Land of Fire and Ice

The photograph you see here (above) may be the best photo that I’ve ever made. At the very least, it’s the only one to have won first prize in a major international photo competition. People have even asked me if the image has been digitally manipulated – but it hasn’t.

What you’re seeing is a place in Iceland called the Blue Lagoon. I’ve been there twice, both times in 1995. It’s located not too far from Keflavik airport, on the Reykjanes peninsula. It’s also right next to the Svartsengi geothermal power plant – and it wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t. Iceland is a volcanic place, and the power plant works by processing hot water from underground, which is then poured out next to it. Coming from underground, the water has a high mineral content. Those minerals seal off the pores in the lava that compose the peninsula and the water pools rather than being absorbed immediately.

The Blue Lagoon has become a popular place to take a dip as the water is warm (even hot in places) and as the minerals in it are said to be good for treating people with skin conditions. Photographically, of course, it’s provides a great juxtaposition between people at leisure and heavy industry.

My first visit there was in May 1995 on a five day trip to Iceland. I had recently purchased my Pentax 67 system and wanted to give it a short tryout before taking a longer trip to Europe in the summer. The second visit was that very summer, as I flew to (or from?) Copenhagen on Icelandair and made a short trip there during the stopover at Keflavik. I was shooting color transparency film back then as I was more interested in doing stock photography. (I’ll write more about that another time.) As my filing system was still very rudimentary, I don’t know if these photos here were made on the first or second trip – or a combination of both!

As for the photo competition, I had attended some workshops in Santa Fe in 1997 and so was put on their mailing list. One of the items I received was for the 1998 Assignment: Earth photo competition, sponsored by the Santa Fe Center for Visual Arts and open to photographers worldwide. I basically thought to myself “Why the heck not?” and sent in three color 8×10’s of Scandinavia. It was something I did very casually, with no expectation of any success. What a surprise then to get a phone call from Santa Fe telling me that the Blue Lagoon photo I submitted had won First Prize in the Color/Amateur category (by unanimous decision of all three jurors, no less!).

Naturally, my head probably doubled in size from hearing this, but there were also some prizes to go with it: 40 rolls of Kodak slide film and, essentially, free tuition to a workshop at Santa Fe. I had been planning to go back to Santa Fe in the summer of 1998 to study with Elizabeth Opalenik and could have used the prize to cover that workshop. However, Joyce Tenneson was scheduled to be at Santa Fe the following week, so I ended up taking that one, too. Both workshops dealt with nude figure photography, so I think I gained a lot by being able to stay for both.

As for the photo itself, a number of people have asked me if it was digitally manipulated, but (as I’ve said above) it wasn’t. I think photography is in a pretty sad state, to be honest with you, when someone creates an image with some vision and it’s then assumed to have been doctored up somehow with digital trickery. I guess these people may think that creative vision is something done only sitting in front of a computer monitor rather than looking into a viewfinder, which is where I think it should be.

The Blue Lagoon is a fascinating place and has been photographed many times by many people. However, I still believe that my award winning photo is the best that I’ve seen of it (though I do admit to a certain bias!).

About Dave Rudin

Dave Rudin is a fine art photographer based in Brooklyn, New York. He specializes in art nude and travel photography, using black & white film and making silver gelatin prints in a darkroom.
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One Response to Land of Fire and Ice

  1. Mandy says:

    Dave,These are incredible! What a beautiful place and I love the industrial mixed with the people and the water sort of a heaven and hell image..wonderful work!

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