Meeting Your Heroes: Is This Really Happening?

There are so many photographers out there, making amazing work.  My lifestyle of the past few years – RISD, FotoVisura, Maine Media Workshops – has provided me with exposure to a lot of different artists.  Every once in a while, though, you encounter another photographer who truly resonates with you.  The work moves you; you dream about it; while you don’t wish to create work like theirs, their images linger in the back of your mind, possibly forever.  Personally, when an artist has that much of an impact on me, I often write to them.  Sometimes I write them more than once.  Do I ever hear back from them?  Not really.  Not often.  However, there’s nothing to lose, and every once in a while, something happens.

Icelandic photographer Ragnar Axelsson, or RAX, is one of these photographers for me.  When I look at his pictures of the Far North, I feel what it is to be there.  The images are magical, raw, real – many things I aspire to in my own image-making.  I wrote to him about a half year ago, asking for advice on photographing in Greenland.  To my extreme surprise, he responded – and agreed to meet me when I came to Iceland this fall.  Stunned, I logged timidly into Skype on my first day in Reykjavik, typing in the cell number he had given me.

“There is an opening for my new book this evening,” he told me.  “You should come.”

So, less than 24 hours after arriving in Iceland, I went.

First off, it was at Harpa, a magnificent concert hall of shimmering black glass perched on the ocean’s edge, surrounded by harbor boats.  I entered into one of the most beautiful masterpieces of architecture I had ever seen, following the stream of people to the back of the building.  I soon realized it was a private event – a woman stood checking people off of a guest list at the entrance.

“Hello, I, uh…” I faltered, unsure of how I could talk my way into this one.  My eyes fell to the guest list in the woman’s hands, and to my astonishment, there was my name – at the top of the list.  An Icelandic version of it, anyway.  Accaesia.

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So it happened that on my first day in Iceland, I found myself cluelessly mingling with a huge room full of very important-looking Icelandic people, at an opening for one of my favorite photographers, ever.  The president of Iceland gave a speech.  There were talks and slideshows and short video homages to the photographer.

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There was also a lot of extravagant food.

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When the talks were over, I got to meet RAX.  He was friendly and humble and actually gave me the time of day.  I got his book; he wrote a kind message and signed it.  The next day, I called him again and he gave me a list of places to travel to make photographs.  I wrote the list down on my map – it would become the guide for my entire trip there.

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An amazing, amazing first day.

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