Brian Killigrew
Inner Light

Journal from Iceland and London


9/11/88 Hofn

I've treated myself to a bottle of wine tonight, the price of which will not be put into writing (Iceland is very expensive). I'm going to stay in a motel tonight, it is freezing out. I must load film holders so I need a room. I also need warmth.

Today, I saw the real Iceland. First, the great glacier Vatnajokull. Then the best thing so far--Jokulsarlon. It's the runoff water from the glacier that goes into the sea. The icebergs were amazing. I photographed all this great ice, great designs--what nature!

Even that I don't usually photograph animals, I enjoy watching them. Sheep are cool. They just stand there and eat, that's it. You drive by, they eat. Duck families are great, too. I love the way the mother duck swims first and the little ducklings follow. I always smile when I see a duck family.

I start my drive up the east coast tomorrow. May it be great. The big problem is the roads. I don't have to elaborate further, but they are bad. The car doesn't help either. The wheelbase is so small and the center of gravity must be high so anything throws the car off-balance. I was driving 50kph today and the car almost went off the road. In fact, I almost went off the road every day except one, and that day I did go off the road!

I love to photograph. I hope someday my ability, my seeing, will be as intense as my love for it. My feeling is clear, I wish to transmit my love for the landscape, and its beauty, to the viewer of my work. The chill that goes up my spine when I photograph--I wish the viewer to receive when that person sees my fine print.


Tonight, I'm staying at Faskrudsfjordur. It is absolutely freezing out. It was snowing in the mountains today.

Driving into this village tonight I saw a sight that jumped out at me, the first thing in Iceland that seemed out of place--a garbage dump, right in the middle of a field. All sorts of old rusty stuff: a radiator, bed springs, a furnace, old piping--great abstract stuff. I made one exposure, but the light was getting low and the wind was kicking up hard. I could see the camera shaking--so was I! I'm going back first thing in the morning. I came to the land of fire and ice, glaciers and waterfalls, and what do I want to photograph? Junk!


Well, I just photographed the junk--what a thrill! Great subject matter, great abstract shapes. I worked hard for two hours straight, five different images. I feel great when I photograph--very serious, but when I work well, clear, when I can make a composition out of nothing, when I can make it work, I feel fulfilled, I feel I am accomplishing something worthwhile. I hope the work looks as good as it did on my ground glass.

I'm now staying at a farm for the night in Seydisfjordur. The price is right--$20. I had to find a place where I could load film holders or I would have stayed in the car again. This town is very nice. I made three exposures here--abstracts! I can't believe I'm seeing all this abstract stuff. Today I worked hard, eighteen negs exposed. Lots of plus development indicated--I want to see the prints glow!

There was a disappointment today. I saw a postcard in a store today of an ice cave--wow! I never knew they existed. It's when the heat from the hot springs inside the earth melts out the underneath of a glacier--sounds great! I wanted to do it bad. I drove to the town that the tours are from but since it's off-season, no more tours. The only possibility was to rent a four-wheel-drive, since it's in a remote and dangerous part of the country. The price for the vehicle was a staggering $350 a day! The only road that approaches the area ends five miles from the cave, and a vehicle cannot go over the terrain past that. So in addition to the price tag, it meant a ten-mile-hike over very rough terrain! All of a sudden, it seemed ridiculous. Also the thermal water in the cave is extremely hot, so it was a no-go. I hear there are lava caves around...


I get a kick out of the posted warnings I see on my travels. Today's winner: "Hazard warning, earthquake and volcanic activity in area. Keep out!" For a photographer, this is like posting a welcome message in all languages!


I've just returned from photographing near the volcano, Krafla. Now this area has possibilities! I arrived when the light was real nice, at about 7pm, but I had to work fast. I needed enough light to see where I was going. If you slip or fall in the water here, you don't get out. You boil.


I just photographed the sulphur pits by Krafla again--wonderful, amazing, beautiful! It was one of the best times of photographing ever. It was pouring out, I slept in the car until the rain stopped. Then, as I started to climb up to the pits, I realized that my tripod was missing a major bolt. Luckily, I found it in the trunk. Good thing I carry tools with me in case of emergencies like this. After I finished I had to get back into the car for a while--I was frozen.

But it was all worth it. I photographed for three hours straight. I made more exposures in this small area than I have anywhere--about twenty-four exposed negatives. I have high hopes for this work. Maybe even a masterpiece or two!

