I spent the winter photographing its beautiful darkness.
Winter in North Iceland is dark. It can be brutal, with high wind speeds and heavy snowfall. And after spending nearly three months in minimal daylight, seasonal affective disorder takes over — even against the breathtaking landscapes. In Ólafsfjörður, a town of 800, spirits are high during December, with Christmas to celebrate and a New Year’s Eve bonfire and firework show to look forward to. Houses are decorated in Christmas lights that, quite literally, brighten the town. For foreigners, the darkness can be excruciating to manage as the days grow darker and circadian rhythms are thrown off. For locals, it’s another way of life — and they handle it like champions with the assistance of vitamin D and cod liver oil.
There were 2 hours and 42 minutes of “daylight,” though it feels like twilight, on Dec. 21, winter solstice. Ólaf sits in shade cast by the mountain range blocking the sun. Winter solstice means that longer days are near and the fleeting sun will return. New Years Eve is an exciting celebration in town: At 8 p.m. the rescue team, made up of local volunteers, host a large bonfire on a snow-covered beach where they'll put on a deafening firework show. At midnight, more fireworks light up the town as they're launched in the streets, on the beach, and on the mountainside.
Every day, the sun rises higher and, after 9 weeks away, locals gathered to welcome it back, though a snowstorm made it impossible to see. Despite the storm, Siggi, a goði (priest) from the Norse religion held a sun ceremony on Jan. 26 dedicated to Freyr, ruler of peace and sunshine, and Syn, the goddess who guards boundaries (or tunnels). Locals gathered around a fire at the high school, Siggi spoke to the gods in Icelandic, then passed a ram's horn filled with MaltExtrakt, a malt drink, as each person hailed to something: mother nature, the sun, even uncertainty.