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Heading North

Jan 25

In history, On Location, Seminars & Workshops at 6:32am

Or, as Einar Erlendssen, the originator and caretaker of the Focus on Nature Workshops says, heading up to join the stark raving mad Vikings. I always wanted to go to Iceland. It seems a land of true intensity, color, and personality. It’ll be a small workshop, and thus very hands on. Our merry band of speed lighters will evidently careen around the countryside (the place ain’t that big) looking, lighting, and shooting. At night we will gather over various Nordic intoxicants and commune with the pixel spirits, and discuss the successes and failures of the day. This will be a slightly different workshop for me, in that I will be pushing myself both as a teacher and a shooter. As I said, I have never been there before, and de facto that is fuel for the fire. As a group, together, we will go all week for portfolio images. Here’s the link. My pack will be a bit different, too. Cameras, lenses, SB units, Quadra flash, stands, soft boxes, horned helmet, broadsword.


I have been sent North before. Below is my bud, George Divokey, an ornithologist who lives on Cooper Island part of each summer, studying a bird colony and watching it respond to the effects of warming. Coop, as it is referred to, is a small stretch of earth and ice just a touch north of the northernmost tip of the continental United States, Barrow, Alaska. They have this sign just outside town that you can visit and thus know you have done the truly northern thing. Why you need a sign to tell you that you are standing on icebound nothingness and your travel agent deserves a serious ass kicking, I’m not sure. But it’s there, for those truly compulsive, check the box type folks.


Geographic has sent me to Siberia (in more ways than one) on a couple of occasions. For a story called The Power of Light, I of course had to photographically experience the total lack thereof, which is certainly a contradiction of purpose and terms, if not outright stupid. (Journalists are always sent to the extremes of things, so sometimes what looks like a dumb move is exactly what you should be doing for a story.)  Below is noontime on Lake Lavozero on the Murmansk Penninsula, in February. I have never been quite as cold as that day on that frozen stretch of near total whiteout.

The snow and darkness engulf this individual in Lovozero, Russia

The cold didn’t seem to bother these Russian fellas, but then ingesting an entire bottle of rotgut vodka will certainly calm the spirit and deaden the nerve endings. I have to think these guys stay on the ice as long as possible just to avoid the old lady. The women up there were tough, I tell ya. I stayed at this collection of cinder blocks billed as a hotel, and while in my room, I heard this tremendous, repetitive smashing noise just down the hall. I went to look, and there was an enormous Russian female chef with a pry bar, knocking loose chicken parts locked in blocks of ice out of  a large freezer bin. She would then hoist the frozen chunks over her head with both hands, and smash them down onto the ancient linoleum. Legs and breasts would skitter everywhere.  At least I knew ahead of time what was being served that night.


An Arctic ice fisherman in Russia waits a bite.

You know, I accept the fact at this point in my career that the phone call sending me to do a voluptuous spread on the beaches of Tahiti ain’t comin’ in. Hell, at this point, I’d settle for the Jersey shore, but that’s probably not in my future, either. No, historically I’ve been sent to icy backwaters in search of even the faintest glimmer of light. I got so used to this for a bit that I after I got fired from LIFE I gave myself a shooting job in Norilsk, which historically was a gulag old Josef used to send anyone who disagreed with him. When I visited, it was largely an economic gulag, and home to one of the largest nickel mining operations in the world.

Average life expentancy for a male working in this factory is 50, mostly because they breathe carbon dioxide gas all day. Needless to say, they haven’t heard of OSHA up there.



So–I’m looking forward to Iceland, needless to say. There will be light, color and life. Very excited…….more tk….

Louis Pang says:

on January 25, 2010 at 6:38 am

From the hot and humid Malaysia to freezing cold Iceland and everywhere in between. You are going places pal.

Kevin Glackmeyer says:

on January 25, 2010 at 7:11 am

In the final images in color, what the heck are they doing? Ice fishing? Sitting on the ice flow, seems like it would freeze your cod solid…goodluck with the shoot and class…you should try Alabama sometime…the chicken ain’t froze…kg

Mark says:

on January 25, 2010 at 7:27 am

I remember that first photo from a NY Times magazine piece, no?

