The relentless dark of Icelandic winter means its people experience it under the constant glow of streetlights. Stuart Richardson captured their stark beauty.
Winter in Iceland is relentlessly dark. “Most Icelanders experience it under the constant glow of streetlights. As an American who moved to Iceland in 2007, I was struck by how well-lit Reykjavík was compared with New York City. The small city was far brighter than any other I had visited. For each image in this series, called Sodium Sun, I’ve given the title a number, which tells the viewer how many streetlights are in the frame.”
Stuart Richardson was born in 1978 in Auckland, NZ and raised in Connecticut. Originally a student of Russian and Japanese history, he became interested in photography while on a Fulbright in Vladivostok, Russia. The initial interest grew and he left academia to pursue photography. After moving to Iceland in 2007, he opened Custom Photo Lab, where he specializes in producing exhibitions for fellow photographers and artists. In 2014, his series Sodium Sun / Natríum Sól was exhibited at the National Museum of Iceland. The series was published as a book of the same name. Currently, he is a member of the class of 2018 of the Hartford Art School’s International Limited Residency MFA. He has exhibited in Iceland, Germany and the United States, with upcoming shows in Denmark and Finland.
“The long nights and challenging weather of the Icelandic winter had given me cabin fever. One night, I went for a drive just to get out of the house. I came upon this newly constructed overpass on the outskirts of Reykjavík, the last major structure before the lighting trails off into darkness. The architecture was beautiful, but I was left wondering who it was for. I photographed for three hours and the only things that crossed over the highway were a single car and an arctic fox.”
Streetlights in Iceland are often clustered in areas where there is little traffic. They obscure the outline of the landscape and all but the brightest stars. Even as they block out the natural environment, there is stark beauty in their geometric forms.
Even in the countryside, there are streetlights. Sometimes it is difficult to determine what exactly they are lighting, if anything at all. At one point this light might have served a purpose, but now it only lights a grassy hillside.
“You have to travel quite far outside the city to get to an area free of light pollution. The glow of Reykjavík’s lights is clearly visible from the Snæfellsnes peninsula, 120km away across Faxaflói Bay. Iceland’s infrastructure is getting more and more use, and the streetlights that used to shine only for me are now more often than not lighting the way for another traveller.”