Discovering the Healing Power of Photography in Iceland

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Borgarnes, Iceland. 8AM. Third day of the new year. It’s pitch black and it will be that way for at least another 3 hours. Awake and numb at the same time, I stumble across the room, in the old Icelandic house where I have been staying, trying to reach any light source and knocking things over in the process.

Words and Photography by Chiara Zonca

As I move by the window, curious to see how the landscape will greet me, I only see darkness. Wind howls ferociously in the background. The last thing I want to do is step outside, into this unwelcoming dark void. I had been feeling quite low this holiday season, “feelings” had certainly been worsened by lack of sunlight and too much time on my hands.

Shot with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III, a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens and a Gobe 3 peak UV filter.

“Darkness seems to hold on to the landscape here, hugging it almost, not wanting to let go of the familiar.”

It’s tempting to stay in, be lazy and warm, sleep some more and allow myself to be sad. But that melancholic train of thought I know all too well is more off-putting than the unforgiving Icelandic weather. With this in mind I swiftly pull myself together, get some layers on and open the front door. Snowflakes dance around me and race to get inside, leaving an odd burning sensation on my skin. It feels great to “feel,” I catch myself thinking.

As I get in the car and the black velvety road starts running beneath me, I feel unexpectedly anxious. Pitch black darkness and slippery Icelandic roads are not a good combo. But light appears eventually. It starts with a faded blue hue – my favourite colour. Darkness seems to hold on to the landscape here, hugging it almost, not wanting to let go of the familiar. My vision is still blurred as it is still too dark to see details clearly but that only adds to the dreaminess.

“I start taking pictures, yearning to capture some of my feelings trapped in these shades of icy blue.”

This idea of seeing and not seeing something makes me hope I can sneak in some of myself in the landscape sometimes. I start taking pictures, yearning to capture some of my feelings trapped in these shades of icy blue. 

As the light finally turns into a muted grey I feel as if a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders. Being let out of a cage is an accurate description. Freedom comes in many forms and witnessing the first few hours of light in a never-ending night is definitely one of them.

Shot with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III and a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens.Shot with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III and a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens.

My plan for the day is to be as free and creative as I can. Letting only my instincts dictate where to turn and documenting everything in the process. I eventually decide to stop by a beach and take a walk, silently appreciating how nature is usually a huge help in making my issues feel completely and utterly insignificant in comparison. 

Deep down I feel guilty for my own thoughts. They are self-centred, irrational and tend to spin faster than those erratic snowflakes. Photography on the other hand seems to ground me, forcing me to be present and observant. The mind needs clarity to observe, and when I am in a creative process, it feels like fog dissipating over a beautiful landscape. I see everything, including myself, more clearly.

I take a snap or two, wondering if I can capture the various layers of thoughts I have been projecting onto this landscape until now. Perhaps some of them bounce back through the lens and get forever exposed into the frame for everyone to see. Only time will tell.

Shot with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III, a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens and a Gobe 3 peak UV filter.

“To acknowledge these thoughts creatively feels like my way of dealing with them, to embrace them even, as part of who I am.”

Shot with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III, a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens and a Gobe 3 peak UV filter. Shot with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III, a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens and a Gobe 3 peak UV filter.

It is 3PM and already darkness is reclaiming this space. The day of exploration is almost over. In the distance, through a thick layer of falling snow, I notice something. Pale glowing sparkles of Christmas past are pulsating under the fading daylight, in a deserted town or so it seems. As I get closer, I start getting glimpses of life. Every now and then a lone figure would appear, rushing from their car to the local grocery store to get supplies. 

I get back inside the car, play some music and take another good look at my favourite shade of blue coming back to hug this snowy lunar landscape. On the journey back home I think of photography and how it has helped me through all these years, giving me a purpose and a passion. I am lucky as hell for that.

“What a gift to be alive and feeling everything.”

Shot with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III, a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens and a Gobe 3 peak UV filter.

I can feel the melancholy and bad thoughts dancing around me, sometimes I am in control, sometimes I am not. But to acknowledge these thoughts creatively feels like my way of dealing with them, to embrace them even, as part of who I am. This mindset is surprisingly empowering. What a gift to be alive and feeling everything.

Instead of being constantly subjected to my own mood swings, I learned to channel them into something positive and heartfelt. With time, I hope my photos will be able to speak of all these emotions of the past years as if they were a personal diary. This chapter in Iceland is closing for now, another one will open soon and I cannot wait to keep telling this story through my photographs. Thanks for reading.

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Chiara Zonca

Chiara Zonca is an artist currently living in Western Canada. Her mystical aesthetic evokes dreamy landscapes that seem to exist beyond time and place. Otherworldly colours and brilliant framing in Chiara’s work implores you to slow down and meditate on the beauty of our natural world. Chiara shoots with Gobe lens filters.