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'Pickled ram’s testicles were “thorrible”, says Brooklyn based photographer

By Sara McMahon

  • Dash of colour Annie Ling spent ten weeks in an artist residency in Ólafsfjörður, North Iceland. During that time she made many new friends. Photo/Annie Ling

Annie Ling, a Taipei-born photographer and author based in Brooklyn, New York, was looking for a bit of a change. When searching for artist residencies, she stumbled upon one located in the small village of Ólafsfjörður, North Iceland. Drawn to the challenge of working through the dark, Icelandic winter, Annie decided to pack up and move to northern Iceland for ten weeks.


When and why did you move to Iceland?

"Last spring, I was desperate for a change of pace and scenery so I began to browse through artist residency opportunities when I stumbled upon Listhús í Fjallabyggð in Ólafsfjörður, a town of roughly 800 people on a fjord in northern Iceland. I was drawn to the challenge of working in dark winter, where the sun can never rise up higher than the surrounding mountains and the land would be blanketed by mysterious reflected lighting for only a few hours each day. So naturally, I was thrilled to become a recipient of the first Skammdegi AIR Award granting me an opportunity to immerse myself in the unfamiliar for two months beginning December 2014 till end of January 2015.“

Has it been easy to adjust to life in North Iceland during the darkest months of the year?

"It has been easier than I anticipated, especially when I started to adapt to the casual and more relaxed pace of life here. I find myself hibernating more this winter due to limited daylight, getting much more rest and sleep here than I normally get in New York City. I also appreciate how everyone in town decorates their homes with a lot of lights and embellishments during the holidays to compensate for the darkness and short days.“

Annie Ling, Ólafsfjörður, North Iceland

Ólafsfjörður. Photo/Annie Ling

Has Iceland surprised you, or was it pretty much what you‘d expected?
"Surprisingly, I’ve had some of my best meals here, and also some of the worst! Okay, okay, maybe I exaggerate, the fermented skate and hákarl wasn’t that bad, but I’m not eager to taste it again. But the pickled ram’s testicles were “thorrible".

Annie Ling, Ólafsfjörður, North Iceland

"Along with the good company of hospitable people and new friendships I’ve found here, I also won’t forget the incredible range of blues and colours in the landscape this winter, especially not the Aurora Borealis in the night skies. 

"This is my first artist residency, and it has offered me precious time to explore freely without expectations and reflect deeper on my life and work. In New York City, "time" rules daily life: I get up in the morning and decide how I will manage my time; Sometimes feeling the weight of it, sometimes fueled by the seeming shortage of it. This winter, when I get up in the morning and I look outside my window (if it's still dark I steal a little more sleep), I look at the weather and take cues from there. Through this, I'm reminded of the value of slowing down and the freedom gained from surrendering control. Iceland is a culture of storytelling and storytellers. Their stories and the unique environment that shape them have inspired and will continue to serve as inspiration for me.“

You took over the New Yorker’s Instagram feed for a whole week, how did that come along? 

"I’d started working with The New Yorker last summer, and shortly after one of the editors approached me about taking over their Instagram feed sometime in the near future. I knew I was going to spend the winter in northern Iceland, so I pitched them the idea of taking over their feed for a week during my Skammdegi residency at Listhús in Ólafsfjörður. It was a fantastic time, sharing my discoveries of this humble yet magical place in an obscure slice of the world between the fjords I've come to call home this winter.“ 

Annie Ling, Ólafsfjörður, North Iceland

Overlooking the village. Photo/Annie Ling

What’s the best thing about the town?

"The people in and around the town are so relaxed and also welcoming, I've really enjoyed building relationships here over coffees and home-cooked meals. With a population of roughly 800 people in Ólafsfjörður, it's no surprise that everybody knows each other... and here in Iceland, I've found they love to celebrate everything. As soon as one celebration ends, it seems another one begins. It was a special treat to spend Christmas and New Year's here, which I’ve learned are major highlights for Icelanders who really go all out with décor and festivities over the holiday season. I've witnessed the whole town congregating for every occasion... in celebration of life, but also during seasons of loss and mourning over a departed member of the community."


Annie Ling, Ólafsfjörður, North Iceland

Lighting up the dark. Photo/Annie Ling

Does the area have a famous landmark?

"Ólafsfjarðarvatn is now a nature reserve, and a special lake with a salt water layer underneath a fresh water layer so one could catch cod and trout from the same lake. There is also a ski jump in the centre of town! And nearby, just 15 kilometres north in the same municipality of Fjallabyggð lies the larger fishing town of Siglufjörður, home to the beautiful and award-winning Herring Era Museum." 

Name four interesting things one should not miss when in the region:

"During my residency here, I’ve really enjoyed the outdoor heated swimming pool in town, hikes around Ólafsfjarðarvatn (an incredible spot for fishing in the summer), scenes and trails along the fjords (and skiing in wintertime), and not least the views of the sky and mountains which morph daily."

For more of Annie's work, click here.

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