Brighitta Moser-Clark, in The Land
of Hidden People
'I really felt that this is an amazing place with so much creative energy, you see the earth in its most creative form. You don’t really get to see that elsewhere, it feels like it’s the way the earth was in the beginning, when everything was new. '
During a year filled with travel, Brighitta Moser-Clark spent a month crossing the landscapes of Iceland, connecting with earth in a way she had never known before and delving deeper into a relationship with spirituality and a connection with nature.
A selection of Brighitta's photographs, taken during her trip, feature in Junko's second issue, Junko Iceland. We spent some time at Brighitta's home to talk about her experiences of capturing the bubbling, steaming, snow-laden and fiery surfaces of the island's landscapes, and to find out how spirituality, an important part of Brighitta's life, played its role in shooting the terrains of the country.
Junko: What was it that spurred you on to travel Iceland?
Brighitta: That year, 2014, I started off by going to India on an Artist Residency, and that was the most incredible experience - it got me really hungry for travelling and making work. I had never been able to get to know a landscape the way I did there. I had five weeks in the Himalayas and I had always been so curious about India. I made a timelapse, which I had not planned on doing, and so I didn't have any of the equipment, it was all manual labour shooting every single one of the 4,000 frames myself. I loved it, I was so present in the landscape.
That little bit of writing about Iceland (to feature with Brighitta’s photography in Junko Iceland) started in the Himalayas, just looking at the land, seeing the mountains as teeth of a shark for example. The mountains would change so much with the different lighting and weather throughout the day, the landscape never repeated itself. I just found it the most incredible experience.
I came home from that wanting another adventure. Matt (Brighitta’s husband) had wanted to go to Iceland and it was his thirtieth coming up. It was perfect because it was only two or three months after I got back from India and Iceland was as different from India as it could have been. India was so massively populated, whereas in Iceland we would be driving for six hours and not see anybody at all. You could stop in the road and know that no car was going to come by, especially when you get to these places where there’s not even trees, there’s just nothing other than ancient lava for miles and miles. There was such peace and stillness, whereas India was this place where you’re always absolutely in the moment because so much is happening - you have to be alert, it's beautiful chaos. Even up in the Himalayas, I knew these wild monkeys could come, and there were jackals sometimes, I'd spotted a wild boar, and we heard there were leopards...all this stuff was going on where we were staying! I never felt comfortable and it was a really uncomfortable experience anyway, being in the Himalayas in January! We lived with really basic conditions, our windows didn’t even have glass, we'd get a little bucket of fire in our room at night that would last an hour or so, never really warming us up. I’ve never been so cold, the bed was like sleeping on ice every night! When I was ill with a fever it was such a relief to finally feel warm in my bed! I was really sad when that fever broke.
Iceland was the polar opposite. And the land, I was just falling in love with nature so much there because it’s so raw and primal. It is an amazing place with so much creative energy, you get to see the earth in its most creative form. You don’t really get to see that elsewhere, it almost feels like it’s the way earth was in the beginning when everything was new. For miles in some places there’s nothing but this lava that now has moss growing on it and the land has just been flattened by this force. We didn't see any animals either, the whole time we were there I knew there was no spiders, creepy crawlies, no mice - there’s nothing that’s going to pop out from any of these crevices! I could just sit somewhere and feel safe. We saw one arctic fox, and of course the Icelandic horses. You’re not seeing people and you’re not really seeing many other life forms besides a few birds. It was the opposite of India in so many ways, but both places had an immeasurable effect on me.
We had such a close relationship to the earth while we were there. And watching Matt, Matt having these amazing experiences, he became really intuitive because it was like a blank canvas. He kept asking me if I was saying something when I hadn't…. He kept hearing things! And that was inspiration for him. He had such a spiritual growth spurt when we were there because it was so peaceful. We could finally hear those soul whispers, those deep inner callings that you don’t always get to nurture in a place like London with twelve million people, you know. We were living in Hackney at the time, it was always so busy and we had neighbours that were always really loud, so even when we were at home it wasn't peaceful.
Written by Louise Higgs
February 12th 2017
Brighitta at her home in Crystal Palace / Photo credit: Agne Kucinskaite
© Brighitta Moser-Clark
© Brighitta Moser-Clark
J: There are a few images of Matt that will be in Junko Iceland. Obviously you’re his wife, so of course you’re going to take pictures of him, but was your decision to shoot a series of portraits of him amongst the landscape inspired by his profound reaction to the place?
