Iceland is a country of beauty and contrasts. Known for its dramatic landscapes and natural marvels, it has been an inspiration for artists for centuries. These 13 days for the workshops have been chosen specifically because they are a time of great activity in Iceland. There are many strong visual themes and events to be photographed in and around Reykjavik.
For the third year in a row, Mary Ellen and Martin will be leading a very unique photography and filmmaking workshop (respectively) in Iceland, the perfect backdrop to an amazing learning experience in association with Icelandic artists Einar “Effi” Falur Ingolfsson and wife, Ingibjorg “Inga” Johannsdottir.
Recently we had the pleasure of talking to them about their reasons for choosing Iceland for this workshop and the reasons why, you cannot afford to miss out on this one of a kind workshop. Following the full conversation….
What first brought your attention to Iceland?
ME: I had two Icelandic photography students in 1983, Ragnar Axlesson and Palli Stefansson. They were full of life and very talented-really interesting guys. In 1988, a young friend of theirs, Einar Falur Ingolfsson (aka Effi) took my workshop in Arles, France. He was only 19 years old at the time. They invited me to have an exhibition in Reykjavik.
How long have you been coming to Iceland?
ME: In 1993, Martin and I went there and we fell in love with it.
MB: It’s a spectacular country with great people and great fishing-a winning combination.
What’s your history there?
ME: We returned several times. In 2002 I had another exhibition of my American photographs at the Reykjavik Museum of Photography.
Martin started making an annual fishing trip there and in 2005 his fishing partner (and my former student), Effi came up with a plan that would allow me to also come to Iceland. He was the photo editor at Morgunbladid-the largest newspaper in Iceland. He is also a talented photographer.
I photographed a famous abstract expressionist painter, a strange teenage hazing ritual, the American artist Roni Horn who lives in Iceland-and at my request, they worked very hard at getting me access to a school for disabled children. (Iceland has a very inclusive and comprehensive educational system for disabled children.) It was very difficult to gain access, but I was granted access for one day. It was there that I met Alexander, one of the students who immediately charmed me and became the main subject that Martin would later make.
In 2006 Martin and I did a project for the National Museum of Iceland on disabled children. Martin made a film called Alexander which is a story of very close Icelandic friends of ours raising their son. I photographed in two schools and a daycare center-gaining access again with the help of Effi. The museum exhibited the photographs and film. The film also aired on Icelandic television.
After this experience, we thought we really wanted to continue our strong attachment to Iceland so we thought about starting a workshop there with Effi and his wife Inga.
What’s most surprising about Iceland?
ME: Most people think that it’s full of ice and that it’s freezing. But, in the summertime it’s beautiful. It’s kind of like great spring weather in New York all summer and the sun never goes down-the light is magnificent.
MB: Also, some people think it’s a country for landscape photography only. While the landscape is extraordinary, so are the people-it’s quite an exotic and eccentric place for people.
What makes it a unique place photograph and film?
MB: It’s isolated, yet sophisticated. It has its own trends and own way of thinking. After all, what other culture as a whole believe in fairies and elves?
What’s most challenging about working here?
MB: It’s actually quite easy to work there-as a matter of fact, it’s a gift to work there. Everyone speaks English and is very open and camera friendly.
ME: We’re very lucky because Effi and Inga know the country and people extremely well and work very hard to get the students access to many things-and access is key. I always tell the students that if they have an idea for a subject, they should research it before they come so they’re ahead of the game-and perhaps we can even get started on access before they arrive.
What are some of the special things that your students have photographed and filmed?
MB: One of my students made a film about a well-known Strongman. There’s a tradition of Icelanders competing in international Strongman competitions. ( film teaser ) Another student made a film about an eccentric gay artist in Reykjavik. (trailer)
ME: Effi’s and my students have photographed a range of topics. You can see some of the photographs from the workshops in the Blurb books that we’ve produced.
What are some of the events going on during the workshop this year?
