From Iceland — Moving Mountains: Iceland’s Landscape Travelling Through Time

Moving Mountains: Iceland’s Landscape Travelling Through Time

Published June 30, 2011

Moving Mountains: Iceland’s Landscape Travelling Through Time

First-time filmmaker Svavar Jónatansson rode his motorcycle around Iceland in 2004. Awe-inspired by the landscape, he began photographing the scenery on his lone journey. Svavar recounts, “I wanted to try a different approach than stopping the motorcycle all the time. I wanted to put the camera on the handlebars, and have a trigger and just shoot single frames. The idea was in my mind, but never got done.”

Then, in 2007 while travelling around the country again, Svavar saw a freight truck and thought of shooting still frames out the side windows. He called several freight truck and bus companies, explaining his idea. With help from several of them, as well as some friends and their private vehicles, Svavar’s project of capturing landscape in motion evolved into ‘Inland/Outland Iceland’.

Puzzled together through various forms of transportation, the three-year project produced around 200.000 photographs, 40.000 of which were used in the final product, Inland/Outland Iceland. The DVD contains two forty-three minute films showing landscape on both sides of the Ring Road—a stretch of highway that spans roughly 1.400 km around the entirety of Iceland, connecting the main habitable parts of the country.  An original score by Icelandic musician Daníel Ágúst Haraldsson (GusGus, Nýdönsk, Esja) accompanies the films.

Along with the films, Inland/Outland contains a sizeable amount of bonus material. ‘Detail Views’ shows specific location on a map before propelling the viewer through the scenery in that particular area. The ‘Slideshow’ section focuses on traditional stills. ‘Inland/Outland’ also contains ‘Volcanic Drive’, showcasing the landscape near Eyjafjallajökull during the eruption, and a ‘Making Of’ video explaining the production involved with a voice over by Svavar.

Svavar spent roughly four months editing through the pictures he collected. He describes the editing process as “a big puzzle,” and admits that “it’s not edited together with any kind of formula. It was a very chaotic approach, but it all came together in the end.” When Svavar realised he was missing footage of a particular area, he would take to the road again, making sure the entire Ring Road, both sides, was fully documented. When asked about his inspiration for making the film, Svavar replies: “In the beginning it was simply fulfilling an idea.”


We sat down with Svavar to ask him more about the ins and outs of Inland/Outland Iceland.

How would you suggest people watch the videos?
I have no idea, that’s really up to each individual. The only thing I could say is that, hopefully, people will keep their mind and whole sensory system open.

How did you determine the speed of the videos?
It wasn’t done in such a systematic way that I could say that there are so many seconds between each photo. I tried to keep the same visual line. If there was a bump in the road, I had to level the camera. I had to hold my body rigid to fight the shaking. It made the human touch so important.

Why still frames and not a video camera?
The video camera approach, looking straight ahead, has been widely done. It was pioneered in Iceland by Friðrik Þór Friðriksson in 1985 and has been repeated by others.

With a still frame, you can minimise the number of frames and reduce the speed between images. The landscape is then not going by so fast that you don’t get it.

How would you characterise the mood of the whole project?
People have said that Iceland seems to be a no-man’s land. Large parts of the country are uninhabited. That’s what I like in the film—you feel like you’re alone and then, poof, you go through a town. It’s only for three seconds because the towns aren’t very large. And then seconds later, poof, you regain freedom because you are out in nature again. Whether there is a certain mood, overall, I couldn’t say. The music takes you through different emotions.

How did you choose the composer for the music and what direction did you give him?Daníel Ágúst Haraldsson is a very good friend of mine and I really trusted him as an artist. He really sensed how to give life to the images, but still let them stand on their own. The music helps you to go along. It gets you into this hypnotic mood of just letting the images flow.

What was your mindset while taking photos?
If I was on the bus, I would keep to myself when I was shooting, listening to music.  But with the truck drivers, I didn’t want to sit there for hours and say nothing. I went between taking the photos to putting the camera down and having a conversation. There was much more to this project than just taking photographs.

What did you talk about while on the road?
Some drivers talked about country music and Kris Kristoferson for hours. Others talked about how fucked up society has become and who’s to blame. There was a whole spectrum of conversation. One guy just didn’t say a word. He said one sentence to me and then we drove in darkness down the East fjords.

Any other interesting stories?
Once in November, I went to the East fjords to try and finish what I had started there. I ended up arriving at four in the morning, and I looked around and saw this old, abandoned jeep. It became my campsite for the next two nights. I just crawled into it and slept in a sleeping bag. It was a multi-faceted adventure. That’s what really makes me feel content; having all of these different experiences.

Do you have a favourite photograph/scene/season?
No, they are just so varied. My favourite could be early January morning where you can’t see anything but a blue light above the mountains, or it could be a really pure, crisp sunny day driving past a glacier. Each place that I came to had completely different weather or light depending on the time of day or season. That’s why I added the bonus material, because I thought I couldn’t be completely accurate with just doing the two videos and saying that’s it.

Are you planning on making more projects like this?
Right now I’m working on an extension from the highway out to Snæfellsnes, which for me, is one of the most compacted, magical places. The distance isn’t that far from the highway, but the landscape there is really amazing with all the mountains and lava. The light there seems to really play special tricks. I’ve experienced incredible kinds of weather and light playing on the glaciers there.

Will you produce the new project in the same format?
It will be the same approach, but without the mistakes that I have had from the other one. I have a more systematic approach. I shoot in shorter intervals so the flow will be smoother, along with using maps more. The National Park, along with others, supports the project with rides and accommodation.

First screened in May 2010 at the Nuna (now) arts festival in Canada, Svavar plans to show Inland/Outland Iceland in more places abroad. He is now organising an exhibition at the Vatnajökull National Park for next summer. The DVD was released in Iceland in July 2010.

Go view some very special INLAND/OUTLAND exhibits at the Vatnajökull National Park guest house in Skaftafell and Snæfellsjökull National Park guest house in Hellnar (both exhibits are open ’til fall). More info at

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