‘The Earth is Only a Little Dust under our Feet’ – A guide to magical Iceland

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When Bego Antón enrolled in the Icelandic Elf School, a woman told her she would write a book two fingers fat about her adventures in Iceland.

Thus,The Earth is Only a Little Dust Under our Feet is both a fulfilled prophecy and an extremely creative photobook.

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Iceland is well known for its inhabitants’ deep cultural roots and magical thinking. News about how the Icelandic government has made decisions based on elves’ lives travel fast on the internet age.

But Bego Antón has gone much deeper: she (who is a believer herself) has met the believers and has magically photographed them and their environment.

The result is fascinating: a photobook filled with stories of invisible beings and the people who can see them.

Bego Antón chats with Wayfarer Books about her elf school diploma, her travel experience in Iceland and photographing the invisible.

WAYFARER BOOKS: Would you share with Wayfarer Books’ readers where  inspiration for ‘The Earth is Only a Little Dust under our Feet’ came from?

BEGO ANTÓN – I was reading and researching about Iceland and I discovered Reikjavik’s Elf School. The first thing I did was enrolling Magnus’ course to learn everything I needed to know about the magical world.
Sucessful students get a diploma, which warrants that I am an specialist in the field.
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Very soon, I knew that behind the school and, especially, behind the elves and other folk creatures living in Iceland, there was a story I wanted to tell and a world in which I wanted to get immersed.

WB – You spent some time in Iceland for this project. What was this experience like? Was it the first time you visited the island?

B.A – In summer 2013 I went there in summer with my family and we travelled on the south of the island. That same year, in winter, I started this project in an artists residency in a small village in the north.

I spent two months in this residency, but it wasn’t enough to tell the full story I wanted to get, so I returned many times to Iceland until 2017.

I’ve been in different areas of the country and in different seasons. I searched for the people who can see these creatures and the places where they live. Each time I came back to the island was special, and I have developed a very strong link with the place.

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WB – Your photography in this project is widely imaginative – fantasy colours and other elements make the Icelandic landscape effectively magic. How did you reach that point or idea? When and why did you add that “magic” to your photographs?

BA – Iceland is magical and photography doesn’t do justice to the country. The theme was already related to magic and speaks of the invisible.

 That was the challenge. How can I photograph the things that I am unable to see?

I decided to base my photography in the descriptions of the people who see all these creatures when I shot the landscape.

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In their portraits, I used the interplay of colours and lights. This is a direct reference to the people’s aura and the energy that radiates from them.
Among the people I met, many are able to see auras and they described to me an outline of colours that goes around people.

These colours are different according to their mood or their personality.

The idea of the aura is continuously present in the book, both in the landscape and the portrait pictures. And this was always performed with tricks in front of the camera.

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WF – As you relate in ‘The Earth is Only a Little Dust under our Feet’, you met the subjects for your portraits asking around for people who believed in elves or other magical creatures. The connection with this people is evident in your photographs.

Can you recount an encounter which was especially magical or the one that you most vividly remember?

BA – Each encounter had something special because each of these people’s interior lives were very different.

To me, it was very important to meet Bryndis, because she has joined me in this project since I started in 2013 and is still present in my life. She even attended the book’s presentation in Barcelona.

She lives near a rock where elves dwell and, when I first met her, she took me up there, almost at dusk, to help me see the elves that lived there. It was a very beautiful moment, although I didn’t manage to see anything.

Another woman, Nina, gave me a bracelet and blessed it with dragon’s blood.

Thousands of wonderful things have happened to me while I worked on this project, but it’s hard to pick because it ended up being very personal.

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WF – Are there any other photographers, photobooks or artists that inspired you to hunt for the supernatural in your photography?

I didn’t search for inspiration in photography for this project. Everything was very intuitive. For a long time now, my references have been more in painting and cinema and less in photography.

WF – You’ve been in charge of a workshop called ‘How to photograph the invisible’. Would you share a tip about this?
Since the invention of photography, we have been photographing the invisible. We have used X-Rays, cameras which were able to capture people’s auras, papel fairies or bringing out to light the deep web. My tip? Experiment.

WF – Photography is commonly associated with shooting what is immediately in front of our eyes. However, in ‘The Earth is Only a Little Dust under our Feet’ and your project ‘Haiek danak sorginak’ (“All them witches”, in Basque), you make photography come close to magic.

What is the story you want to tell?

BEGO ANTÓN – I don’t think photography captures reality. Besides, what is real? Everything is subjective.

‘Haiek danak sorginak’ traces the witch hunt that happened in the Basque Country in the Middle Ages. I have based my work in the confessions made by the women who were accused of witchcraft, confessed by means of torture and threats.

This project is based on actual events, but it’s only a half-truth because it’s only the inquisitor’s point of view that has been preserved. They transcribed the women’s confessions using their own filters.

My goal is to demystify the idea of the witches, and elevate these women who suffered an unfair prosecution. It’s their story, told the way I imagine it.

WB – Did you hang the Elf School diploma on your home or office?

BA – 🙂  I never thought of it, but I keep everything I learned in my mind.

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