Through the Lens: the Faces of Iceland's Remarkable Fishing Industry

Courtesy of Rúnar Þórarinsson
Courtesy of Rúnar Þórarinsson
The following photographic series was exhibited at Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik in 2015 as part of the graduation project from The Reykjavik School of Photography by Rúnar Þórarinsson. A native of Vestmannaeyjar, or The Westman Islands, situated just off Iceland’s south coast, the series shows an intimate and raw portrayal of people who work in the fishing industry. Fishing has been Iceland’s main economic source for centuries.
Daði, deckhand on the fishing vessel, Suðurey ve, from Vestmannaeyjar Courtesy of Rúnar Þórarinsson

Some of the most prolific fishing in the North Atlantic Ocean is in the area surrounding Iceland. In fact, Iceland’s only active involvement in a “war” was about fish, the Cod Wars, a series of territorial fishing disputes with the United Kingdom from 1952-1976.

Friðfinnur, chef on the vessel Arnarfell Courtesy of Rúnar Þórarinsson

Iceland’s location and environment have meant that the nation has been considerably dependant on using the sea for sustenance since the very beginning of the settlement, around 900.

Bait preparer at Grandagarður Courtesy of Rúnar Þórarinsson

Not well suited to agriculture, the fishing industry provided valuable export commodities that helped to strengthen the economy and bring Iceland to the economic standard it is at today.

Þór, deckhand on the fishing vessel, Frár ve, from Vestmannaeyjar Courtesy of Rúnar Þórarinsson

Rúnar Þórarinsson grew up in Vestmannaeyjar, a big fishing town, and worked as a fisherman for several years, first as a deck hand in Vestmannaeyjar and later as a cook on a trawler in Reykjavik. He had been interested in photography since a teenager when he began environmental portraiture.

Jens, deckhand on the fishing vessel, Frár ve, from Vestmannaeyjar Courtesy of Rúnar Þórarinsson
Halldór, engineer on the fishing vessel, Þórunn Sveinsdóttir ve, from Vestmannaeyjar Courtesy of Rúnar Þórarinsson

“When I was deciding what to do for my graduation project I choose to do a set of portraits of fishermen in their working environment. I wanted various fishermen professions (captain, engineer, deckhand, cook etc) in high contrast black and white photos for a more dramatic result,” explained Rúnar Þórarinsson.

Sigurgeir, captain on the fishing vessel, Bergur ve, from Vestmannaeyjar Courtesy of Rúnar Þórarinsson
Konný and her husband run this small fishing boat © Courtesy of Rúnar Þórarinsson

Iceland maintains a 200-nautical-mile exclusive fishing zone that is about 758,000 kilometers squared, including some of the richest fishing grounds in the world.

Steingrímur, a former captain of the fishing trawler, Vigri re, from Reykjavik, who bought this small fishing boat after retiring Courtesy of Rúnar Þórarinsson
Ólafur, a fishing vessel owner from Reykjavík Courtesy of Rúnar Þórarinsson

Iceland currently has one of the most modern and productive fishing industries in the world. While bigger companies on the island are flourishing, the small-scale fleet is shrinking and there is some fear that traditional fishing methods may die out.

Guðmundur, owner of a small fishing vessel in Vestmannaeyjar catching mostly lumpfish Courtesy of Rúnar Þórarinsson
Tryggvi, engineer on the fishing vessel, Frár ve, from Vestmannaeyjar Courtesy of Rúnar Þórarinsson