This photo story feels like opening a fantasy book with extraordinary imagery but it is based on real life and photographs of the magical world of Iceland. The island captured the attention of Spanish documentary photographer Bego Antón who spent a month meeting magical creatures’ believers and graduated from Elf School. Most of her work is around the ‘strange’ world of individuals that believe in elves, UFOS and other extraordinary creatures. Her insight into how magic feels like is transgressed through photography and text.
What motivated you to go to Iceland?
Before my trip, I was looking for information about the island and suddenly I bumped into a website about the Icelandic Elf School. I was amazed that you could actually graduate in elf issues so I started investigating and discovered a lot of interesting details about the hidden world in Iceland. It is one of the projects I have enjoyed doing the most.
What sort of things did you have to do to graduate from Elfschool?
We studied the elf tradition in Iceland and had coffee and cake so it was a very nice course!
What’s so magical about Iceland’s landscapes?
Magic is in the air but you can’t see it, you feel the magic inside you. When I was travelling around the island I had the feeling that somebody was protecting me. So I felt really safe driving in those terrible conditions due to the bad weather and rollercoaster roads. The Icelandic landscape is very rich you can go from seeing a lava field to a breath-taking glacial lake full of icebergs in just a drive. So the landscape really helps you believe in magic. You won’t feel surprised if suddenly you see an elf coming out from a rock.
How did you envision your project when you first started shooting? It really feels like reading a fantasy book..
I just travelled around the island meeting people who can see the elves and other beings and the places where they are said to live. I knew I wanted to photograph the invisible so I was very focused on that. It was when I was back home that I had to find a way to show what I’d lived in an online format, so I decided to use the storytelling formula. Icelandic people have many tales about trolls, hidden people or ghosts that they tell from generation to generation and I wanted to base my narration on that tradition. Of course, the narrative is different depending on the format, and it changes a lot when you see it online or in a wall or in a book.
So, how did you find all these believers in magic?
I did a lot of research and met many people in the field who helped me reach all kind of different seers. Icelandic people really believe in what they see but it’s not just belief because they can touch, talk and see these beings. They are so sure that what they see is real and it makes them fearless and eager to tell you their experiences. They don’t feel ashamed, everyone was happy to share their stories with me, so I could tell the world that elves exist.
What was your favourite creature out of all the ones people talked to you about?
Doubtlessly, Duggy. He is a small elf who came to Spain with me when I left Iceland. And then, he was in Madrid in an exhibition I did in PhotoEspaña so people could portrait themselves with him. He has helped me a lot and I’m really grateful to him.
That sounds great, I want one! Any scary ones?
Yes, I found a woman who had lived in a haunted house I later visited to take a picture of the place. When she was living there, she opened her eyes one morning and an old woman with thin grey hair down to her shoulders was standing by her bed. She was terrified and the room was ice cold! All of the au pairs who worked in the house felt a presence staring at them when they were brushing their teeth, in the very same spot. This happened to four different girls who never had contact with each other.
Your subjects are definitely experiencing magic and living with these creature. Did you have your own experience of magic while shooting the project?
I never saw them. I tried but I couldn’t make it. I met an amazing woman called Phorum who told me that I would never be able to see the elves, but I can feel that there was something, I felt protected.
You are also doing this project with people that believe in UFO’s and have had extraordinary experiences. What’s your own perception on such experiences?
I believe them. At least I believe they are telling me the truth, that they have faith in the things they tell me. I have no idea if it’s part of their imagination or if it really happened, but I don’t care. It’s a shame that we don’t respect some of the weirdest beliefs people have. For me, believing in God is the same thing as believing in elves or aliens. Until we do not have an unbreakable proof that something is true, every version on that fact is valuable.
Article by: Laura Rodriguez Castro