In the realm of legends
Drew Doggett captures the magic of Iceland
LORI ANN REINHALL
The Norwegian American
“I’ve photographed unique horses around the world, but the Icelandic horse’s story is one that is profound, mystical, and unparalleled by any other breed on Earth,” North Carolina-based photographer Drew Doggett has said.
His series “In the Realm of Legends” is set against Iceland’s waterfalls and black sand beaches. In his own words, it “highlights a noble yet rugged breed of horses and the dreamlike landscape they live within.”
To create his collection of photos, Doggett worked with seven drones, 535 horses, and spent 105 days planning. He photographed the horses both in motion and stillness, and the results are magnificent.
Doggett was in high school when he first discovered the camera and the darkroom. At the same time, he got his first taste of travel. His trips made him realize the potential of photography to capture a newfound spirit of independence and creativity, adventure, and discovery. A new world had opened up, but his callings as a photographer had not yet been awakened.
But it was only later when he was doing an internship in college that Doggett had his “epiphany” and realized he could make a living as a professional photographer. But he also understood that it would not be an easy career path and would require his complete focus and commitment. He packed up his things and moved to New York City to follow his destiny.
Early years in NYC
In New York, Doggett worked with some of the biggest names in the industry: Mark Seliger, Steven Klein, and Annie Leibovitz, to name a few. The young photographer spent long hours on shoots and production. Perfection in the world of photography emerges from a confluence of vision, resources, and technical know-how.
Doggett’s time in New York took him to all corners of the globe, where he helped capture some of the world’s most famous celebrities on film, including models, musicians, and politicians. Some of the most famous were Madonna, Desmond Tutu, and President Barack Obama.
A photographer’s vision
But Doggett’s journey as a photographer had only just begun. As exhilarating as the New York time was, his artistic vision was only beginning to emerge. He asked how he would create a place for himself in a very competitive and already crowded world.
“In my mind, the work I wanted to make was timeless, featured unpredictable iterations of beauty, highlighted form and composition, and had a depth and complexity of subject matter,” the photographer has said.
“I wanted to use my camera to preserve parts of the world that may be unsung or at risk, and I wanted to foster a connection with faraway locations where globally shared human interests could be revealed. I felt that if I stuck to my core belief system, I could make something unique and with integrity.
“Most of all, I wanted to tell stories.”
In 2009, Doggett decided to take a risk, and headed out on an adventure to Nepal. He found himself high in the Himalayas for a photo shoot. But his project was interrupted by a snowstorm and could not be completed.
Some might have seen this as a failure, but for Doggett it was a turning point. He had forged a unique bond with the sherpas who had guided him through the mountains. That they had saved his life, and he realized that, despite the weather that had put the film shoot to a halt, he had a story to tell:
“I promised myself that from that point on, my career would be about telling stories like those of the sherpas and the Humla people of Nepal, who were the perfect mix of grit and warmth, humility and pride, and innocence and wisdom.”
Doggett’s artistic vision has literally taken him to all corners of the earth: From Sable Island off the coast of Nova Scotia, Yellowstone Park in Wyoming to the jungles of India, from the deserts and jungles of Africa to the open wide oceans.
The photographer has a strong affinity for animals. On his journeys, he has photographed “exceptional creatures,” such as American bison, rhinos, elephants, lions, giraffes, zebras, mountain gorillas, cheetahs, chimpanzees, hippos, and leopards.
But horses hold a special place in Doggett’s heart, and somehow it seems only natural that he would be drawn to Iceland, with its unique rugged landscape and its own breed of horses that goes back to the days of the Vikings.
Borrowed from a dream
The Icelandic horse was brought to Iceland by the Norse settlers over 1,000 years ago. One of the first settlers, Ingólfur Arnarson, along with others, came to Reykjavík from Norway and brought the best of the best of their livestock with them, which was the beginning of the Icelandic breed.
Over the centuries, Iceland’s horses have been bred for purity and are highly sought after around the world. The horses can be almost as small as a pony, but they are strong, hardy, and long-lived. They are also prized for their gentle temperament and have been the companions of the Icelandic people, standing at their sides through trials and tribulations.
