Matthew Eisman, music photographer based in New York City, recently released his Faces of Icelandic Musicians, a series of portraits in which he offers an overview on the music artists of Iceland. Eisman found inspiration for his portraits in the work of another photographer, Fred Conrad with his Faces of a Towering Project, which is an impressive collection of 150 photos of workers at the World Trade Center taken in occasion of the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Eisman completed his own Faces in late January, in the course of a two-week stay in Reykjavík.
Faces of Icelandic Musicians has an intriguing and ambitious side to it. However narrow in scope it may seem at first, the Iceland’s music community is so exuberant that even for the music lover with the best intentions it’s not easy to get to know all its artists without falling into the “all bands from place x are the same” stereotype. Perhaps this challenging factor is one of the aspects Eisman found more interesting and that motivated him to develop his project. “Iceland’s music scene is small and close-knit. I admire that bands tend to avoid copying each other, and instead, they favor creating something new and different. That quality just seems to fit with my own eclectic taste. I think the environment also creates friendly competition that drives everyone to be better.” Variety but also a strong sense of kinship, which he tried to document in his portraits.
The idea for the portrait series started taking form during the last Iceland Airwaves, when Matthew had occasion to get better acquainted with some of the local musicians. In his own words, “almost all the bands in my portrait series I met first and/or photographed live at Airwaves. I made conscious effort to network at Airwaves and develop those relationships. I reached out to every band I knew and hoped for the best. I figured some would say yes and some would say no. But every band said yes.”
As a matter of fact, getting in touch with music artists in Iceland is in most cases mainly a question of mingling with them, going to the same events they attend, engaging them in conversation, and of course showing sincere interest and respect for their art. True, Icelandic music has become more popular in the latest years, at least among a certain audience, but just a handful of Icelandic artists are widely known abroad. Some of the bands involved in Face of Icelandic Musicians must have sensed the enthusiasm that Eisman put in his project, besides perceiving it as an opportunity to get better exposure outside of their country. “I’m probably one of the only American photographers working with new Icelandic bands,” Eisman reveals, and he adds, “Icelandic bands are very fortunate to have support from a governmental organization like Iceland Music Export to promote their music abroad.”
Given his experience as a live music photographer and knowing the limitations of portraying musicians in live situations, Eisman wanted to create in this case more intimate and controlled conditions. He opted for studio portraiture and was aware of rewards and constraints of his choice. As he points out, “[studio portraiture] gives you a chance to slow things down, think critically and interact with your subject. The most important aspect of portraiture is the relationship between the photographer and the subject.”
Faces of Icelandic Musicians counts a total of 13 Icelandic bands, with over 50 individual photos of their members taken, alone and in groups. Eisman confirmed that he would definitely be into the notion of expanding the series in the future, as “there are lots more Icelandic musicians I’d like to connect with and photograph. I’d love to continue this project!”
The musicians featured so far are the following: Albert Hauksson, Árstíðir, Borko, Jeff Who?, Kiriyama Family, Kristín Þóra Jökulsdóttir, Lockerbie, Low Roar, Mammút, Porquesí, Sing For Me Sandra, Sykur, Valdimar and We Made God.
You can see the complete Faces of Icelandic Musicians on Matthew Eisman’s website. Besides taking the photos, Matthew collected some extras from the musicians he shot in the form of signatures and sketches–they are also displayed on the site as a bonus. Don’t forget to share or spread the word if you enjoy this project.
Photos courtesy of Matthew Eisman. All rights reserved.