Hrafnkell Sigurdsson, photographer: 'My prints need to affect the space they are hanging in'

Karen Wright visits the photographer in his studio in Reykjavik

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The Independent Culture

Photographer Hrafnkell Sigurdsson has been in this same studio, a prime spot on the harbour in Reykjavik, for five years. His current landlord saved the building from demolition and redevelopment during the crazy economic period of 2008. Up a steep flight of stairs and through another studio we enter into a light space, completely empty but for a neat desk and a pile of books. "I prepare things here. I write, draw, sketch and plan when I am here."

Sigurdsson, born in Iceland in 1963, studied in his home country, and the Netherlands and then, after 10 years as a practising artist, returned to college at Goldsmiths, London. "I went back to freshen my practice and to get some more energy into my work." He came back to Iceland in 2004: "It hit me one day in London – I just have to go. Two weeks later I was back."

Even while he was in London he spent at least two months a year in Iceland. "I was obsessed or attracted to Icelandic nature when I was away. When you are here you get used to it but when you are away you miss it".

His photographic work since his return draws unashamedly from his surroundings. He often works in series, and a set of "autocasts" – ice left from automobiles as they drive through the streets of the city – are transformed into enigmatic landscapes.

His first job after leaving school had been working in the shipyard near to his studio, and there is a series of photographs of boats in dry docks, cropping leading to abstract surfaces reminiscent of Gerhard Richter squeegee paintings with a bit of nature thrown in.

"I am playing with abstract expressionism. They look like paintings but they are unconscious paintings by the workers themselves." Another series related to the shipyards is a group – Crew – of the clothing worn by fisherman.

Sigurdsson's prints are usually big. It is important they are large, he stresses. "They need a presence and they need to affect the space they are hanging in." They also need to be large to show the details captured: the layers of detritus, fish scales, dirt, marker-pen numbers, the rubber over the fibre, all there to be discovered.

There is an unexpectedly poetic series of domestic waste, bundled up ready to be put into landfill sites. Sigurdsson prepared a steel table for the large bundles and photographed them as precious objects. Most recently he learnt how to dive in order to capture bubble wrap underwater, 10 metres down in a lake in the southern peninsula.

"The diver and I took the material down and then let go, and I followed it up towards the light." The resulting pictures are full of mystery and ghostly, beguiling light.

I ask him if a studio is important to his practice and he says, "I spend 98 per cent thinking to two per cent making", and that his room contains his thoughts. As for his time away in England, what did he discover about himself? "That is what I discovered there: to be yourself as much as you can – do not worry about it."

Hrafnkell Sigurdsson's work can be seen at i8 Gallery, Reykjavik (