‘It’s the closest thing to the moon’: my space odyssey to Iceland

Sulphur escapes from the ground in the geothermal area of Hverir. Photograph: Robert Ormerod for the Guardian

It’s the elemental childhood fantasy, isn’t it, to see space in some way, says photographer Robert Ormerod. I think I wanted to be an astronaut, and then that enthusiasm got replaced by other things. But there are those people who never lose it, and I’m interested in what they do with that passion. Such a small fraction of the population will ever go to space how do those people live their dream?

It’s a question that in recent years has led Ormerod all over the world in pursuit of space enthusiasts, shooting UFO hunters in America and amateur rocket builders at a festival in the Highlands of Scotland. His latest expedition, captured in these photographs, took him to Iceland. He wanted to track down the aurora hunters, people who spend their nights chasing the northern lights. Then there was the opportunity to capture the country’s unique topography, its weird and wonderful lunar landscapes.

Northern Lights in Icelaand

An aurora hunter photographs a traditional house lit by the northern lights.
Photograph: Robert Ormerod for the Guardian

If you’ve watched a sci-fi blockbuster at the cinema over the last few years, you will have seen a fair bit of Iceland without realising it. From the Vatnajkull glacier to the Krafla volcano, it is the perfect stand-in whenever a vast, otherworldly set is required. The opening scene of Ridley Scotts Prometheus features the spectacular Dettifoss waterfall. More than one of the planets featured in Interstellar was created from Icelandic locations; the ice planet, home of Matt Damon’s character, Dr. Mann, is part of the huge Svnafellsjkull glacier. Sequences of the water planet, with its huge, terrifying waves, were filmed with a 52ft spaceship replica in the lowlands at Mfabt; such is the quality of the air that cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema shot those scenes using only natural light. Icelandic backdrops crop up in Batman Begins, Star Trek, Tomb Raider and, of course, in numerous Star Wars films (the black sand beaches of Jyn Ersos hideaway planet in the early scenes of Rogue One were shot at Mrdalssandur). When Jon Snow headed north of the Wall in Game Of Thrones, he was, of course, heading to Iceland.

But for many, the landscape is the real attraction. Hiring a car to hit the Golden Circle is increasingly popular, a 190-mile round trip of the area surrounding Reykjavik that takes in sights such as the Gullfoss waterfall, the wild ingvellir national park and Geysir, a huge, spouting hot spring.

Image courtesy of theguardian.com

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