“Smoke” is a personal documentary project about my relationship to and feelings about an isolated, sparsely populated island in the North Atlantic: Iceland.

This series was born out of an obsession: an obsession with a place, its people and surroundings. An obsession with Iceland. I had never traveled on my own before I landed at Keflavik airport for the first time. Ahead of me sprawled several weeks of emptiness, of unknown.

I didn’t know anybody in the entire country—but something happened. I kept coming back, time after time, over the years. I obsessively saved up for my trips to Iceland. I kept meeting people—many of them in flux, like me—who were only passing through Reykjavik. At some point I realized that another version of me had taken form: I had created a new identity, a new fixed point in my life. What was once an exhausting challenge became familiar and friendly.

Traditionally, documentary photography is known for presenting the truth. Photography is a tool I use to understand my surroundings, but I have never believed in the idea that a photograph is a “carrier of the truth.” In my work, I want to get rid of this idea—dispose of the obligations that traditionally surround documentary practice.

My method is traditional—I never arrange situations, and I shoot with black-and-white 35 mm film. For me, photographs are a raw material; the pictures are small pieces I use to create my own emotional narrative. Whether the pictures depict the truth or not, its not important. What matters are my relationships and feelings towards people and places. For me, photography is about understanding the world and exploring myself.

—Theo Elias

If you’d like to see more work like this, we’d recommend these previous features: In My Backyard, a poetic series shot in Iceland that grapples with the photographer’s identity; Streams and Glaciers, photographs that abandon scale and perspective to present us with elegant abstract compositions; and Sauna, a poetic series on life in one of Sweden’s remote archipelagos.