Caught by the River

Iceland, January 2016

Mat Bingham | 18th February 2016

Photographer Mat Bingham trains his lens on the wildlife and landscapes of Iceland

Photo 1

A passenger we bumped into on arrival at Keflavík International Airport told us the weather forecast was for rain all week. Thanks for that we thought! We had a four wheel drive with enough room for the two of us to sleep in the back, no fixed destination, just some ideas of places we wanted to visit on a map. We decided this piece of unwelcome news wouldn’t dampen our spirits or kerb our enthusiasm.

Three days later and we were trying to remain upright on a fishing boat. I was focused on hanging on to my camera and my lunch. The wind was whipping up white horses as we crossed the bay thirty miles from the arctic-circle. The boat was rolling around in the swell as I tried to keep my eyes focused on the horizon and then I saw it, about fifty meters away: a humpback whale surfacing. In my excitement I machine gunned the camera and almost lost my footing on the slippery deck. An hour later and I felt much more in tune with the humpback whale’s behaviour – he would surface and breathe three or four times before making a feeding dive. Rolling and descending into the deep, his tail flukes would be the last part of his body to slide below the surface. A ring of calm water would appear directly above where the whale had dived, the only evidence he had been there.

Photo 2

After several hours driving the next day we arrived at a volcanic lake called Mývatn. The landscape was awe-inspiring, with steam billowing from the bowels of the earth and clouds hanging over the top of snow-capped volcanoes. We had seen quite a few Icelandic horses as we drove north eastwards across the island and I had been looking to photograph one in the context of the landscape it lived in. I could see the photograph I had in my mind’s eye revealing itself in front as we drove along the causeway above an old lava field. I asked Hannah to gradually slow the 4 wheel drive down and come to a stop.

Opening the passenger door slowly I slid down the bank at the side of the road into the long grass. I sat still trying not to spook the chestnut coloured mare, but fortunately she was distracted, busy grazing. The click of the shutter betrayed my presence; she raised her head and started to move towards me, probably as curious about me as I was about her. I took several photographs of her, framing the shots as low as I could in order to blur the foreground grass with the snow-capped volcano dominating the background. Focused on the chestnut mare the familiar sound of honking whooper swans caught my attention as they grazed in the long grass near me. Hannah quietly sat down next to me and we stayed a while at the roadside watching the horse and listening to the whooper swans.

Photo 3

As we left Mývatn we descended into a sweeping vista of open plains and mountains. There were storm clouds on the horizon and the light was continually changing from one moment to the next, dancing across the landscape. I had to stop, get out of the car, and take in the scene laid out before me. Finally I took the picture.

In the photograph, the road dominates the foreground with the drying asphalt wheel tracks leading into the scene towards the mountains. Above the mountains, a storm is moving swiftly inland, threatening rain. When I think back, I still can’t quite believe the view we had that day driving through the expansive lava fields, with fissures in the rock belching sulphurous clouds of smoke framed by snow-capped peaks.

Photo 4

Leaving the north east of the island we headed inland through a mountain pass before finally descending to the coast. We immediately felt the buffering of the winds blowing in from the Atlantic. As we drove along the winding coast road heading east, the icecap became visible. It was incredible; it looked like it was creating its own microclimate with a storm overhead.

Photo 5

We were at the end of our trip to Iceland. We stopped at the toe of a glacier, there was a secret lake with icebergs, the rumbling and cracking sounds deep from within betraying the imperceptible movement of the glacier ever onwards towards the sea.

Photo 6

Mat Bingham on Caught by the River