Ísland (Iceland) Photography by Michael Gordon

Big Collection of Photographs
With no particular theme. Slide show and gallery. Photos from 1986 mostly; Added October 2009.

Forty Black and White Photographs
Slide show and gallery. Added 15 March 2002.

Color Photos
Slide show and gallery.

Myvatn Tour
: Akureyri, Goðafoss, Krafla Geothermal.  Photos made 1986, added here June 2002.


Some movie filming locations for "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" with Ben Stiller. The Latitude/Longitude are here shown in decimal format. Just paste the numbers into the Google Earth search to take you there.

Ísland (eess'-lahnd) is an amazing place.   It certainly is not suitable for everyone, but for some it is the most interesting place on earth.   How can you tell if you might like to visit?  The photos might help a bit.  Following tourist links might help a bit.  Keep in mind that tourist links suppose you want to find in Iceland the same things you can get a home, except maybe better but you might actually be looking for something so different and indescribable that it won't go on a web page.

Downtown Reykjavik and Akureyri are surprisingly cosmopolitan with an emphasis on art, fabric, music, entertainment -- things that make long winter nights tolerable.  But you didn't come to Reyjkavik to party -- you came to discover geology and solitude.   That might someday be difficult to find but in 1985, solitude was everywhere except Reykjavik and Akureyri, and as the people respect your privacy, you can even sit in a city park and think your thoughts without being interrupted. 

Iceland has a long history, much longer and more tangible than is found in the United States or most of North America.  North America has plenty of ruins; but how many places have been continually occupied for more than a thousand years?   I have visited the farm Drangur near Stykkisholmur, where in the year AD 950 Erid the Red (Eirik Rauthi) killed someone and, fleeing vengeance or justice, took ship westward and discovered Greenland. At the time, it was green enough to colonize, so he accomplished the colonization of Greenland. His son, Leifur Eiriksson (Leif Ericson in English) continued westward, landing on what is now northeastern Canada.

Then there's Snorralaug -- the pool of hot water adjacent to Snorri Sturleson's house (130 degrees Fahrenheit, 54 degrees Celsius). He wrote the Sagas in the 1100's, 1132 comes to mind for one of them. That's incredible.  It is still there, still hot.

Warning:  At least in 1985, Icelanders did not worry much about idiot tourists.  Since then, some effort has been made to protect the survival-challenged visitor.   The whole island is dangerous and the sea even more dangerous.  Face it, that's why you want to go there.  It's dangerous, but it is beautiful and exciting.

Some of the dangers (keep in mind some of these dangers have by now been fenced off):

Language and definitions:

The language is in English: Icelandic, in the native language Íslensku (Icelandic) or Íslenskumal (Icelandic language).  It is not much changed from Old Norse but had 500 years of Danish influence.  In written form it seems somewhat Skandinavian but when spoken it does not much resemble any of the Skandinavian languages; voiced fricatives (voiced and unvoiced forms of "th" and that sort of thing) are more common than in Norwegian or Danish.

It is highly structured and regular with not very many surprises once you learn the rules.  This fact is very interesting to me; it suggests that language in general has not evolved toward greater sophistication.  Icelandic is amazingly sophisticated and conveys quite a lot of meta information.  Meta information is implied by the structure -- "he picked up the box" reveals that the person doing the lifting is male.  Icelandic conveys quite a lot of meta-information, and the presence of it changes the structure of the sentence as well as the words themselves.

For instance, the saying and spelling of Keflavik is as I have written, but only if you are naming it on a map.  If you are telling someone that you are going to it, then it becomes possessive -- it "owns" your destination: Eg fara till Keflavikur.  Why?  I'm not sure, but you cannot go to Keflavik -- to an Icelander, the concept is absurd -- Keflavik is not a place, it is a collection of many places (houses, businesses, streets).  Therefore, the full sentence ought to be "I go to Keflavik's bakery" but they leave off "bakery" for privacy or something.  You say, "I go to Keflavik's..." and just stop.  It is incomplete and that's okay but the word must still be written and spoken possessive case. 

Notes: Icelandic has strong "case" and "gender". The gender and case of an object modifies any adjectives, comparitives or enumerations -- the word for "one" depends on what you are numbering! With three genders and four cases, it is possible for some words to have twelve different forms (spellings and pronounciations).

Consequently it is more or less impossible for Americans to learn Icelandic fluently. To add to confusion, not all Icelanders agree on how Icelandic should be spoken and spelled; Snorri Sturleson, the famous writer of the Sagas in the 1100's, is considered an authority but he did not have much to write about modern technology devices.

Icelanders are wonderfully patient and appreciate that you try to speak the words even though you use the nominative masculine form when you should have used the imperative feminine case and gender. They may laugh but it is in good spirits and you can try really hard (I did) to remember the forms but don't feel bad if you cannot. After two years and some serious study I almost had a grasp of when to apply the different forms as well as a small vocabulary.

Alphabet and phonetics.  Icelandic has 36 letters; each letter has usually only one sounding.  Adjacent letters can modify the sounding in unexpected ways but I have not found very many such deviations.  You can learn to read Icelandic without too much difficulty and you might even be able to make yourself understood.  Words tend to be very literal -- I worked and lived (dwelt) at Keflavikurflugvollur which is literally translated to something like "Keflavik's flying flat place" (Keflavik airport).    It means you can learn a few hundred root words and be reasonably confident that nearly every new word is a composite of those root words and has the implied meaning. 

Syntax.  Not a lot different as compared to English but the important difference is adjectives.  The first adjective is usually suffixed and without a separating space.   You would not have a "fast boat", you would have a "boatfast".  If the "boatfast" is painted red, then you might call it a "red boatfast".  In English, you have "fast red boat" and you are wondering whether it is a slow boat painted "fast red", or a fast boat merely painted red.  

Peninsula. Pronounced "Ness". Example: Reykjanes, Akranes .
Smoke or steam. Pronounced like "rake".  Example: Reykjavík
harbor or inlet. Pronounced "veek" when acute, "vik" when not acute (' over the i).
Pronounced "Thing". The collection of representatives meeting to govern (Parliament, Congress)
When not acute, a flat place (Thingvelir) . When e is acute, a motor, engine or device.