Published December 4, 2017
Þórsteinn Sigurðsson, aka xdeathrow, is one of Iceland’s most exciting photographers. His gritty and realistic portraits capture the shady side of Reykjavík. In his latest series ‘Container Society,’ he turns the lens towards the world of drug addicts who live hidden away in a row of containers in the Grandi harbour area.
“The idea is something that has been stirring inside of me for a long time,” says Þórsteinn. “I’m usually dealing with things that are below the surface. I decided to do [this project] now because I was taking pictures of the containers and decided to knock on the door and introduce myself.”
Society often doesn’t like to talk about its less fortunate citizens—the city’s worst addicts living in containers far from the beaten track seems like a perfect metaphor for dealing with the problem. It was Þórsteinn’s goal to show a side of life in Reykjavík that we often ignore. “You never know what people are going to greet you at the door, but what I found were thoughtful and clever men with pure hearts,” says Þórsteinn. “They talked a lot about their children and the good old times. But they’re still people, and that fact gave me energy to do this project—although they are hidden, they also have a past, a present, and hopefully a future. Like everybody else.”
The photographs can best be described as raw and bare, an insight into the day-to-day life of two men living with their addiction and separation from the reality of most people. Þórsteinn’s work portrays a piece of life that most of us try to avoid, and forces the viewer to confront this reality.
He plans to continue the project and follow his subjects as they go from their containers out into the city. “I want to expand the project outside the containers, because [the people who live there] don’t hang around there all day,” Þórsteinn explains. “They go shopping for food, visit other people, etcetera. But I felt it was important to start there. What I also want to do next is to get them to write about their lives, because words are such a powerful complement to photography. Or I’d want to be allowed to exhibit old letters, memories, or even receipts.”
The forgotten village
The title ‘Container Society’ aims to draw upon the contrast that the structures represent as dwellings that are so different from the expensive apartments currently on the booming Reykjavík housing market. “I felt the title was strong,” says Þórsteinn, “because most of us live in nice apartments and things like trailer parks don’t exist here. That might be changing—with a couple of people staying in tents—but it’s rare, so I felt the containers were far apart from how most of us live.”
He explains that the row of containers is almost like its own village—a settlement within a settlement, like a tiny hamlet in the countryside that no roads lead to. It’s an ever-changing society, as residents move in and out and some even pass away inside the containers. Death and misery are tightly interlinked with the lives of drug addicts, and as Þórsteinn explains, there comes great responsibility with documenting this reality. “A photographer has to be mindful of approaching difficult topics,” he finishes. “There is a family behind every individual and I have to be careful about not exploiting them and hurting them. There are definitely people out there hurting because of this reality.”
Find out more at xdeathrow.com.