ME: There are so many things to photograph… To name a few: The Reykjavik Gay Parade is a huge event. The president famously went in drag two years ago. There is a group of amateur synchronized swimmers that swim in the ocean. (Martin thinks that it could be a great film opportunity.) There’s a big music festival in Reykjavik featuring interesting bands. There is a group that does extreme workouts down at the beach in Reykjavik. And there are lots of great stories are possible to photograph and film like the Icelandic ponies, the old age home, etc.
What are you goals for the class?
ME: The first day of class we have a general critique and look at everybody’s previous work.
MB: The idea of the film class is for each student to make a film, but because of the time restraint my goal is for them to create a 2-3 minute trailer for the film that they will ultimately finish later. During the workshop, I work with each student one-on-one each day to look at the dailies and work on editing.
ME: The idea of Effi’s and my photography class is for each student to work on a series of images. They can choose a photo essay or they can work in various settings working different subjects, but they must produce work every day. Every morning, Effi and I meet with each student individually and edit the work that they’ve done the day before. The final class is a critique of the entire week’s edited work with a goal to produce a Blurb work showing everyone’s work (as seen in the links above.)
What’s most rewarding about teaching there?
ME: The most rewarding thing for me is to see my students improve-to take a step and grow as a photographer. I’ve had some amazing students both in Oaxaca and Iceland and it’s really inspiring.
MB: To make a story come to life is extremely difficult, so it’s rewarding to see someone find the key to unlock a story.
Mary Ellen Mark has achieved worldwide visibility through her numerous books, exhibitions and editorial magazine work. She is a contributing photographer to The New Yorker and has published photo-essays and portraits in such publications as LIFE, New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, and Vanity Fair. For almost three decades, she has traveled extensively to make pictures that reflect a high degree of humanism. Today, she is recognized as one of our most respected and influential photographers. Her images of our world’s diverse cultures have become landmarks in the field of documentary photography. Her portrayals of Mother Teresa, Indian circuses, and brothels in Bombay were the product of many years of work in India. A photo essay on runaway children in Seattle became the basis of the academy award nominated film STREETWISE, directed and photographed by her husband, Martin Bell.
Mary Ellen has received many awards and grants including the Cornell Capa Award, the Infinity Award for Journalism, an Erna & Victor Hasselblad Foundation Grant, and a Walter Annenberg Grant for her book and exhibition project on AMERICA. Among her other awards are the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, the Matrix Award for outstanding woman in the field of film/photography, and the Dr. Erich Salomon Award for outstanding merits in the field of journalistic photography. She was also presented with honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degrees from her Alma Mater, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of the Arts; three fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts; the Photographer of the Year Award from the Friends of Photography; the World Press Award for Outstanding Body of Work Throughout the Years; the Victor Hasselblad Cover Award; two Robert F. Kennedy Awards; and the Creative Arts Award Citation for Photography at Brandeis University. Nissan, and Patek Philippe.
Martin Bell started out as a freelance cinematographer for documentaries and drama on English television before coming to the U.S. 20 years ago. Martin is at ease in both documentary and narrative storytelling. He has directed such documentaries as Academy Award nominated “Streetwise”, which followed the lives of runaway kids on the streets of Seattle and “The Amazing Plastic Lady” set in the Indian Circus. He has directed narrative features films including “American Heart” starring Jeff Bridges and “Hidden in America”, a moving portrait of a family struggling with poverty featuring both Beau and Jeff Bridges.
His latest film “Prom” explores the complex lives of teenagers as they transition from childhood to adulthood. Students were interviewed at their own proms about relationships, school work, family, friends, and their hopes and dreams for the future. The film is a companion piece to his wife Mary Ellen Mark’s photographic project of the same name. “Prom” was in the opening night program at the Los Angeles Shorts Fest.
His ongoing film project, “A New York Story”, aims to capture the energy and resilient spirit of New York City since September 11, 2001.
His commercial clients have included Nike, making for them a spot about major league baseball hopefuls in the Dominican Republic, a real people campaign for CSFB online trading, and most recently a beautiful black & white campaign for the Visiting Nurse Service of New York.
Links to recent films by Martin Bell: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL6YfpI0VEjhsClcph-GniJqRJ0lmSYj9W