B: It was more that he was giving me a reference point, because he was the only other human being - looking at the landscape with a person occupying the scene you suddenly realise how vast it is. And yes, I was so inspired by his encounters and that relationship he was feeling in himself. I think space like that is so precious, to have that time with it, almost like a void where the possibilities of connecting to yourself are there again. Watching and shooting him was a way of articulating how I felt. It’s just so stunning everywhere you look that whenever he was out there, this little dot, he gave it the scale that I wanted, or that sense of amazing peace and stillness that I was feeling. It was so surreal as well because it’s one thing to feel like you're walking on Mars and then its another to be like, "Wow, my Husband is on Mars!"
J: Did you have any preconceived ideas of Iceland before you went and if you did, did it confirm them or surprise you in any way?
B: To be honest I didn’t know much about Iceland. I knew of Sigur Rós and Björk and you know, some incredibly creative musical things coming out of the country. I knew very little about the landscape or the culture. Matt has always been drawn to Scandinavian and Nordic places, but I had never felt that affinity. As soon as we landed on Iceland all I kept thinking was, why was this not on my list? I just hadn't realised. And I’m really grateful that he wanted to go so badly. Now it’s on everybody’s bucket list!
I was surprised by Reykjavík, because it’s a capital city and I naively associated it with clubbing mainly, I expected a bigger city but it felt more like a village. It’s a small city and people have that trusting mentality as well, which I found so comforting. People would open their doors to us - I loved that about the culture, we felt so welcome. Everyone was so trusting. We stumbled across an artist studio block and they just let us in and allowed us to wander around on our own and you know, we could have been anybody. We were talking to a girl in one of the studios who had crystals in her window and she was doing really interesting spiritual work. I really loved her, I thought she was so cool. She was just so at one with what she was doing, it didn’t matter what anyone else might have thought, there was no fear or self-consciousness.
© Brighitta Moser-Clark
Brighitta's home & her crystal collection / Photo credit: Agne Kucinskaite
J: What was your favourite place to shoot in Iceland?
B: The series that the cover image comes from - that was a surprise. We came across this place where there were no signs, it wasn’t in the guide book, and we saw a surreal collection of red geothermal domes that looked like the Dharma Initiative. The snow all around it was absurdly high - we couldn’t see anything as we drove except the road straight ahead. It was April, or it might have been early May by this point, I had taken a wrong turn and Matt noticed a car park that we could turn around in. Far away we could see that there were mud pools and sulphur and it stank! And there was no snow there - it had all melted away. It was pretty far away but we could see it. We had to walk across a lot of snow to get to this really warm area. We didn’t actually notice the little ropes that were meant to keep us from walking on certain areas - Matt did walk in those areas and what was red turned into bright green and it smelt horrible, and his shoe was reacting, having this chemical reaction!
I don’t know what this place was called - we were on our way to Lake Myvatn and it’s just outside of it. What we didn’t realise when we walked up was that there was a volcano right there too. So we were hiking around the back of a volcano, walking where we weren’t supposed to walk, and we found hard lava with steam coming out of it. The lava had dried in big, amazing formations. We were there a few hours and only saw one other couple the whole time. It was just incredible to have that all to ourselves. It was kind of miraculous - I couldn't believe other people weren't there appreciating it! It’s happening all the time, it seems so alien to the earth, and nobody’s there!
We had jumped out of the car really quickly and when we got to this place I realised I had the wrong lens for my camera and didn’t want to turn back, because it was a little far. The lens is really sharp, but it was a bit of a longer lens that I wanted to have. When I look back it was a really lucky mistake because of the details and compositions I was forced to use - and the light! That light is amazing! It’s a sparkly light, a crystal light - there’s obviously such little pollution there and the angle of the sun towards the top of the planet is so different than what I'm used to.
© Brighitta Moser-Clark
J: Of course spirituality has found its way into your work, especially with the most recent series, ‘Crystalline Dream’ - I wonder if it has always been a part of your practice or is it a relatively new thing?
B: I really kept that to myself, I was in a ‘Spiritual Closet’ for many years. I would put it in my work and not be able to talk about it and occasionally people would ask me questions and I’d be like, oh, maybe they’re on my wavelength and maybe I can talk about it. But it’s really interesting, my father died eight years ago after a long illness and prior to that I was really obsessed with the question 'what is reality'? And what will happen after we die? My whole degree show, which was a year before he died, was all about cults and mass suicide and it was so dark, unbelievably dark, because I couldn’t get over this question. It hung over me.
