People & Place

Exploring traces of mankind’s curiosity in Iceland’s river deltas

“My study of landscapes in photography directly relates to the personal connection I have with nature. It is because of this strong captivation that I have a desire to investigate the relationship between humans and the environment.” In her new Mineral Matter series, New York-based photographer Brooke Holm explores Iceland’s river deltas from above.

In her new photographic series Mineral Matter, Brooke Holm explores the interplay between Iceland’s dynamic river deltas and traces of mankind’s curiosity. Volcanic ash, sediment and colorful minerals are collected and moved by the travels of glacier water while recent human relics such as vehicle tracks and footsteps weave in and out of frame. In this terribly beautiful yet forbidding landscape where the forces of nature are profound, the limits of humanity’s dominion over the environment are brought into question.

My study of landscapes in photography directly relates to the personal connection I have with nature. It is because of this strong captivation that I have a desire to investigate the relationship between humans and the environment. I’m interested in how we alter and change each other, whether the outcomes are good or bad, and to what extent humans have control over the earth and visa versa.

There is a tension and a bond between the two of us. A power struggle and harmony. In some places, humans have altered the environment so drastically that it serves a new purpose and the cosmetic changes render it unrecognizable. For example, in my ‘Salt & Sky’ series, the creation of salt mines has not only changed the appearance of the earth, but has altered the environment in our favor to harvest salt. The perfectly straight lines and linear compositions depict a man-made surface that has been controlled entirely by humans. In my new series ‘Mineral Matter’, it is the opposite.

Iceland is an ominous landscape harboring over 130 volcanoes (30 of which are active) so trying to control nature in such a place is an interesting, perhaps laughable, concept. Visually, the patterns, shapes and lines within the photographs are organic and flowing. The minerals and colors intertwine and create different formations while human tracks dance around the edges, curious and playful. Structurally, the powerful flow of the water draws the line as to where we can safely go or reside.

My journey to Iceland was a long time coming. I knew that the landscape was particular due to the intense volcanoes, rivers, geothermal areas, mountains and glaciers and that it was visually very diverse. It is so far the most varied looking landscape in one country I have seen and I was utterly captivated. Through my research, before l left for Iceland, I knew I wanted to capture the river deltas. The sheer enormity and power of them was enticing to me because the thought of them made me feel small. While this might sound like a negative feeling, it actually gave me more perspective on how little we are and how we really don’t control everything, like we are led to believe. Nature isn’t our beast to tame. We are nature. It’s a part of us. We are not mutually exclusive. And this is actually a wonderful feeling. You get a sense of your place in the world and how everything is connected. In the images, I was looking for scale in the traces of humans to portray how vast the landscape is.

In order to shoot these photographs, I chartered a helicopter the day after I landed in Iceland (I couldn’t wait) on a late afternoon and was harnessed into it so I could open the door and lean out as far as I wanted. I told the pilot to go higher, lower, faster or slower as we followed in the tracks of the river deltas, along the glaciers and deep into the mountains.

Seeing the side-by-side of the river delta phenomena next to small, insignificant human footprints gives a new perspective on how far we can go in altering the Earth to our benefit. In this case we are merely onlookers, forced to stop in our tracks and marvel from a safe distance. And in doing so, we can better appreciate the magnificence of the natural world around us.

Thanks to Brooke, for sharing this stunning series of images with us. Brooke Holm’s exhibition Mineral Matter opens tonight at Modern Times gallery, 311 Smith St, Collingwood and runs until 8 October. Drop by to see these images in large format or head over to Brooke’s website and check out her other work: