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Snapshots: Savoring the Light in Iceland

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Hveragerði, located 45 km east of Reykjavik, used to be home to Iceland's largest pool compmlex, Laugaskarð, pictured here. It is a popular tourist destination for Icelanders because of its geothermal complex and outstanding scenery.

As summer draws to a close, I hear my friends and family lament its passing. The days of warm skin and noisy crickets run out too fast. Usually I want to remind them that they knew this was coming. That maybe they should have taken that camping trip or at least spent a few lunch breaks outside. But I also remember that the reason they appreciate summer so much is that it doesn’t last.

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A family soaks in a hot tub at a pool in Flúðir, which has a population of about 400 people.

A few summers ago I took a trip to Iceland for a workshop with a photography hero of mine, Mary Ellen Mark. I thought that I would focus on documenting fishermen while I was there because I was working on a similar project back home in D.C. But after the first day, I knew that this would not be the case. The ships weren’t going to be as visual as I had thought, and so I just set off wandering through Reykjavik and a few other small towns in southern Iceland.

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Mountain view from a bus window on the return trip to Reykjavik from a small town in southern Iceland.

It was impossible for me to focus on anything but the people I saw absorbing summer against a vast and otherworldly backdrop—bright pops of color in a landscape of consistent greens and grays, a palette I think of as characteristically Scandinavian. The geothermal pools and beaches were a cultural staple, something that everyone from toddlers to senior citizens seemed to enjoy equally. People were picnicking, camping, swimming, and tanning, like there would never be another day of sunshine.

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A German couple summering in Reykjavik prepares to leave Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach in the late evening.
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The backyard of a family in Reykjavik. They prepared for a picnic after spending a morning at the swimming pool.
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A girl plays in the community pool in Flúðir, Iceland. The tiny town is actually a tourist destination for many Icelanders because of its beautiful location in the mountains and its close distance to Reykjavik.

I wonder if, when you live in a place that spends a great deal of the year in darkness, you more wholly embrace the light while it’s there just out of a physical necessity. Like a rechargeable battery pack, filling up and running down again, or like eating a big lunch when you know you’re going to have a really late dinner.

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Iceland has very few trees, which makes it ideal for grazing sheep. Here, a grove stands at the edge of a winding rural road.
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An elderly woman rests in the sunshine at Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach in Reykjavik.

The few days I had there were soon over, and I returned to D.C., which held, for me, slightly less inspiration. If not because of Washington’s less-lunar landscape, then because of the distractions of real life. As a photo editor, I spend a lot of my waking hours thinking about and looking at other people’s pictures from all over the globe. But for the photographer in me, I see the time that I’ve spent “in the field” as sort of like sweet summer—something that recharges and inspires me for the rest of the year. It’s something that I always look forward to coming around again.

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A girl looks out at the lake from the the Úlfljótsvatn camp site, 45 km from Reykjavik, where the 2012 International Scout Jamboree was held.

See more of Becky’s work on her website and follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

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