There is certainly no lack for photographic coffee table books in the spectrum of Icelandic publications. Generally aimed at tourists and Icelandophile types, these books tend to show the usual suspects: majestic shots of glaciers, aurora borealis, Jökulsárlón and waterfalls. Although this book does show all these things and more—and even though Iceland is such an impressive country that making it look boring is damn near impossible—somehow The Essence Of Iceland doesn’t really do justice to the land.
Part of the problem is the layout of the book. The images are laid out in a varying series of double-page, full-page and half-page spreads that drag the viewer’s eye all over the place and easily lose focus. The sizes of the photos are also highly variable and often leave more white space on the page than photography. Having a more consistent form of presentation, and much less blank space on the page, would be more conducive to appreciating these images.
The images themselves, however, could be better. Kristján Ingi Einarsson is by no-means a bad photographer. If you have spent any time nerding it up on an Icelandic photo blog or Google Image, you have probably dropped your jaw at one of his fantastic landscape shots of fjords, mountains and shorelines. Maybe it’s due to the overexposure, but very little is offered by way of new material. It feels rather repetitive and seen-it-already. Then again, maybe I only feel this way because I have seen it already. There is also something downright snapshot-like about several images, which reduces their overall impact.
What reduces the impact of the images the most though is the poetic text by Ari Trausti Guðmundsson. On nearly every page, accompanying each photo is a small blurb of rather trite, sentimental poetry. Some of it reads like an overly priced greeting card, while others sound like saccharine teenage prose. Posing cheesy rhetorical questions or stating overly simple wisdom—the kind used by stoners in their yearbook quotes—just doesn’t add anything powerful to the photos or properly convey the way seeing these things for yourself could feel. In any case, whether in print or in person, it’s best to let Iceland’s images speak for themselves.
- Photos by: Kristján Ingi Einarsson
- Text by: Ari Trausti Guðmundsson
- Publisher: Salka, 2009