I recently read a quote that made me ponder my life’s meaning. I can’t recall what the exact words were, but it short of went like this: “The two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Simple in itself, but hard-hitting. What do we, as individuals, truly want to achieve in our lives. This isn’t about an end goal. We cross various milestones along the journey of life, but getting to the end of them isn’t the point is it? It’s what we do along the way that truly matters, and finding that out is crucial to every one of us. Despite being a photographer for close to three decades, it was only after many years that Brynjar Ágústsson found his purpose in photography. And that realization came after he began practicing mindfulness and meditation.
As a native of the country of Iceland, a desire to photograph its landscapes came early to Brynjar Ágústsson. Over years of being in awe of its various sights, he has been through various stages in his photography. Some of these began with taking random photographs. Succeeding stages involved bringing to life others’ fantasies and ideologies with his camera. There was a constant but gradual evolution of his art and technical abilities. The hope was to create authentic and meaningful work to give his creative thoughts a vision. But, at the beginning of his career, he struggled with creating images that were more than just a snapshot of the scenes in front of him.
It was only when Brynjar Ágústsson began practicing mindfulness and meditation that he began to find his inner voice. “I felt so much liberation, like my senses were going through a resetting process and entering a state of total awareness where I could use much more of my senses,” he says to us.
It was like gazing into many layers of the land where all 4 elements of mother earth came together into one point in time and space that created my image. It took me beyond my brain’s understanding and need to analyze all things where it liberated my creativity from any outer influence and thoughts, ideas, and symbols, and the results can form an art that is full of meaning.Brynjar Ágústsson
The Essential Photo Gear Used By Brynjar Ágústsson
Brynjar told us:
- Nikon D850
- Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8
- Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8
- Tamron SP 90mm f2.8 Di Macro
- Dji Mavic 3
- Dji Mavic Air 2S
Sometimes I hire a small plane to take me to some places here in Iceland where there is no good access by car or drone. Usualy im in the air shooting for 5 to 6 hours at a time.
The Phoblographer: This project is very different from your other work involving water. These images are more calm and relaxed. What was the inspiration behind the I Ð A project?
Brynjar Ágústsson: The collection I Ð A was taken at Dettifoss waterfall in northeast Iceland. Water, color, and light are the elements seen in the images. The collection is the result of the image I did earlier on, called Salvation seen here below.
Many years ago, I was fascinated by Carl Gustav Jung’s books, and I spent a lot of time studying his theory about archetypes, dreams, and symbolism. Since then, it has become rather easy for me to see the objective world around me as a symbol, like in a dream. And it came all together when I was reading “The Hero’s Journey” by Joseph Campbell. This helped me to tell a story in an image. As I see images today, I put them in three main categories, and I’m just doing this to simplify them. I’m It is like it is my own hero journey of evolving in this visual craft. It is just how I see it…for now.
The safe formula traps:
A picture of something great does not necessarily make a picture great. It is very common today to see people on popular travel spots using their pocket cameras to more advanced cameras and equipment to document the beauty and make the hero/selfie shot with the epic landscape as a backdrop. And after going through cosmetic technique treatment, the image is displayed as a decoration or entertainment thing on social media. The manifestation of this can also appear in the so-called wow factor postcard shots that are so popular today. Sometimes well-known elements like mountains are stretched, and sometimes the image is a composite from a few images. My mantra in photography is “nothing is right or wrong”; be brave enough to try new things. And sometimes, it is difficult to see when people get stuck at some stage for a long time without knowing what lies ahead in development and what is beyond just aesthetic understanding and putting so much creative energy into technique things.
Telling a story:
Then the image telling a story where the hero story/shot is most common, which is very understandable because it is the same elements that are used in most novels, movies, and in many marketing campaigns today. B creating a story, we meet the brain’s need to create some meaning inside the image frame by connecting to artificially created structures of ideology and fantasy created over generations. All these elements have a voice and have something to say, and the relationship is the key here between elements. A hero is only a hero in a relationship with something else. It is not by himself. He has to be saving people or something or surviving in its space from time, weather, or other elements. And then, it creates some contrast in the image between life and death, rise and fall, and light and dark.
Into the unknown:
But when we have the courage to step out from our visual understanding bubble, we will start to sense/see a much larger objective world to play in. We will begin to see an objective world that is not connected to anything – it just is. Our brain will not like it because we are beginning the process of stripping all the labels of analyzing and judgment. We can call it form, pattern, or abstract. We will start to see it, but our brains might not understand what we see because we are more following the gut feeling or the senses that has nothing to do with the obsession of the mind with analyzing. And it is least interesting for most people because it requires a degree of openness on the part of the viewer.
