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BLUE TREES by Martin Neumann



owadays more and more people are moving from the countryside to the city. First, because they hope to improve working and earning potential, but also because there is a better infrastructure and more cultural possibilities. Iceland is especially affected in this regard.

„A tree can grow big if you just put him on one place. But if you put it on another ground over and over again, the roots cannot grow big and thick.“

staying „A tree can grow big if you just put him on one place. But if you put it on another ground over and over again, the roots cannot grow big and thick.“ - these are the words of Finnbogi Bernodusson. He´s 65 years old and his family has lived at the same place for the last 600 years - Bolungarvik. This village has a population of around 900 people and is the northernmost village of the West Fjords in Iceland. One of its streets leads to the ocean. His son died on the old street to Isafjördur, because rocks felt down, 21 years ago. But Finnbogi had never spend a thought about leaving the region, even not after the death of his son: „This is just what I grew up with. People die because of the nature - ocean, avalanches, or rocks. I have lost 11 relatives and friends in 11 months.“

But he was getting a lot of support and help by the closed community of the village. „Many people are affected if someone dies because everybody knows everyone here, so there´s always a group of people you can talk to,“ he said. „People are dealing with death in another way here. They know that people are dying here. It is just a question of how and when. But you can´t sit down and cry about it. You know that this is out there and that it will happen.“ To cope with the dangerous coastal route, the community built a tunnel to the neighbouring village, Isafjördur. But the nature still affects the life of the people - both in their actions as well as their thinking. The land routes are very long because of the deep fjords. To get to one place and to return the same day is almost

impossible. The gravel roads are almost impassable in the wintertime. Mountain huts with a telephone and some food can save lives. Shipment of goods is only possible on the land routes because there are no ferries. Shipping by sea is only possible for the fishing industry in the remote port cities. fish industry The fishing industry was settled in the 17th century and still forms the largest industry in the West Fjords. But a new fishing quotas law was passed in Iceland 15 years ago. Many of the residents sold their private quotas to larger fish companies and moved away. But the isolation of several villages, routes occasionally inaccessible because of the weather, and the fear of big avalanches (like in 1995 in Sudavik and Flateri) are reasons people consider moving away. The whole region is sparsely populated, with about 7400 people in an area of 9409 square kilometres (0,8 people/km²). In the early 20th century, about 16% of Iceland´s population lived in the region. Now, it‘s only 3%.

The whole population of Iceland is about 304.000 people nowadays. Two-thirds of them live in Reykjavik, which has about 200.000 inhabitants. Most of the Icelandic population lives along the coast. A great exodus began in the forties. Today, approximately 93 percent of Iceland‘s population lives in cities. The urban population was around 20 per cent at the beginning of the 20th centry, but remote areas such as Snæfellsnes, the extreme northeast, and the West Fjords experienced the greatest number of city-bound migrants. innovation But there are also people like 26-year-old Sandra Borg, who moved to Bolungarvik a year ago. She was raised in Reykjavik and studied fashion design in Rome for four years before coming here. „I have always lived in bigger cities so I wanted to see how it is to live in a small village,„ she said. „Also my grandparents are living here and I visited them very often when I was younger. So this is not my home, but a place that I know very well and care about a lot.“

Sandra enjoys the silence and the special energy of the place, which nobody can really explain. She can can focus on her creativity here and is not distracted by the rush of a big city like Reykjavik. Moreover, the rent is cheaper and she can be still in contact with the „outside world“ through the Internet. She wants to open her own small shop with dresses she designed herself. „Everybody is asking me about my upcoming store and everybody is excited to see what will be in the store, because nothing like this has happened in the last years. I feel a little bit under pressure doing somehting good. I´m pressured by producing clothes by myself and also sell them by myself.“ Sandra doesn´t know how long she will stay in Bolungarvik but she can´t imagine a better place for her at the moment. leaving 53-year-old Amel Dunkley Sigurjonsson, on the other hand, wants to leave her small village as soon as possible. She is originally from Jamaica and has lived here for the last 24 years, but now it´s enough for her. „I´m getting tired of Bolungarvik because it´s too small. I think it would

be okay when there were summer all the time. But it´s getting so dark when the winter is coming. It really drives me crazy. I´m getting depressed. I don´t know how I have been here for so long. In Jamaica I was used to do everything outside.“ Amel came to Iceland because her best girl friend missed her, but also to push her boundaries. „I just wanted to try something new because I had never travelled before. It was my first time to be away from Jamaica. I never heard about Iceland before and I didn´t know where it was. I was 27 years old and I didn´t mind at all. She just sent me an invitation. Everything was paid.“ Amel knows the country and the people very well now because she´s been married to an Icelander for almost 23 years now. But she doesn´t want to leave Iceland. She wants to open a shop for black people with her older son in Reykjavik, because there´s no good shop in the capital. Her husband wants to stay in Bolungarvik because he was born there and his whole family is living there. They aren´t divorced, yet. Her 16-year old daughter wants to go with her to Reykjavik but the smaller 14-years old daughter would rather stay by her father in Bolungarvik.

„I just wanted to try something new because I had never travelled before. It was my first time to be away from Jamaica. I never heard about Iceland before and I didn´t know where it was. I was 27 years old and I didn´t mind at all. She just sent me an invitation. Everything was paid.“ life 49-year old fisherman, Sigurður Þórisson, describes life here in a different way: „People are much more open and friendly here. People treat you like they want to be treated themselves. I think in bigger cities, it´s much easier to get lonely and to not get in contact with other people. You can act as you want here, but of course...if you´re going over a certain line than people start to talk about you. But in a good way. They care about you. They´ll ask you: „Can I do something for you?“ You wouldn´t see anyone acting like this in Reykjavik.“

The life in the West Fjords is much more relaxed and calm than in Reykjavik, but there also some things missing. For example, you have to go to Reykjavik for special doctors or to visit the authorities, but these are just minimal problems in the eyes of most inhabitants. Most people who live here have traveled to other countries, or even lived in other countries, but they have deliberately chosen to return. future As of 2008, a slight increase in population has occured in the region. It is not clear if this is due to the financial crisis or to a return to „old Icelandic lifestyles“. It remains to be seen whether it is a temporary phenomenon or whether the people will stay here for longer.

Finnbogi Bernodusson | Metalworker

Animal exhibition in the National History Museum | Bolungarvik

pictures of the family from Finnbogi Bernodusson

view to the harbour | Bolungarvik

part of the harbour | Isafjรถrdur

old industry silo | Bolungarvik

Arngrimur Kristinsson | fisherman

guns and swords in the office of Finnbogi Bernodusson

entrence of a house | Sudavik


| Sudavik

view to Bolungarvik

part of the living room of Finnbogi Bernodusson

wreck | Isafjรถrdur

Helgi Edvald & Villi Robert Reimarsson | Bolungarvik

part of the airport | Isafjรถrdur

village center | Bolungarvik

Sigurdur Fridrik Ludviksson | music teacher


Wirot Khiunsanthia | fisherman from Thailand

building lot |


corridor in the house of Finnbogi Bernodusson

Amel Dunkley Sigurjonsson | works in a shrimp factory

Blue Trees  

photo essay about the West Fjords in Iceland