Iceland. It must have been more than 2 decades ago (possibly even more than three) since I first saw images of its otherworldly vastness, untouched by human hands; of majestic, stark mountains, grudgingly bending the knee to the unceasing erosion eating away at their slopes and turning them into massive piles of rubble; of barren and seemingly ancient landscapes, able to instill an intense feeling of isolation and solitude.
On top of being a pinnacle of beauty, Iceland called out to to my inner romanticist (think "Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer" by Caspar David Friedrich, but perhaps without the air of defiance) and I knew I'd have no choice but to heed that call eventually.
A lot has happened since then. Iceland rapidly became a hype, maybe with the first signs of its passing already on the horizon. Thank humans and the speed at which they get bored. In any case, in the wake of the hype, an endless stream of images flooded (and still floods) the social and other media, fuelling the drive of every next person to hunt for ever more spectacular pictures (or likes).
Or more aptly perhaps, pictures that ever so briefly rise up from the mud and get their 5 minutes of fame. The collective appreciation for the place may have slowly eroded away in part because of that murder by pictures.
Although my own fascination remained, I started to question my plan to visit the island: it appeared that everything had already been shot in the nicest light possible and from the best possible angle. So why visit ?
Wouldn't actually being there, in conditions that are bound to be less favourable than those that gave rise to the best of images, elicit nothing but disappointment? Would the place actually be able to live up to a reputation build on pictures that are not quite representative?
While my original infatuation was centred around taking in the formidable landscapes, along the way I'd picked up my first camera and started to shoot. Obviously, visiting Iceland would now be about taking pictures as much as about wandering around. So, I also began to question the logic of contributing to the pictorial overload, and my ability to do so in a meaningful and new way.
Taking outstanding shots requires a decent amount of luck (weather conditions, number of people around, ...), patience/time, and experience with the subject. Low-hanging fruit in the form of something that hasn't been pictured before was long gone, and if it weren't I wouldn't be interested in shooting it anyway: images that stand out solely because of previously unknown subject matter, are rarely good pictures.
One alternative consisted of remaining in one spot (or a very limited number of them) for the entire trip, so as to increase my chances of getting a perfect shot. Because of my desire to see as much as possible - without driving around like a madman however, this wasn't an actual option.
Knowing however that my (photographic) big trips were in no way going to be a regular indulgence, I ultimately decided to drop Iceland from my list, and started a long distance love affair with New Zealand (current state: it's complicated), in no small way because of the incredible landscapes featured in the Lord of the Ring movies.
Two years ago, a first big trip became a practical possibility, and I kicked into research mode. In hindsight not unsurprisingly, my eyes became fixed on that other very young (geologically speaking) island called Hawaii ...
Two things unfixed my eyes, the first resulting from a slow process reaching critical mass, i.e. me finding my way as a photographer. You can add to that the rather obvious realisation that not all pictures need necessarily be force-fed to the rest of the world: some (most) merely serve as a memory crutch to a great trip, and remain personal.
The other eye-opener struck like lightning. At that point, I had been following photographer Ming Thein for quite a while (and I still do), and had become an avid reader of his essays. In particular, I connect with his keen eye, the way he approaches photography as a scientific process, and the way he consciously and purposefully re-invents himself, thus distancing himself from mainstream imagery.
Starting near the end of 2017, he published a number of posts showcasing what he'd shot with a Hasselblad X1D Field Kit and a couple of Mavic drones in October that year, during a stay in Iceland. His shots were utterly marvellous, because of how ambient light was exploited, of how the shots had been composed (forgoing wide angle lenses, in favour of long focus lenses), and because of the chosen subject matter.
The choices he made on the latter resulted in images that, in theory, could have been shot everywhere because the subject wasn't (easily recognisable as) a known landmark, but in a practical sense, probably only in Iceland. To my knowledge (and fairly limited experience with landscape photography), what he did was new, and immediately convinced me that it was actually still possible to come back with original and noteworthy shots, under any and all conditions you're confronted with on site.
While he might have been lucky with the cloud cover (it was unusually hot during my own stay, with very often steel blue skies, hard light and just a few deformed clouds), I was ready to take up the challenge and maybe even produce some noteworthy stuff in addition to the mere visual memories I would surely end up with.
In any case, Iceland wasn't just back on the list, it was on top again.