Per Breiehagen, a celebrated gold award winner in Graphis Photography 2023, translates Iceland’s cold, mystic whispers into a visual masterpiece. As a Norwegian artist deeply embedded in Nordic lore, his curiosity for the island’s primitive tales and enchanting landscapes fueled this award-winning journey. Iceland, a realm draped in contrasts—fire against ice, stark terrains against compelling beauty—resonates with stories of ancient monks, Vikings, and supernatural creatures. With these spectral echoes as his muse, Breiehagen frames the Gatklettur Sea Arch under the shimmering veil of the Northern Lights in “Sea Arch With Northern Lights, Iceland,” creating vivid imagery of a lone monk trapped between earthly grit and celestial brilliance. A perfect blend of chance and persistence, his work overcomes nature’s whims to reveal the mesmerizing waltz of the Aurora Borealis across the turbulent sea. This gold medal image from Photography 2023 exquisitely encapsulates the indomitable human spirit against the canvas of cosmic grandeur.
By: Per Breiehagen
Iceland had always been at the top of my list to explore, but growing up in Norway, we sought out warmer places when the short summers arrived. If there is one thing Iceland doesn’t offer, it is friendly weather and sunny beaches. I’ve always had a vivid imagination, and as a young boy growing up in Norway, I created fierce Viking battles out of clay, building small ships and villages—the fascination with our ancient past is ever present.
The mystique of Iceland’s ancient history inspired me to seek out areas in Iceland that I felt embodied the island’s often dark and arduous past. The dramatic volcanic landscape and the unforgiving ocean give the imagination ample room to wander back in time; the landscape brings forth visions of people and events from long ago.
Irish monks are believed to have been the first to arrive in Iceland as temporary settlers, fleeing political upheaval and Viking raids between the seventh and ninth centuries. They eventually gave up on the isolated and inhospitable terrain and weather and left the country without so much as a listed name. It must have been a brutal existence.
The Gatklettur Sea Arch in Arnarstapi, Iceland, carries all the mystical elements of the ancient beliefs in elves, trolls and ghosts of the past. With the Aurora Borealis flowing above, the place brings you back in time. It was natural for me to visualize a solitary monk perched on the edge of this lava structure, gazing out over the rough sea and the surreal sky above. Maybe he dreams of returning to Ireland and a more hospitable environment.
Photographing the Aurora Borealis is a game of luck and patience. Many nights nothing happens; other nights, heavy clouds obscure the celestial dance. When the Aurora does appear in a cloud-free sky, it’s definitely worth the often frustrating wait. Next to the ocean, the wind is usually so intense that long exposures aren’t an option; the camera shakes on the tripod even when held down by weights, and ocean spray will cover the lens. The elements definitely have to work in your favor to create an image like this.
Per Breiehagen grew up in Ål, a small mountain town in southern Norway, surrounded by a rugged landscape, unique characters, and magical light. His father was a photographer and he started experimenting with the camera at an early age. It didn’t take long before the passion took hold. His client list includes National Geographic, Men’s Journal, The New York Times Magazine, Fortune, Random House, Arctic Cat, Gore-Tex, Salomon Skis, Mercury Marine, The French Bureau of Tourism, The North Face, Sony, Rolling Stone, Polaris Industries, Patagonia, Disney, and more.