Vanguard Professional Lizzy Gadd, a 21-year-old photographer from Vancouver, shares the story behind her photographic expedition to Iceland. In her own words...
Around this time last year, after many years of dreaming of visiting Iceland, I decided to finally make that dream become a reality. I asked two of my favorite like-minded photographer friends and fellow Vanguard Pros, Rob Woodcox and Whitney Justesen, if they would be interested in joining me in this epic expedition. It only took about two seconds for them both to say yes. Fast forward 6 months, in May 2014, after tons of organizing, planning, and fundraising, we finally took off for the adventure! I had a very specific project in mind to accomplish while in Iceland, and that was my "Red Dress" series. A little bit about that below:
"The Icelandic Red Dress Series" (perhaps somewhat lacking in title creativity, but hopefully not so much in the photos themselves) was the main project and self-portrait series I worked on over the course of two weeks spent traveling all over the insanely beautiful country of Iceland. Why the red dress, you might ask? Two reasons: A. I had very little room in my travelling suitcase for outfits besides the red dress, especially considering I had to save suitcase space for transporting chocolate (yes, that was my most vital necessity for the trip), and B. When I was thinking ahead about creating an Icelandic self-portrait series, I wanted something that would depict "standing out". Not just a bright color to stand out against the Icelandic backdrops, but also something of a reflection of my thoughts as of late. These photos have been some of my most personal I've ever taken, for the thoughts behind them. As a rather notorious introvert who has always preferred being on the sidelines, who has been afraid of what might be thought of my looks, awkwardness and quirks, who has been known to ignore get-together messages from people for months at a time (sorry guys), and who is often nervous and worried about the future and anything out of my comfort zone (which is basically everything), I've come to realize these last couple of years have been quite a breakthrough for me in letting go of fear. Perhaps it's just been part of growing up, or perhaps it's the snowballing effect from stepping out of my comfort zone and letting one adventure lead to another, gaining more confidence with each one... Or perhaps it's the incredible like-minded friends I've made through photography who have become the most encouraging, uplifting and inspiring influences in my life. All these things have helped me learn to take courage in standing up, following my passions and not being afraid to be different. (...chances are nobody's even lookin' at me anyway, so yet another reason not to worry!). I am still a quiet introvert by nature, but whether I'm keeping to the sidelines to blend in or whether I want to take courage in standing out (more specifically finding a balance between the two), I've been learning to accept myself as someone who simply doesn't need to worry about what people think of me regardless of anything. So this is what these photos are to me - Existing silently as a simple but meaningful extension of nature, or standing out amongst it, I can find peace in doing either of these things by letting go of fear and doubt. This photo series symbolizes my wish to live wholeheartedly, to not be afraid, to embrace my weirdness and quirks and to focus on a life lived in wonder, love, and gratefulness.
During the two weeks that I shot my series as described above, we drove the "Ring Road" all the way around Iceland, even going off-course into the West Fjords for a couple of days, and spent several more days in the South as most of our favorite dramatic locations were found there. I was continually amazed by the magnificent diversity of landscapes within such a small area of the country. Within just a couple hours of driving, the scenes could change from beautiful green mountains with innumerable waterfalls cascading off the edges, to fields of the richest green moss covered lava rocks, and then to dark brown and black foreboding mountains, to fields of grass and then miles of plain black sand, and then on to magnificent snowy mountains with the most beautiful glaciers coming down every valley between them. I have only seen a small handful of glaciers in my life, but in just a matter of hours spent around Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon, I saw more than triple the amount of glaciers I've seen in my 21 years.
One of my most treasured memories from the entire trip happened after we finished exploring and shooting at Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon. On our way back to a cottage we had rented for a few days (the rest of the time in Iceland has spent camping) the sun was getting lower in the sky and there was golden color shining everywhere. We passed a couple of glaciers, and then we came to another glacier where we saw a gravel road leading up to it. Of course, we had to take the road. When we got there, the sun was shining through the clouds at the top of the mountains and casting this beautiful glow on the glacier, creating one of the most enchanting scenes I've yet seen in my life. There was no one else around for miles but us. I ran up and down these small hills with the mountains and glacier in the background, shooting another of my Red Dress series (from which resulted the photo at the very top of this blog post), and then soon had to stop so I could more fully enjoy the scene without the distraction of a camera (...and maybe also because I was running out of breath from running up and down the hills for my photos). I put my camera gear away and walked back up the crest of a hill to watch the light move across the mountains and glacier as the sun got lower in the sky. I looked around me and suddenly realized that the rest of my crew of friends and I were all spread out quite far apart from each other, each of us sitting quietly in our own place, and each of us just looking out at the same scene before us. I then felt incredibly thankful to be sharing this landscape, sunset, and experience with these people. Thankful and peaceful. We watched in silence from all our different places as the sun slowly dipped down behind the mountain... and after some time, when the light no longer shone on the glacier, we all stood up and met back at the car. Sometimes no words are needed between friends to simply enjoy such a scene.
Another fun memory I'm rather fond of: after several days of camping in below freezing temperatures in snowy and barren land as we traveled our way around the country, we stumbled upon a forest - the first we had seen since arriving in Iceland. We had accidentally taken a wrong turn (though wrong turns almost always end up as right turns in my eyes) and ended up by a lake, driving through a forest of thousands of little trees that were just beginning to grow their Spring leaves! We all felt drawn to the beloved trees that we missed rather dearly. We immediately pulled over and became forest people for the afternoon. Whitney and I wandered through the forest and by the lakeside while Rob collected branches to use in a later photo. Eventually, I climbed the biggest tree I could find and was soon joined by Robin its branches, where we stayed for almost an hour as we enjoyed each other's company along with the quiet of the forest and the dappled sunlight shining through the new-grown leaves. After climbing back down, we found Whitney sprawled across the hood of the car, completely sound asleep. We let her nap a little longer, and once we all felt fully rejuvenated by the trees we decided it was time to keep going. I opened the back door to climb into my usual seat, and.... it was taken. By practically the whole forest. Rob swore I would only have to ride with all his sharp, crumbling branches for a short time until he was able to craft them into wings to use in a photo... so I obliged. The "short time" was 2 days. I know I missed the trees before, but after 2 days of riding with a forest on my lap and in my face, I was more than ready to release all the branches back into the wild. Sigh... only for you, Rob! The thought makes me laugh when I look back on it now.
There were so many absolutely amazing moments every single day while exploring the country, I could easily count our time there as two of the very best weeks of my life. I could talk for hours of all our adventures, and I do have many more written down in my Iceland Blog on my website - www.elizabethgadd.com/blog - but for now I can only say how incredibly thankful I am to have had such an opportunity, and thankful as well for the gear from Vanguard we were able to bring with us. The UP-Rise II backpacks and tripods made our journey so much easier and enjoyable!
On the flight home I spent a lot of time processing the whole adventure (the processing and post-travel depression lasted several weeks I must admit). I still miss the land, the experiences and the company of those with me. My mind was constantly blown every single day by how much beauty there was all around us, and I am now practicing taking that open mindset with me wherever I go, so I can find beauty everywhere. Iceland changed me, as every experience changes us. Someday I hope to return there, but for now, I am ultimately thankful for the opportunity and experience I got. It is unforgettable and I shall treasure it always!
For more from Lizzy Gadd, visit her blog here.