What is seen in the above image is the Dettifoss waterfall in northeast Iceland. Water is defined, according to Jung’s theory, as emotions as well as being divided into steam, water, and ice, as well as texture and color. And in this image, the turbulent brown water plays out as the hero and is a symbol for all our emotions in today’s situations.
The space above is filled with blue and dark water spray and can be a symbol for our inner shadow (black) and cold (blue) sense of understanding in our local environment and in the community. By some meaning, it is also the negative space in the image and is usually the space for the viewer to fill with his imagination and meaning.
The last element is the light from above, which can be a symbol of hope or salvation, and for certain compassion and loving-kindness.
The Phoblographer: what draws you and your camera to water? What is the inexplicable attraction that makes you want to photograph it?
Brynjar Ágústsson: Water has always fascinated me because it is so dynamic and can have so many shapes. It influences so many other elements in nature that I photograph and can be a metaphor for so many things. The origin of most of the water that runs and shapes the land is melted 800 years old glacier water.
Water is one of the four main elements, and we have three phases of it here in Iceland – ice, water, and steam. It is so easy to use it to connect to nature. There is a saying here in Iceland as there is a fact that the English language evolved from the old Norse language, which is close to the Icelandic language.
Before Christianity came to Iceland, there was paganism, or as some would say, shamanism practiced here. To do so, some of them did rituals in nature to contact one or more elements of nature. If it was a water element that they were connecting with, then a ritual was done near a large sea wave or a waterfall. So there is a theory that the Icelandic word “foss,” which means waterfall, is the origin of the word “force” that we have in English now.
The Phoblographer: Is it an all-year phenomenon or only for a certain part of the year that the waterfalls are so wild?
Brynjar Ágústsson: In this particular river, the water comes from a melting glacier, which is normally more abundant in the summer.
The Phoblographer: When you’re driving/walking towards these locations, what thoughts are typically going through your mind?
Brynjar Ágústsson: When walking to the location, I’m practicing a ‘photographers’ mindful meditation’ as I call it. The purpose is to clear a busy mind or all ideas about the place I’m stepping into. The idea is that if we take one mountain and 3 persons see it, every individual has their own perspective on what is seen through the filter made out of knowing and experience. So the only thing we see is that, not the mountain. Sometimes I ask my clients in a photo workshop how to liberate a mountain, and most have no clue what I mean.
So a good effort to see more is to empty the mind of all ideas we have about what is about to be seen. So to do so, we only have to put our attention on something else. Maybe our breath, or what we hear, or how the wind is touching us.
The Phoblographer: These shots are incredibly tightly framed. How close (or not) to the waterfalls are you when you photograph them?
Brynjar Ágústsson: As close as I can go to the waterfall. I use a long lens from above to frame different shapes and movements of the water. It is hard for me to explain how I see things, but everything is just a different dense energy that is in motion and in complete balance. But when I put some of this energy within the frame, I have to make this balance myself. Nature itself is in complete balance.
The Phoblographer: What sort of precautions are you taking to keep your gear (and yourself) safe while photographing these natural wonders?
Brynjar Ágústsson: Well, I guess it is just in my nature to use my common sense and put the safety on autopilot. This element in me evolved when I was on a rescue team for 20 years or so and in skydiving for 10 years. I have seen so many human errors, and I guess I have learned from them.
The Phoblographer: “Duality is necessary for anything to interact.” tell us more about this poetic statement of yours. How does it apply to your photography and your life?
Brynjar Ágústsson: I could write a book about this subject, but I will say just a little about it here. One of my sayings is, “The outer reality is just a reflection of my inner reality.” In order for “here” to exist, there has to be a “there.” The inside has no meaning unless the outside also does. So passion and creation have to do their job in this matrix world of mirrors so that all interactions can take place.
I have come to the realization of this after many years of meditation practices and doing many Ayahuasca sessions. The reaction dance loop is something we can be stuck in, and therefore we see the same thing in the same (groundhog) way always, unless we use and do some mind work. But as I see things now, reality has many layers like an onion and underneath all of our labels is the real-real thing.
Therefore my tendency now is to take this visual craft to the frontier of knowledge. Or making images without elements. Making images without elements that the brain can easily label or understand. By doing this, the image creates more questions than answers. Because when we look at this kind of work, we can’t use our minds to see and define, but we have to use our senses to see.
Alongside love, kindness, and compassion, I felt it was like I was in a process of healing where many old layers of ideas and thoughts were released from meBrynjar Ágústsson