Portfolio: Jan Brykczynski

Northern lights: what we could learn from Iceland's farmers

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The Independent Culture

Two hundred miles north of Reykjavik lies Arnes, an isolated region in Iceland's Western Fjords. It is populated by more than 2,700 sheep – and just 38 people.

Into this tiny agrarian community stepped the Polish photographer Jan Brykczynski. "I grew up in Warsaw, where two million people live, but I was always interested in finding out more about this life that I knew nothing about," he says. "I worked closely with a journalist who grew up in the local countryside and I told her I wanted to find the remotest place."

As part of a broader enterprise undertaken by the Sputnik Photos collective he helped found, Brykczynski's aim was to examine the balanced connection between man and nature in a rural setting – one that has lasted for centuries in Arnes – and to bring that experience to bear upon an examination of "urban tribes" in cities such as New York , where city farms are popular; and his native Warsaw, where plots in the city centre that were given to the working class during the Communist era have become home to a well-organised farming movement.

For his bleakly beautiful work in Iceland – for which he won the prestigious Syngenta Photography Award last week – he arrived in autumn, a time of sheep-gathering and slaughter. This allowed him to spy not only the pragmatic way with which locals deal with life and death (note the phlegmatic manner with which Ulfar, top left, displays the heads of two of his sheep); but also their sociable spirit of co-operation.

"Most of the people who live the longest on the planet come from rural communities where they enjoy a balanced life, healthy food, regular exercise and close friendships," he says. "Now I am very curious to find how such food-production practices can influence urban tribes."

More from Arnes can be found in 'IS (not)', a collective book on Iceland published by Sputnik Photos, sputnikphotos.com