Peter Holliday

Peter Holliday is a photographer from Scotland in his final year as a photography student at the Glasgow School of Art. His work is an investigation into the ways in which humans engage with and alter the physical world around them. Peter further explores the idea of landscape as narrative: a theatre where stories unfold, a space where events can take place. Today we share Peter’s series title Where the Land Rises.

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Where The Land Rises

Where The Land Rises is a photographic series documenting the relationship between the landscape and people of Heimaey, the only inhabited island of Vestmannaeyjar, a volcanically active archipelago in southern Iceland. Isolated from the Icelandic mainland by the North Atlantic Ocean, Vestmannaeyjar is a dramatic fleet of around 15 islands. Heimaey or Home Island is the largest of these islands with an area of approximately five square miles and home to a population of 4300 people. Lying directly between the shifting tectonic plates of Europe and North America, the geology of the Vestmannaeyjar range is relatively new, having been formed by multiple volcanic eruptions during the past 12,000 years.

In the early hours of 23rd January 1973, the island of Heimaey suddenly split open, sending columns of lava into the sky from a mile-long fissure. The eruption of Eldfell – as the 42 year old volcano is now known – led to the immediate evacuation of the island, destroying many homes and violently altering the geography of Heimaey. As the lava flow slowly crept towards the fishing harbour threatening to destroy the island’s economic lifeline, interventions were made to divert the drifting magma, successfully creating a solidified dam of lava by spraying the flow with millions of tons of seawater. In June 1973 the eruption ceased and many of the inhabitants began to return, although some would never come back. In under five months Heimaey had grown by an area of 20%. The new landscape formed by the eruption is a topography significantly influenced by mankind and the event is cited as an archetypal example of man’s ability to conquer the overwhelming power of nature.

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Where The Land Rises is a collection of images combining both landscapes and portraits taken during several visits to Heimaey during 2014 and early 2015. The photographs capture the stark coastal terrain of Vestmannaeyjar, a restless landscape forged by the intense geological violence that originates deep within our planet. Nevertheless, the landscape of Heimaey is revered by its inhabitants as a home; an island refuge in an often unforgiving environment. My portraits document some of the people who live there; the permanent occupants of a landscape suspended between ongoing forces of destruction and creation; the everyday witnesses of a terrain intricately textured by an ever-changing climate. By documenting the portraits and stories of several people who experienced the eruption of Eldfell, I was able to imagine a past landscape now lost beneath the lava and investigate a moment in Heimaey’s recent history when the island’s entire community came unnervingly close to losing everything.

Where The Land Rises explores the complex interrelations between the changing environment and mankind against the unpredictable geography of Vestmannaeyjar and the surrounding extremes of the Mid Atlantic Ridge. In examining this space, I present themes of isolation and man’s inherent yearning for order within a fluctuating environment. By further detailing the lasting affects of the eruption of Eldfell I introduce ideas of loss, remembrance, and the chance for new beginnings. Where The Land Rises ultimately considers how we perceive and interact with the landscape around us, but perhaps more significantly, how the changing environments we inhabit shape the human condition.

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To view more of Peter’s work please visit his website.