In the year 2003 The National Power Company of Iceland started the building of the 700 MW Kárahnjúkar Hydroelectric Project in eastern Iceland. The project consists of three dams, one of them being the highest in Europe, and a hydroelectric power plant. The dams block among others the big glacial river Jökulsá á Dal, creating the 57km2 artificial lake Hálslón.
The Power plant is primarily being constructed to supply electricity to a new Aluminium smelter built by Alcoa of USA in the fjord of Reyðarfjörður on the east coast of Iceland. The artificial lake and the constructions have spoiled one of Europe’s largest wildernesses. Making the Kárahnjúkar project, not only the biggest project in Icelandic history, but also the most controversial one. There have been a lot of debates about this project. Environmentalists are fighting for the preservation of the wild nature while those supporting the project talk about the need to use the energy that nature has to offer, capitalizing the power of nature.
When the project started, I felt a great need to participate in these debates. I had worked in an aluminium smelter for five years before starting my photography carrier. I felt the best way for me to participate was to follow the land in its transformation, giving it my respect by photographing it in a beautiful way.Since the beginning of the project in 2003 and until 2012 I went regularly to the construction site, taking landscape photographs, showing Icelandic contemporary landscape.
“As portrayed by Pétur Thomsen in his pictures from Kárahnjúkar, humans seem to have a natural inclination towards dominating the reality that is so much vaster than they themselves – unpredictable, terrifying and infinitely more complex and powerful than we can ever imagine. Faced by nature, the human being is dwarfed in a poignant manner – but at the same time, the human dwarf somehow assumes a grandeur when it manages to harness nature, throwing a chain around the neck of the wolf Fenrir, domesticating it and turning it into a humble servant.
In Pétur Thomsen’s photographs, the human being’s struggle against the forces of nature simultaneously assumes grandiose and tragic dimensions. The human’s destructive capacities, unleashed by its attempts to conquer nature, have rarely been given such a tangible form in Icelandic art. With his photography, Pétur involves the spectators in a space where the human being and reality come head to head. The spectators awaken from their slumber as they try and figure out what belongs to reality and what doesn’t, and who he is to start with, this man who stands idly by in the face of the struggles taking place right before his eyes – who? He himself.”
Sigrún Alba Sigurðardóttir from the text awakening, Akureyri Art Museum, Iceland, 2011
Born in 1973, Reykjavík Iceland.
Pétur Thomsen is an Icelandic photographic artist, born in Reykjavik in 1973.He lives and works in south of Iceland. In 2004 he received his master’s degree in fine arts from the École Nationale Supérieur de la Photographie in Arles France.
Pétur Thomsen focuses on the disruption of nature, both in his photographs of the Kárahnjúkar power plant project area in his series Imported Landscape, and in his works Umhverfing (an Icelandic word for the state between nature and environment) and Ásfjall (Mt. Ásfjall). These works have been exhibited in venues such as the National Gallery of Iceland, the Reykjavík Museum of Photography, and the National Museum of Iceland. And in numerous solo and group exhibitions around the world. Such as Photoforum PasqArt Switzerland, Les Rencontre d’Arles France, Musée de l’Elysée Switzerland, Musée national d’Histoire et Art Luxembourg, Fotografie Forum Frankfurt Germany, Photo Gallery International Tokyo Japan.
In his latest series Landnám (Settlement) Pétur Thomsen is observing or rather operating as an investigator out in the field during the winter nights, investigating three aspects of land use in the south of Iceland: mines, tree plantation and farmers use of land. Using photographic flash equipment to partially light up the dark northern night of the Icelandic winter.
Pétur has been nominated and received numerous awards and prizes. In 2004 he won The 10th LVMH young artists’ award. In 2005 he was selected by the Musée de L’Élysée in Lausanne for reGeneration 50 Photographers of Tomorrow. The exhibition Imported landscape in the National Gallery of Iceland was selected as the exhibition of the year 2010 in Iceland.
Pétur Thomsen is a founding member and former Chairman of FíSL, The Icelandic Contemporary Photography Association,www.fisl.is
Pétur Thomsen is one of the founders and co-director of The Icelandic Photography Festival. www.tipf.is
Pétur gives lectures and teaches workshops both in Iceland and abroad.