It was 1988. I was at Gjogur point in the Strandir district on a news job when I met Axel Thorarensen, who was heading out in his rowboat. Under a fine drizzle, Axel sat in his boat waiting for a thermos of coffee. Faithful Týri followed his master right up to the boat, But – afraid of the sea – was reluctant to come aboard. The dog’s expression matched his master’s somehow, and when he looked away or shut his eyes, I snuck a few photos of him. For most of his time at sea, Axel used only Oars – no matter the weather. Yet towards the end he got a motor. While we waited for coffee and | took pictures, Axel told me the story of the time he came across a shark floating in the water. He managed to get a line around its tail, lash it to the stern and set off for land. When Axel arrived at shore, he tied up his boat and suddenly the beast sprung to life and launched itself back out to sea, taking the back end of the skiff in tow. ‘I’ve not seen the other half of that boat since’, he said.
My time with Axel was the impetus for this project. As his boat cruised out of the fjord, it was as if a voice from inside was telling me that I would photograph him and his kind. His world was quickly changing – vanishing. These days we want everyone to be the same. Entire careers are based on keeping people out of danger; we must live by the rules. The fascinating and sometimes peculiar lives that people made for themselves to survive the harsh conditions of the North, the kinds I knew from my youth, were quickly becoming a thing of the past.
This project took shape little by little. The journalists Þórir Guðmundsson and Edðvarð T. Jónsson introduced me to the Faroe Islands. Árni Johnsen opened the door to Greenland. As akid, I’d read about the Greenland hunters in the pages of Knud Rasmussen and Peter Freuchen, and adventures on the ice sheets still hold the same fascination for me. The Faroes likewise were a world apart, with their own set of fundamental principles; a place where the people had discovered their own speed setting for time.
For years at a time, I travelled Iceland without stopping anywhere too long, often asa photojournalist for the national paper Morgunblaðið. I’ve long lost count of my trips to Greenland. Since my first visit there as a photographer in 1987, I’ve managed to see almost all of its villages, stay with hunters in tents and cabins in all manner of weather and follow them to the best of my ability through the unimaginable hardship they endure to provide for themselves. I’ve travelled to all 18 Faroe Islands, home to the world’s kindest people. This project began when I snapped the picture of Axel at Gjégur and has since become about sharing my experience of how people live their lives in three countries of the North – nations both large and small – human life in Earth’s northern reaches. It is now my wish to bring the viewers along for an adventure, to show them an extraordinary world that’s quickly disappearing.