9/17/88 Husavik

I've just figured out a way to make the best use of my photography here. When I'm near the coast I look for abstracts in the seaport towns. There is always rusted boats, old machinery, weathered wooden shacks, to photograph. When I'm in the country, I can make landscapes. This might open up a whole new world for me. But my work must be good. I must make art out of junk, not junk out of junk! If I can't make it wonderful, beautiful, or thought-provoking, forget it. They only way I will do this type of work is if I can see something in the object, if I can pull something out of it, if I can make it alive and show the spirit within it. It must be as good as my landscapes to work. We shall see. Maybe, new horizons will open up.


I was listening to a tape from the workshop I took with Oliver Gagliani. I hadn't realized it, but when Oliver saw my work he said, "This is beautiful work, now go see the world with your own eyes." This is exactly what Minor White had told him when Minor saw Oliver's early work. Oliver said that he would be doing me an injustice by telling me that my work was great and that's all. He wants me to push myself--to put more of myself into my work. I think I should take it as a compliment that he told me the same thing that Minor White had told him. I hope I can grow and expand as much as Oliver has. Whenever I think of him, I feel good. He is such an inspiration.

Today I was getting depressed at all the driving and little photographing I have been doing. I drove about eight hours again today, and made only one image. I drove to Arnarstapi and looked around. I walked to the end of the dock, and as I was ready to leave, something caught my eye. Did it ever. It was shark! It was long since dead, at the end of the dock, half-in, half-out of a burlap bag. Sharks always look intense, death does not diminish their sinister glare!

It's amazing how good I felt after photographing Mr. Shark. Why I feel so good when I photograph puzzles me. Mr. Shark made my day!


I found a lava cave! Near a town called Surtshellir is the biggest lava cave in the world. I couldn't make it down the wet boulders by myself with the pack on, so I left it outside and climbed down. It was difficult, but the cave was fascinating. The boulders were hard to walk on, it was pitch black, my little flashlight doing the best it could to light the way. All the way down I kept thinking, "good thing you left the pack outside, no way could you climb down this thing with 50 pounds on your back." And before the thought finished, that little twinge of guilt that I felt in the White Mountains in California came back. "What the heck are you doing here, then? Aren't you here to photograph?" Back I went to get the pack, but this time I was worried. If I fell in the cave, if I hit my head with 50 lbs on my back, that would be it. All the time I was climbing down, I was talking to myself out loud, "Handgrip, step. Handgrip, step." The rock climbing course I took in Yosemite came in handy--no way I would have attempted this without the lesson. At one point I had to lower the pack down by a rope, then put it back on in the black of the cave. I made only one exposure--it was 35 minutes long. I had to guess, my meter wouldn't give me a reading. It was the only exposure I made all day, and it may not even have had enough exposure. Physically, it was so hard that when I got back to the car I felt nauseous. I wonder now, why did I do it? Is it worth possible serious injury for a photograph? What makes me take these risks? Does photography mean so much to me that I actually risk my life for a photograph?


I've just returned to the Brattholt farm house, near Gullfoss, for the night. Twenty-six exposures today, that may be the most I've ever made in one day. I put the car through hell today, it's a miracle it still runs. I saw some incredible scenery--beautiful glaciers, unbelievable waterfalls, and great autumn colors. I've worked very hard today, I'm almost too tired to write. My equipment has been banged-up so badly, I hope there is no permanent damage. My tripod has some very honorable scars, then again, so do I!



(About 30 days ago in Iceland, I asked why I risk my life for a photograph. I was at a point in my life where I was seeking true meaning; things that had lasting value and importance. On this night in London (actually 12:50 am) I found the answer.)

The path to truth seems to hide at every opportunity--the road is certainly not straight! It seems there are many setbacks and roadblocks along the way. Sometimes it seems like a test of endurance, of how far one can go along the road. Many mistakes seem inevitable, part of the solution is to keep on going, to never give up. To touch truth seems an never ending quest, but the flashes of insight that we have must be grasped and passed on to help others along the journey.

I have just realized that my photography is my "Journey for Truth." It is now becoming clearer why my photography is so important to me.

Other writings:
Journal from California,
My Icelandic Adventure

Copyright(c) Brian Killigrew 2002. All Rights Reserved.