On process and interpretation

Though I put a lot of energy into researching Viking age history and reading saga literature, it is absolutely the field work that is most exciting. While part of the project involves documenting and recording information about places, I am rather hoping to share a sense of discovery and propose interesting questions. What led explorers and settlers to these remote places and what leads people there now? Hence one of my basic starting points is to study the relationship between architecture, its traces and the surrounding landscape.

While exploring these subtly inhabited spaces, I made a symbolic connection between the research process of an archeologist and that of a photographer. Though archeologists may be methodological in their approaches, a significant amount of interpretation makes up part of their research. They explore the landscape looking for visual clues, then literally digging deeper, they sift through information that leads them to confirm something about the world and our history. In the milieu of contemporary art, a photographer may take a similar approach. Often looking to the world for material, art photographers are searching for and ultimately hoping to reveal something significant. Both processes can take an excruciating amount of time, but perhaps it is the time spent exploring that provides the most meaning for artists and archeologists alike.

Reading the landscape at the remains of chieftain’s farmstead at Hofstadir near Lake Myvatn in Iceland. Photo by Andreas Rutkauskas.

When I set out for a extended shooting trip, I am prepared with a plethora of lists, maps, notes and equipment but more importantly, and any good photographer will tell you this, you need to unlock all your senses and absorb the information that only first person experience can provide.

In his book Westward to Vinland, Helge Ingstad wrote of his discovery of the Norse settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows: “There was so much at L’anse aux Meadows that reminded me of what I had seen of the surroundings of the Norse farms in Greenland: the green fields, the rippling stream, the open country, the view of the sea, and perhaps something else that was not so easy to fathom. Here the people from the Arctic island would have felt at home.”

I had the same intuition when visiting Kvívík in the Faroe Islands. If I were a 10th century explorer, I may have chosen this site as place to settle.

Where the stream meets the sea at Kvívík, archeologists have excavated and preserved the floorplan of a Viking age farmstead. Photo by Andreas Rutkauskas.

A sublime settlement, Kvívík from above. Scan from a 4″x5″ negative. Photo by Jessica Auer.



Of islands and open sea

The open sea confronts us. It is ultimately the one place that we cannot dominate. We are as much at its mercy today, as we may have been during the time of the Vikings. But when we look out towards the sea, our imagination sparks fantastic questions. How far away is that horizon, is there anything past it and how can we go there?

The open sea taken from the high coastline of the Faroe Islands. Scan from a 6×7 cm negative. Photo by Jessica Auer

Islands are an oasis. They conserve nature and culture.  We can intimately explore them, but we must be prudent as they are fragile ecosystems. An island in the open sea is a sanctuary, but don’t be fooled by its protection. Trust me, I’ve been to the Faroe Islands, host to some of the worst weather in the world.

I waited five days for the rain and fog to clear before I could make my first successful photograph. On Mikanes. Photo by Andreas Rutkauskas.

The Faroes were used during Viking times as a staging point between Norway and Iceland. Located approximately 650 kms from the coast of Norway and 700 kms from Iceland, these islands are still used today as a stopover on the Smyril ferry line from Denmark to Iceland.

Many Vikings did settle here. The lush green coasts and sublime beauty will give you a hint as to why. The smallest capital city in the world, Tórshavn is still home to a parliament that was established during the Viking Age. On the rocks of Tinganes (Parliament Jetty) I found a Viking Age carving in a rock – a compass rose.

A rainy day find. A sundial or compass rose carved into the rock and dated 1569. Photo by Andreas Rutkauskas.

The hostile weather was barely of consequence to the Vikings, who knew how to navigate in these waters with their karves and knarrs, different types of ships built for travelling locally among islands and fjords or overseas.

The fjord on the left of this image is essentially a Viking highway. Taken from Streymoy in the Faroe Islands. Scan from a 4″x5″ negative. Photo by Jessica Auer.