Especially like the B&W ones. From frigid, snowy, Urakawa, Japan, right now…I can somewhat relate.

Jay Mann says:

on January 25, 2010 at 7:34 am

Hi Joe,
Just like the rule of fishing which states that the best fish are always on the other side of the lake, the best images are always in the hardest to get to locations.

Anyone can do the beach photo thing, it takes a real pro to tackle a nickel mine.

Gonna miss Dubai again, having a day job sucks.


Corey says:

on January 25, 2010 at 7:51 am

Bundle up, and don’t forget your galoshes! Safe travels, Joe.

Heinz Schmidt says:

on January 25, 2010 at 8:08 am

Good luck Joe,

When you’re in Iceland, go to the northern parts and check out the Icelandic horses… they are stunning!


Ben Mathis says:

on January 25, 2010 at 9:04 am

Joe, This looks awesome. one question, as I live in Reykjavik already, and the workshop fee seems to include lodging, is there a different price for locals? It’s probably too pricey for me to swing, but I’d love to meet up with you guys while there one of the evenings for some icelandic beer and licorice alcohol. I can even point you to some of my favorite photographic areas close to the downtown.

Steve Gray says:

on January 25, 2010 at 9:10 am

I think you’re gonna like it. It was nice when I was back there a few autumns ago, but I always wanted to go back in the winter and shoot. Stay warm, and put some rocks in your pockets – you’re gonna need it!

Alan MacRae says:

on January 25, 2010 at 9:14 am

You’ll love Iceland, Joe. I was there for three days in October; unquestionably the best three days of my life, bar none. Make sure you take Annie to the Blue Lagoon, but don’t get any of the silica gel in your eyes!

Pat Morrissey says:

on January 25, 2010 at 10:53 am

Joe, the bit about legs and breasts … whose?

Einar says:

on January 25, 2010 at 12:50 pm

If it gets cold, we just jump into some of the nice geothermal pots to warm up, and if it gets hot, we just grab some 1000 years old ice and have a cool drink. The ice keeps making cracking sound in the drinks while it melts. Iceland awaits you pal.

luke townsend says:

on January 25, 2010 at 1:00 pm

Jersey shore babay!

Eric Politzer says:

on January 25, 2010 at 1:48 pm


Signed up for this last week. Looking forward to it. Off to Oslo next week for family business. I guess the geo-magnet is pulling me in a certain direction this year!



Mike Neale says:

on January 25, 2010 at 2:40 pm

Einar,…”If it gets cold”???,…in Iceland!……hahaha…..;-))

Joe, bring lots of rotgut,…….;-)))

We look forward to your PJ reports on skinny-dippin’ in them geothermal pots!

You two make me feel old,…ok, older.

Love the bw shots of the miners,…thanks for sharing!

Stephan Mantler says:

on January 25, 2010 at 4:20 pm

Iceland is awesome. The colors are so intense they’ll turn black & white film into Velvia. If all goes well I’ll be up there in June, trying to capture the colors of spring and hopefully a few horses. Already wondering how the hell I’m going to get my Sinar accepted as cabin baggage…

Take care,

Jay Mann says:

on January 26, 2010 at 1:06 am

Since Iceland is on my way home from Canada, I decided to stop by in August for the week :). Really looking forward to it, I guess the weather will be a little cooler than Libya.

See you there,

Girish says:

on January 26, 2010 at 1:37 am

Wishing you all the luck and be safety on the cold lands. The above photos are wonderful. The last 4 shots are awesome.

Look forward for photos from your trip.

Do you have any photo link to the visits / trips / work related journey you have mentioned.

Ken Toney says:

on January 26, 2010 at 9:13 am

Joe, you just thought that was chicken. Everything tastes like chicken. You should get Cross to go with you, he would still have on those shorts he was wearing in your last interview on PSuserTV.

Matti says:

on January 26, 2010 at 4:55 pm

Are you sure you didn´t mean they are breathing carbon monoxide gas because carbon dioxide gas should not be poisonous?

