From the book “Smoke,” published by La Fábrica, 2019. (Theo Elias)

From “Smoke.” (Theo Elias)

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.

“Smoke” was the winner of the Photo London and La Fábrica Book Dummy Award and was released over the summer by La Fábrica. You can buy it here or see more of Elias’s work on his website.


From “Smoke.” (Theo Elias)

From “Smoke.” (Theo Elias)

From “Smoke.” (Theo Elias)

From “Smoke.” (Theo Elias)

From “Smoke.” (Theo Elias)

From “Smoke.” (Theo Elias)

From “Smoke.” (Theo Elias)

From “Smoke.” (Theo Elias)

From “Smoke.” (Theo Elias)

From “Smoke.” (Theo Elias)

From “Smoke.” (Theo Elias)

From “Smoke.” (Theo Elias)

From “Smoke.” (Theo Elias)

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.

More on In Sight:

40 years in the making, photographer’s book reveals the ‘boundaries that hover just beyond our sight’

This photographer wrangles his pet cats to create surreal family vacation photos

Reinventing tradition: Fighting against menstrual restrictions in Nepal

Want to keep up to date on our latest In Sight posts? Subscribe to our newsletter here.