Creating a Self-Portrait in Glacier Bay

Creating a Self-Portrait in Glacier Bay

It was the trip of a lifetime. One year ago I hosted an artist retreat in France, and the group that came together fell in plutonic, blissful love. Throughout the rest of the year we had joked (who even knows how it started) that we should go to Iceland together for an epic reunion, and somewhere along the line, it started to become real. I put together an itinerary with my assistant, and we planned and planned what a trip to Iceland could actually look like with 18 people and 4 RVs. To my surprise, when I made the announcement with the proposed itinerary, every single person who joined us the year before signed on, and the trip was set. We were going to Iceland.

I went into the trip with a great sense of adventure. I’ve rarely been camping before, let alone in Iceland. I had no idea how to work a motorhome. I didn’t know how to navigate the land or if the beautiful sights I wanted to see were actually where Google maps insisted. But I was going with friends, no obligation to anyone except to have fun and lead as best I could. And so I did, and we did, and it was the most grand adventure I could ever have hoped for.

I’ll share more about the trip in due time, but for now, let’s talk about this instantly heart-throbbing place that I was able to shoot at. It is called Glacier Bay, or in Iceland: Jokulsarlon. It is a popular tourist attraction, but we managed to arrive late and do our photographing late, so that when I finally got into the water, it was midnight. The tourists had gone and we had full reign of the space to photograph as we wished. With the light never fully going away in an Icelandic summer, we were able to be with this space as long as we wanted.

I had anticipated our arrival at Glacier Bay, so much so that before I left on my trip I went on a journey for a wet suit. When I finally spoke to someone knowledgable about cold water, I was laughed at profusely and told that I needed a dry suit. That was going to set me back at least $400. And I just couldn’t justify that kind of money for a single shot with the glaciers. So instead, I opted for a much cheaper yet far colder option: waders. You know, the kind that fishermen might use. Plastic or rubber pants that go over your pants to keep the water out. The important thing for me was to stay dry, and my $15 waders did the job.

I put on several layers of pants and then put the waders over top of that and strapped the suspenders around my shoulders. Then, I put the costume dress over top of that and started making my way into the water. Just because spring had sprung in Iceland does not mean that it was warm, by any standards. The temperatures were often sitting at about freezing, or lower in the night as this was shot, but I didn’t care about that. All I wanted was to get in, get out, and get my personal souvenir. Just before I got in the water, someone told me that whales swim through this part looking for seals. At first I tried to put that out of my mind, since I have a huge fear of whales, but I found myself thinking about it as I got in the water, wanting to be more graceful in my movements as I imagined myself an animal amongst that alien, beautiful landscape.

While in the water my waders only leaked very slightly, causing one sock to go damp on the bottom, but nothing more. I did my image, got out and checked it, and then decided to go in again to get a little bit closer to my camera. The water was about waist high (thigh-high on a normal-sized person), which was perfect for what I had been hoping to achieve. I wanted to create a sad story of a woman giving herself to nature, wading into the freezing waters to become frozen in time, just as this place had seemed to me. I caught the image of the bird while shooting there in that spot and had to use it. They say in filmmaking that when someone is exiting the frame to the left, they are going toward their past, and when exiting to the right, they are moving toward the future. I had the bird going backward as to stop time altogether, our heroine stuck in time, frozen there in a dream, and only a single soul closing the curtain on her future.

When I finished my self-portrait I got back in the water to model for my friends, where I waded as gracefully as I could (while avoiding jagged rocks), dipping my arms into the water and allowing my back to give way so that I might look more like the ice that surrounded me. I stayed in the water for a total of about 10 minutes and afterwards needed an army to bring me back to warmth. My dear friends all helped, pulling the waders off of me, putting shoes back on, draping me in coats and giving me a hot water bottle. It was like heaven. It was painfully cold, uncomfortable, and a moment I will never forget. I swam amongst souls frozen in time, huge pieces of ice floating peacefully, others breaking off into the water and rushing toward the ocean, a moment fleeting and forgotten or never seen at all, save for our eyes that night in the darkest of all hours, capturing our version of paradise.

Image by Mike Epner.
Image by Mike Epner.


8 thoughts on “Creating a Self-Portrait in Glacier Bay

  1. Brave! I’m not a fan of the cold – at all and avoid it at all costs… but the landscape in Iceland is so inspiring that I probably would have attempted to do just the same! Your waders idea was brilliant!

    You’ve rarely been camping?! Oh my gosh, you so must come visit me and I’ll take you to magical lands filled with rocks and warmth. Camping in the bush and mountains… xx

  2. If you haven’t tried it yet, you should take a camping trip somewhere warm and sleep under the stars. There’s nothing quite like falling asleep seeing the universe it all it’s glory.

  3. I’ve always wanted to go to Iceland. The landscape seems like it was meant to be photographed. I love this picture. I don’t like the cold and avoid it whenever possible.

  4. You know, I think we are most alive when we “move in nature”. When we swim when it snows. When we run at night in the woods. When we sing in the rain. When we walk gracefully into the coldest water on earth. :o)

    I’m excited and want to see more pics! And while I wait for your beautiful pictures, I look at my loved one’s pictures, because he was there two weeks ago!

    Greetings from Germany, Ruth

  5. Beautiful photos and an inspiring story. Looks like such a magical place….ice and all 🙂 Thanks for sharing your experience.

  6. Amazing journey and great photo. I was supposed to go to Iceland around that time but canceled because of all the strikes going on. This a truly beautiful photo of you. I wish I could have been there and part of your group. How awesome!

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