For some, seeing is more than a sense—it’s a sensation. “It’s painful to be somewhere, see something amazing and not be able to take a photo of it,” photographer Þórsteinn Sigurðsson says. “The other day I went food shopping and on my way back I see a car on fire, surrounded by some whacked-out folks. I didn’t have my camera on me but I could see the photo in my mind. That’s painful.” The image fits Þórsteinn’s style perfectly. The the burning, the wrecked, the wretched—the sickly beautiful.
Photography for him started when he dropped out of upper secondary school and applied for a job at Hans Petersen, a camera reseller and developing office. He started to develop his own skills by photographing his friends in the graffiti crew CMF. “I felt a need to document the lifestyle these guys were living, which was rather incredible, very bohemian for those times,” he says. On the streets of an arctic bohemia, Þórsteinn took root: “I don’t go out much into nature, I stay more within the city. Ugly, strange neighborhoods are my favourite.” The city is an ecosystem of its own. That’s why they call it a concrete jungle.
And Þórsteinn is its vines, deliberate and creeping. He weaves the lines of human nature with his camera—into corners that you didn’t know or didn’t want to know. “My photos aren’t taken when I’m walking my dog,” he says. “It doesn’t happen often that material walks in front of me. I go and find it.”
The darkest hour
In a recent series he photographed the deceased. “The smell, the bodies in different stages of decomposition: I couldn’t think about it like that, it had no effect on me. The camera was sort of like a physical and mental shelter. It’s a good tool to have in difficult situations, the fear disappears.” His special access to a local mortuary resulted in a stunning series of six true gelatin silver fibre prints.
He’s a documentary photographer to the core—his inclinations to photography are physical. He is “obligated” to photograph what he feels people might otherwise not see. Oftentimes those photos expose a subject slightly unexpected, slightly unbeautiful. But they say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and Þórsteinn’s got a wicked gaze.
Find Þórsteinn online as xdeathrow.tumblr.com and follow him on Instagram @xdeathrow.