“Can we use geothermal energy in a better way than how it’s been done in the past, with ugly above-ground zigzagging pipes that carry the steam and lie across the landscape like a broken zipper?” - Styrmir Gunnarsson (2008)
In Iceland the landscape is a substantial part of the nation’s image. The image of Iceland’s “pure” and terrifyingly beautiful nature has reached far in and ultimately contributed to a great boom in tourism in recent years, with people flocking in from all over the world to experience it.
In 2007 the Icelandic prime minister appointed a special image committee to shape the countries international image. The committee decided on the catchwords energy, freedom and peace as the key components of Iceland’s image, with special emphasis on Iceland’s sustainable energy resources.
This volcanic island in the north Atlantic has an abundance of geothermal spots and violent glacial rivers prime for harnessing energy. Geothermal and hydroelectric resources generate nearly all of the countries energy and heating needs. Because it’s plentiful, it’s also cheap. At present, only 30% of the energy produced in Iceland is for domestic use. The remaining 70% is generated for industrial use, predominantly aluminium smelters run by international corporations, (the largest and most controversial being the purpose built Kárahnjúkar hydroelectric energy plant in the east-Icelandic highlands).
Iceland and the UK are currently in discussion about supplying sustainable energy from Iceland to the UK via subsea cable. Such a large-scale project will require tapping into more of Iceland’s unused hydro-and geothermal energy sources, resulting in the potential building of several new energy plants in the Icelandic countryside. This has raised questions about the worldwide benefits of sustainable energy versus the environmental impact of such constructions on the Icelandic landscape.
The Orka project focuses on new and unexpected representations of Icelandic nature. Centred on the structures around eight geothermal and hydroelectric energy plants, it shows the rarely displayed man-made structures of the country. The implementation of these power stations in Iceland has great visual impact on its nature, creating a dilemma for a nation that identifies itself internationally through its image of untouched landscape.
Orka highlights the visual impact of theses energy structures, how they create an interrupted landscape of tormented rifts, beautiful geometry and strange land art that reshape the surface of the nature.
Svala Ragnars is an Icelandic photographer based in London. She recently completed an MA in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography at London College of Communication and has previously studied Fine Arts at The Iceland Academy of the Arts. She was selected as a finalist in Magnum Photos and The Photography show’s “30 under 30” competition in February 2014 and has previously been shortlisted for the international street photography awards in 2013. Her work is centered on the imprint of humanity on the environment and nature through a stark and graphic visual style.
Aprils's featured photographer was Svala Ragnars