27 December 2012

Saga Sites

There’s a great little exhibit at the Scandinavia House right now. “Saga Sites: Landscapes of the Icelandic Sagas” features 19th century watercolours by W.G. Collingwood of the sites associated with the sagas of Icelanders juxtaposed with modern photographs by Einar Falur Ingólfsson of the same locations.

Englishman W.G. Collingwood journeyed to Iceland in 1897 with his friend Jón Stefánsson to visit the various settings of the sagas—important prose stories about the people who settled Iceland that became the foundation of the country’s literary tradition. He completed 300 watercolours during his three-month trip and later published them in A Pilgrimage to the Sagasteads of Iceland. Between 2007 and 2009, Icelandic photographer Einar Falur Ingólfsson, interested in seeing how the saga sites had changed since Collingwood's time, set out to capture them with his camera. And while he used Collingwood's watercolours and writings as a guide, he often shot from a different perspective. 

In many cases, the areas appear to have changed little in the past 100 years save for the occasional telephone lines. Sometimes the modern view takes an almost comic turn: an empty field in the 19th century today is home to an abandoned bus. I especially loved the landscapes that show a lone house in the watercolour and in the photograph a slightly more modern lone house.

Many of Collingwood's watercolours are small yet filled with great details. He captures the beauty of the land while conjuring up the feeling of isolation. Ingólfsson’s photographs are vivid with rich colour and often quite striking, their large format helping to convey the vastness of the land.

The works of these two artists allow the viewer to place the people from the sagas in their environment, bringing the stories to life. But most of all they show the unique place that is Iceland. I went to Iceland one year for my birthday and loved it—magnificient mountains and waterfalls; crater-filled land and volcanoes; crystal clear rivers and geysers. There's no other place quite like it.

The exhibit runs through January 12, 2013 and the admission is free. For more information, visit the Scandinavia House here.

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