While working in Iceland, Doggett lived on a farm with hundreds of horses. They all had their own names and special characteristics, and the photographer took time to get to know their personalities. While he couldn’t learn all of their names, their owners knew most of them, so close was their relationship.
For all these reasons, the Icelandic horse is highly treasured and protected. To preserve the purity of the breed and to keep it healthy, Icelandic law prohibits other horse breeds from being brought into the country and exported animals are not allowed to return.
As Doggett has pointed out, the horse figures strongly in Norse mythology. Sleipnir, Odin’s eight-legged stallion, was believed to be able to transcend realms. He was Odin’s companion and shamanic guide, with the ability to travel over land or through the air or sea.
It is this rich history and mythology that the photographer had in mind when he created his series “In the Realm of Legends.” And of course, the dramatic landscape of Iceland—waterfalls, black sand beaches, and unearthly but natural volcanic rock—provide the perfect backdrop to tell the story of the magnificent Icelandic horse.
Lava and ice
Doggett shoots his photos in both black and white and color, but once in Iceland, the blues of the water and ice that appeared in contrast to the black lava were irresistibly beautiful. The pale blues of his photos give them a magical beauty, with a shade that is quintessentially Nordic. There is at once the feeling of the Arctic cold, yet at the same time, the images have a dreamy, soothing quality. The light blues of the ice and darker blue shades of the water contrast with the black lava and the stunning white horses. The horses take on a quality of purity, symbolic of their place in Icelandic mythology and history.
Doggett’s photographs of the horses are full of dramatic movement, as the horses run through the landscape with a gracefulness that appears choreographed, yet natural. There is also the movement of the rushing waterfalls, splashes in the wake of the run of the horses, bringing an element of thrill or exhilaration to many of the scenes. The dynamism is ultimately captured in the film shorts produced to accompany the series.
But within all this dynamism, there is also a sense of stillness and calm, the calm that is so much a part of the demeanor of the beautiful horses. The effect is magical. In the photographer’s own words, “They represent the perfect mix of strength and beauty.”
It is easy to understand why these images are highly sought after by interior designers, as they bring a feeling of grace and tranquility into a room. One can well imagine them as a centerpiece of a living room, a grand entrance hall, or even in a bedroom. Available in large format, the photos are also often featured in commercial spaces.
Collecting a legend
Doggett’s works of art are found in exclusive galleries and installations around the world. The photographer’s accolades are too many to list, having amassed over 100 prestigious awards and honors for his photographic work. It is found in many private and prominent public collections.
His photographs has been featured in numerous publications, including Conde Nast Traveler, Architectural Digest, Photographer Magazine, Professional Photographer Magazine, Outside Magazine, and now The Norwegian American. His short films have also received critical acclaim, most notably at the Big Sur Film Festival and the PBS Short Film Festival.
Fortunately, Doggett’s work is available to anyone, as they are also available for purchase online on his website. These investment pieces are produced on archival printing material to guarantee their longevity. A range of sizes are available, and there are different framing options to choose from to suit different decórs. Important for collectors, each print carries a certificate of authenticity and limited edition guarantee that ensures that they are not duplicated beyond the amount noted on them.
And for those wanting to explore more of Doggett’s work before investing in a print, high-quality coffee table books are available. You can enjoy the photographer’s storytelling in both the images and narrative text. For now, we will have to wait for a book on the Icelandic horse series, but there is much to explore of them on the website.
These coffee table books are also part of the photographer’s charitable initiatives. Proceeds from the sold-out book Slow Road to China went to fund a health-care facility in Nepal, and proceeds from Sail: Majesty at Sea, also sold out, went to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
“I believe that an iconic photograph is an opportunity for constant inspiration, learning, and discovery. The beauty within my images is the language I use to help foster a deeper understanding of our world,” says the photographer.
With its resplendent representation of nature and life, the photography of Drew Doggett can open up a new world for you.
To see more of the photos from “In the Realm of Legends” collection and explore more of Drew Doggett’s world of photography, visit his website at drewdoggett.com.
This article originally appeared in the July 29, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American.