due both to the scale of the Kárahnjúkar project in a previously pristine landscape and because it was rightly viewed as part of a wider push for enormous investments in hydroelectricity for the benefit of aluminum multinationals such as Alcoa at very high environmental cost.
In this series of photographs, I formed a prismatic view of this island nation – the public spaces of idealized nature, where visitors have experiences of the transcendent – and the remote, inaccessible zones where industry dismantles the land and converts it to raw energy.
This body of work, Prismatic Realm, will be available Summer 2023.