A talk with … Rúnar Gunnarsson
Three photographers of STEYPA 2016 are native Icelanders. The first one we are interviewing in our “A talk with …” series is Rúnar Gunnarsson. He is showing pictures from his “Dead Fish Collection”.
When did you first become interested in photography?
I started taking pictures as a teenager and I developed and printed photos in the basement of my parents’ house. It was a lot of fun.
How did your photography develop over the years?
I got a job as a press photographer at a local newspaper when I was eighteen years old. I have been carrying a camera ever since. Then in 1957, the photo exhibition “The Family of Man” (curated by Edward Steichen) was shown in Reykjavík. It was a monumental event, also a monumental event in my life. I was blown away and I can still see some of the photos in my mind. Time stood still. This was the beauty, the truth, life. At the exhibitions there were 503 photos that Edvard Steichen chose for MOMA. This was a decisive moment in my life and there was no turning back.
What is your relationship to Iceland?
I was born and raised in Iceland. I’ve lived here all my life apart from a couple of years, when I was getting my education in the U.S.A. and Sweden.
How do you perceive Icelandic culture and nature?
What is your favorite place in Iceland?
My favorite places in Iceland are Hvernugil and Hvernufoss. Located just east of Skógafoss in southern Iceland.
How can we see Iceland in your STEYPA project?
I am not a landscape photographer, but people and places have always been the centre of all my work. In my photographs you see Icelandic fish!
What inspires you to take pictures?
It’s complicated. I’ve always wanted to stop the world to examine what I see and photography is a fine way of doing that. I approach the task of photography in a religious way.
What role does photography play in your life?
I live and breathe in the photographic world from morning to night; it does much more than play just a single role in my life, it probably is my life.
How did you get the idea to take pictures of dead fish?
Iceland’s main industry is fishing. My grandfather was a fisherman and my father sold fishing vessels for a living, but to me the fish have a different meaning. Once I was photographing the fish factory in Hafnarfjörður where they dry the fish and the fish heads. I kept going back to take more photos. Late one afternoon it had been raining and the evening sun reflected on the fish heads. I suddenly felt as though the fish were staring at me, thousands of angry accusing eyes, and rightfully so. We catch the fish, cut their heads off, dry them, and then we eat them. “The Dead Fish Collection” is a message from the deep sea and I am just the messenger.
Have you gotten any negative feedback about these pictures?
If people dislike my work, I am not bothered. I am not an entertainer. I am a photographer, a very serious photographer.
Thank you, Rúnar, for answering our questions!
Rúnar Gunnarssson at STEYPA
Proofreading/Editing: Melinda Kumbalek