In 2010, a few significant things happened for Swedish photographer Theo Elias. A couple of those things had personal implications, while one also held global significance, but they would all prove to be instrumental to the course his life would take.
In April 2010, an Icelandic volcano, named Eyjafjallajokull, spewed volcanic ash so high into the air that hundreds of people were forced to evacuate, and airspace was shut down. Indeed, as this Washington Post report from 2011 noted, the eruption “triggered the largest shutdown of European airspace since World War II.” Around the same time, Elias was suffering from some pretty heavy personal setbacks.
While the natural disaster was taking place, Elias had applied to photography school and found out he had been rejected. To make matters worse, he also got fired from his day job at around the same time. The chaos caused by Eyjafjallajokull’s eruption seemed to mirror that of Elias’s own life. Speaking of this time, Elias says, “I had a feeling that all the chaos in my life was corresponding [to] what was happening on this far remote island, so I decided to go there.”
At first, Elias took along one camera and a bunch of film and stayed for four weeks. He would end up returning over and over again for the next few years. He spent time meeting people in bars, sharing cigarettes with them and taking their portraits. Slowly, his photos evolved into a project that would eventually become a book: “Smoke.”
It’s filled with moody, cinematic, black-and-white images from the years Elias spent in Iceland. It’s also a beautifully poetic tale about finding one’s place in the world. As Elias says, “It became a story about coming [of] age in the meeting with others and a remarkable landscape.” And in the end, despite chaos and disappointment, he was able to realize some of his greatest achievements.
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