In the year 2003 The National Power Company of Iceland started the building of the 700 MW Kárahnjúkar Hydroelectric Project in eastern Iceland. The project consists of three dams, one of them being the highest in Europe, and a hydroelectric power plant. The dams block among others the big glacial river Jökulsá á Dal, creating the 57km2 artificial lake Hálslón.
The Power plant is primarily being constructed to supply electricity to a new Aluminium smelter built by Alcoa of USA in the fjord of Reyðarfjörður on the east coast of Iceland.
The artificial lake and the constructions have spoiled one of Europe’s largest wildernesses. Making the Kárahnjúkar project, not only the biggest project in Icelandic history, but also the most controversial one. The Kárahnjúkar project is one of the elements that provoked the financial crisis in Iceland. There have been a lot of debates about this project. Environmentalists are fighting for the preservation of the wild nature while those supporting the project talk about the need to use the energy that nature has to offer, capitalizing the power of nature.
When the project started I felt a great need to participate in these debates. I had worked in an aluminium smelter for five years before starting my photography carrier. I felt the best way for me to participate was to follow the land in its transformation, giving it my respect by photographing it in a beautiful way.
Since the beginning of the project in 2003, I have been going regularly to the construction site, taking landscape photographs, showing Icelandic contemporary landscape.
“As portrayed by Pétur Thomsen in his pictures from Kárahnjúkar, humans seem to have a natural inclination towards dominating the reality that is so much vaster than they themselves – unpredictable, terrifying and infinitely more complex and powerful than we can ever imagine. Faced by nature, the human being is dwarfed in a poignant manner – but at the same time, the human dwarf somehow assumes a grandeur when it manages to harness nature, throwing a chain around the neck of the wolf Fenrir, domesticating it and turning it into a humble servant.
In Pétur Thomsen’s photographs, the human being’s struggle against the forces of nature simultaneously assumes grandiose and tragic dimensions. The human’s destructive capacities, unleashed by its attempts to conquer nature, have rarely been given such a tangible form in Icelandic art. With his photography, Pétur involves the spectators in a space where the human being and reality come head to head. The spectators awaken from their slumber as they try and figure out what belongs to reality and what doesn’t, and who he is to start with, this man who stands idly by in the face of the struggles taking place right before his eyes – who? He himself.”
Sigrún Alba Sigurðardóttir from the text awakening, Akureyri Art Museum, Iceland, 2011