There was a cult that killed themselves because they thought they would go to this planet and all their bodies were found with quarters in their pockets because they thought they would need money for the spaceship! Even if the planet bit was true, why would aliens use American currency? And you think, wow, that is bonkers! But then you think, wait, what I believe might also be bonkers. And because my Dad was ill for 11 years, I was always wondering what would happen to him. And then he died, and I had this incredible peace of knowing where his soul was. It was an opening for me, this massive opening to understanding the spirit world. My work suddenly got very light and bright and it became about vibration. I thought how can I talk about spirit in a way that people can understand, without being dogmatic at all - it's more about the feeling of spiritual understanding. So I did a whole body of work called, Music Of The Spheres. It was about the music NASA actually have measured out in the Universe. Saturn's rings make a musical noise, you can listen to it on YouTube - it’s amazing, it’s like violins, some kind of alien symphony. Everything in space is vibrating. A black hole creates a note that is incredibly deep, and the note is the same as a french horn - I can't remember now what it was. So I would find instruments that would be the equivalent of these space noises and that to me was like a bridge. I no longer have it on my website because I feel it’s quite childish aesthetically when I look at it now, but it was the scientific conversation that let me come out a little bit. After that series I lost my studio and I started going into landscapes and shooting a lot outside. It was actually a great gift for me not having my studio anymore. Artist's just make do with what they have, some people end up in tiny studios and they just start drawing because they have no space to make sculpture anymore. So I realised, hang on, there’s the great outdoors!
The year I went to Iceland was a huge year and that was really important in finding my spiritual voice within my work. I really wanted to do a residency and found the Indian residency, I applied to it, I got pregnant, I was accepted on the residency, then I miscarried and left for India two weeks later. That was incredibly healing, I had the time to really grieve and heal and come to terms with a lot of things while I was there. It was just me and 10 other female artists from around the world there. The Indian people are so open in what they believe and they were curious about what I believed, so there was wonderful conversation and no judgement, just curiosity, I could say what I thought. They were really interested in my tattoos and would ask, are you Hindu? And I would say, no I’m more of a Buddhist but I don’t really know if I can say that because I’m not a proper Buddhist, and we would have this lovely dialogue. The conversation is always underlined by what we think happens after this life.
Brighitta at her home in Crystal Palace / Photo credit: Agne Kucinskaite
J: Were your reservations about ‘coming out’, as it were, based on a fear of being judged, or rather that you didn’t feel it was an accepted or valued subject in art?
B: Oh no, it was way more about being judged. At the time I felt like a lot of artists come from an atheist perspective, that was my point of view with all the artists that I had met. All their work was very critical of religion and my work was very critical of religions too, you know, I had been looking at cults, at the extreme, and I was always asking questions about religion. I realised that spirituality is something different to religion, but I still didn’t know how to share it with my peers. I went through this whole journey of realising that I didn’t want to be a commercial photographer or big-gallery artist. And you know I’ve been assisting photographers for ten years on this trajectory that actually wasn’t me at all. That’s how I ended up pursuing my other, very spiritual passion of Reiki, of energy healing. Now it feels like it all makes sense because my audience is the same for both - the same people that I would treat or teach Reiki to might be the same people interested in my photography, so now I feel more comfortable talking about it. I feel like I finally found my place.
J: Obviously nature and landscape is the main subject, when looking at your work it seems that way at least, even in the background of the Crystalline Dream images and of course crystals are part of nature. Did that come with your spiritual growth or was that landscape connection always there?
B: I actually remember saying at Uni that I didn’t like landscape photography, which is really odd. I didn’t know what to do with it, I didn’t know how to look at it, I wasn’t sure what people were doing when they were being landscape photographers - I just couldn’t get my head around that. But then I’d meditate and I’d see these landscapes in my mind and I wanted to create these images. So I started going into landscapes with my camera and I thought, actually, this is so peaceful. Just the act of shooting makes you so present, you’re so alert, you have that still alertness which is sort of the goal of meditating anyway, except you’re doing this thing that is trying to capture this moment of peace that you feel. How nice is it to share a moment of stillness with somebody else, even though it’s something that I experienced in this landscape, maybe I can share it - maybe I can try to put that peace into the image making process. That felt so much healthier than these really scary, dark images I was doing before my Dad passed away!
J: Do you call yourself a landscape photographer, or do you try and avoid defining what you do?
B: You know, I don’t know anymore. I’ve stopped trying to define it because I don’t even feel like I fit into that world of the big white space, I’ve really just tried to pair it down to this is what I really want to do, let’s see what happens with it. And it’s so nice to have a platform like Junko that feels like a perfect fit. Not long after Iceland, my Mum got married in Costa Rica - so it was a big travel year - and right after that I got pregnant with Eli and my travels stopped!
J: Do you currently have any plans for more travel?
B: We actually want to go to Iceland again this June. It’s my Mum’s sixtieth and she’s always talked about seeing the midnight sun, so we were thinking of going on the Solstice. It’s going to be interesting to see how it's celebrated there.
Brighitta in Crystal Palace / Photo credit: Agne Kucinskaite
Brighitta's work features in issue 02 of Junko, Junko Iceland, available to pre-order via Kickstarter now.
To see more of Brighitta's photography series and find out about her Reiki practice visit her website brighitta.com
Written by Amy Moffat
March 6th 2017