Sandy says:

on January 26, 2010 at 7:54 pm

Sounds great. I’ve tended to northern climes myself. One quick question. I love the ice fisherman pictures. Can you explain your thought process on the framing of the first one? Why leave out the hole in the ice. Again, love the image, but personally, I think I would have tried to put the whole hole in! Not sure why.

T. C. Knight says:

on January 26, 2010 at 9:39 pm

Okay Joe. That’s it. You are still using a 1980’s portrait to advertise. Back when hair on your head was short, and hair on your face was long (Miami Vice style Joe:>)). You have reversed that these days. Don’t get me wrong, I really like that old portrait, but gotta keep current.

You know ALL THE GREATS(including yourself). I think it is time for the “Make a New Portrait of Joe Contest”. Let’s have entries from Chase, Moose (in case you want one with a buckskin coat and coonskin cap), David Hobby, David Bergman, Zack Arias (rock star quality photo), Scott, Brad, and some of the others. Put ’em up on the web, AND LET US VOTE ON THEM!

It’s a NEW day!

T. C. Knight says:

on January 26, 2010 at 9:41 pm

(I really expect you guys mentioned above to take up this cause, because he’s not gonna listen to me).


Liza P says:

on January 27, 2010 at 11:14 am

Please post a photo of yourself wearing your horned helmet and swinging your broadsword………..


stephen says:

on January 27, 2010 at 8:15 pm

Joe, why were you fired from LIFE?

lukasz kruk says:

on January 28, 2010 at 4:56 pm

what’s OSHA?

Matt says:

on January 28, 2010 at 6:18 pm

Can’t wait to see what you do with Iceland, Joe!

Nasim Mansurov says:

on January 28, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Joe, I’m glad you enjoyed the taste of Russia :) Good luck in Island and try to stay warm, that vodka really does help! :)

Joe says:

on January 28, 2010 at 11:18 pm

I spent 10 days in Iceland last year and loved every second of it. Probably the most facinating thing I saw was the glacial lagoon Jökulsarlon. Not only the huge chunks of ice breaking off and floating in the fresh water, but how it all flowed out and collided violently with the sea, which would then wash the huge ice chunks up onto the black sand beach. What a spectacle!

Brenda Tharp says:

on January 29, 2010 at 8:12 pm

Heh, Joe – we’ll be neighbors of sorts that week in Iceland. You’ll be speed- lighting around, while my workshop group will be crawling ever closer to cliff faces for that “best”, dramatic landscape. I hope we get to see what each others’ group created at the end of our week, over a few vodkas. I haven’t been there before either, and I like that challenge of a new place as a teacher. Don’t forget a saddle with that sword and helmet – the Icelandic ponies are wonderful (I’m told) – and who knows? they just might let you ride off into the night in your garb…

Mark R. says:

on January 30, 2010 at 10:37 pm

Well, it might sound funny a poopy like me giving Joe a compliment, but the last 2 pictures are simply intoxicating. The way you describe the ice chunks moving onto black sand beaches, oh my I really hope I’ll be able to join your Iceland trip.

Gard Gitlestad says:

on January 31, 2010 at 12:31 pm

Iceland is really beautiful. Make sure to drop by the Blue Lagoon when you’re there!

And while you’re hanging around in viking land, you should really visit us here in Norway too 😀

Andrew Fielding says:

on February 2, 2010 at 3:04 am

Damn that Workshop is expensive…much too much for someone on a student’s budget :(. Sounds like fun though, I’ve been to Iceland a few times (on international flight stop overs) and from what I can tell Keflavik (where the airport is) is pretty sweet.

Mark says:

on February 5, 2010 at 9:33 am


Your pictures of Norilsk brings back many vivid memories as I lived there for six months during the winter of November 1995 to April 1996. I visited the same nickel and copper factories and experienced the same level of concerns about health and safety as expressed in your brief comments.

I also experienced another first for me on this project – one day me and another colleague decided to take pictures of a gulag area when suddenly his shutter mechanism on his camera froze up – needless to say that was the end of the photo session!!!


Eleonor Sandell says:

on April 22, 2012 at 6:01 pm

You are my inhalation, I have few blogs and rarely run out from post :). “Never mistake motion for action.” by Ernest Hemingway.

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