Arnes is an isolated region in Western Fiords in Iceland where I spent an autumn month in 2010. This work was a continuation of my previous 3-year project on a little village in Ukrainian Carpathian Mountains. In both cases I was fascinated with rural life, its connection and proximity to the nature. I wanted to examine this intimate and very archetypical relation. I was also interested in portraying a specificity of life in such small isolated community.
It is very appropriate that Iceland is shaped like a sheep, lying stoically in the field, minding her own business, because it has been remarked on numerous occasions that the Icelandic sheep has kept the nation alive throughout the centuries. It is especially fitting that this short-footed animal is to thank for Icelanders surviving hardship, cold, hunger and misery because Icelandic mentality is not that different from that of a sheep. While the Icelandic sheep can endure freezing temperatures and long standing hunger, their owners do the same.
Iceland’s head, the West Fjords, differ from other parts of the country in that the mountains are higher, the fjords deeper and some say the people are a strange breed, even having magical powers. Where the wind stirs the woolly tuft at the back of Iceland’s head, that’s where you’ll find the country’s most remote dwellings: the Arnes region. 38 people tend to more than 2700 sheep.
Every season has its tasks and chores. Everything runs on the everlasting circle of life. In the spring there is lambing season. In summer, tourists and haymaking. Autumn brings sheep gathering and slaughtering. Then, the sheep are locked up for the winter. The wool is sheared in November and mating season happens around Christmas. From January till March the roads sometimes close for days or even weeks due to heavy snow. A small plane lands at the airport in Gjogur twice a week, weather permitting. Life sure slows down in the darkest months. Together they endure the winter, the people and sheep in Arnes. And then it is spring again. The circle of life continues.
—Jan Brykczynski (with extract from a text by Kristín Heiða Kristinsdóttir)