Last year, Irish photographer Gareth McConnell was tasked with capturing the wild horses of Iceland. His results are truly spellbinding.
If you were asked to conjure up a picture of wild horses in the barren Icelandic landscape, it's unlikely that your mind would jump naturally to wild psychedelic imagery, bathed in the surreal glow of neon pink, yellow and blue hues.
But for Gareth McConnell, a London-based Irish photographer and publisher, this was precisely the vision he pursued when the New York Times commissioned him to photograph the horses of Iceland.
From the outset his goal was to create something as "non-National Geographic as possible" - and it's fair to say he achieved this with flying colours.
McConnell's two-day trip to a horse breeding farm in Skeiðvellir, located an hour and a half's drive east of Reykjavík, resulted in a beautifully strange, saturated and otherworldly collection of images, portraying the majestic four-legged creatures like never before.
Now, the complete collection of photographs is readily available for viewing in his latest book, aptly named 'The Horses,' which can be purchased online.
Euronews Culture had the opportunity to sit down with McConnell to delve into his experience of capturing the wild horses and to explore why he considers it "the most difficult shoot" he has ever undertaken in his career.
Euronews Culture: How did the project come about?
Gareth McConnell: So I was commissioned by the New York Times for an issue all about animals around the world. I've been working with Kathy Ryan (Director of Photography, New York Times) for almost 20 years.
Our agreement was that I was going to go out to Iceland, to this place called Icelandic Horseworld, and do something as "non-National Geographic as possible". Our aim was to do something really cosmic, mental and make a piece of work that brought something new to the canon. I remember her saying, "Make something that will be in a museum wall in 20 years". So it was a very open brief.
I spent two days out there and we built a big, make-shift studio inside. The owners of Horseworld reared the horses for us when shooting indoors and were able to keep them calm and clean.
What were the main challenges of photographing the horses?
Not to sound trite about it but I think it was the most difficult shoot I've ever done. I've never been more convinced that I've fucked something up more in my entire career. I just thought I'd completely banjaxed this.
We're there in Iceland, in the middle of fucking nowhere, with a lot of horses that don't want to be controlled.
In retrospect, it felt like we were in some kind of dance almost. It felt like we were both imprisoned by work or capital. I had to do my job which I didn't really want to do - and the horses had to do their job which they didn't really want to do. So it was a very difficult and unusual thing to be dealing with other sentient creatures that have their own consciousness and understanding, and trying to impose your will and your aesthetic on another creature without their consent.
It really made me think about the nature of our relationship with animals and our entitlement as human beings. But it was very challenging. You can't just tell the horses to give us a little bit more of this *flicks hair* or just "hold it there for me".
But I did have a team of people helping with this. A lot of the outdoor stuff I was in the back of a quad, bowling around a field with a camera in the back.
What draws you to creating images with a psychedelic twist?
I like the intervention of it. That it's very clearly a staged event. And it highlights the enchantment of the ordinary, the things we encounter daily but rarely appreciate. With my images, I'm trying to tune in to some kind of cosmic wonderment that's inherent in our surroundings, but that we pass by everyday and overlook.
Through the psychedelic touches, I also aim to disrupt the traditional schools of photography in order to find a place that is so wrong that it's almost right.
In capturing the psychedelic effects, how much of these elements were achieve in-camera through lighting techniques, and how much was enhanced or modified during post production editing?
There can be a little bit of fucking about with it afterwards but it's 90% in-camera. I play around with torches and gels. But often what I do with some of my more disrupted photos is that I combine photographs from my archives to find the different types of patina or resonance, which can bring subtle yet meaningful changes to the final result.
Your work seems to embrace the imperfections of shooting on film. Are you constantly experimenting while on a shoot or do you have a clear vision in your head of how you expect the image to look beforehand?
What you're seeing in the pictures would bear very little resemblance to what you actually see through the cameras. People often think I have loads of bright lights and it's really intense, but a lot of it can actually be quite dark. So a lot of the images rely on setting long exposures and other techniques.
But I find the unknown really interesting. I love that. Not to sound like an anachronistic, nostalgic twat or anything, but one of the things I just really enjoy is the kind of magic of photography. It takes me back to the darkroom when I was a kid, doing a black and white print and seeing something come up in front of my eyes. I adore that. I love shooting film not knowing really what I've got. So I've got no interest in having a digital setup.
To view the full series of photographs, check out Gareth McConnell's new photography book 'The Horses', available to purchase here.