Award-winning photographer Drew Doggett came to Iceland to capture the spirit of the Icelandic horse in extraordinary winter landscapes for his series In the Realm of Legends.

South Carolina-based artist Drew Doggett started his career in fashion photography, and he applies the techniques he learned there in his landscapes and portraits of cultures and communities. Drew travels all around the world in search for interesting subjects, including the Himalayas and Ethiopia. The Icelandic horse is what drew him to Iceland. Horses of Iceland asked him a few questions about his expedition and the resulting photo series: In the Realm of Legends.

How do you choose your locations?

I choose locations with incredible natural landscapes linked to equally as extraordinary inhabitants. I also look for the story behind both. 

You’ve captured the spirit of the wild horses on Sable Island in Canada and the white horses of Camargue in Southern France. Why did you choose Iceland as a location for your next equestrian series?

I am continuously driven to photograph horses in part because they are the most attractive and unique combination of beauty and strength. I’ve also found that horses can thrive in places that may be considered challenging to live in. Nowhere is any of this truer than Iceland, a land filled with the most incredible natural features and the most colourful horses in the world to complement them. 

How are Icelandic horses different from the other breeds? 

One of the most distinctive characteristics of the Icelandic horses, beyond their colour, is their personality. They are by far the friendliest horses I have ever worked with and felt just as much at ease below Skógafoss waterfall as they did on great open expanses of thigh-deep snow with the wind furiously blowing.

Do they have anything in common?

No matter where in the world I am photographing horses, they always seem to have a natural confidence and a wild spirit. The Icelandic horses are no different. 

Many of your photographs feature white horses. What is it about white horses that you like?

White horses have an innate sense of wonder and fantasy built into their being, mostly from the ways they have been depicted in culture. To pair this unmistakable quality with a backdrop as surreal as Vík Beach was truly breathtaking. 

You started your career in fashion photography. How is that significant to your equestrian photographs?

Fashion photography gave me an incredible education. I now use the attention to detail, form, composition, and texture learned in the studio in my equestrian photographs. 

You say that you take your time to study a place before picking up your camera. How much time did you take to prepare for shooting in Iceland? 

Iceland has been on my mind for years given that there is such an abundance of incredible natural features there. To make In the Realm of Legends come to life, I spent about 6-8 months planning and preparing in order to make sure that the ideas for the series I had in mind could actually come to life. 

You mention that the weather was a challenge. How so?

I tried to plan my trip around snow because that was very important for the series. However, we quickly realized that trying to plan for this was not going to work given Iceland’s ever-changing weather. We would race to a location early in the morning when there would be a fresh coat of snow, only to find that it would disappear by the afternoon. We had to be strategic about our ideas, and embrace the unexpected.  

Why did you want to photograph your series in winter?

There is something so extraordinary about the winter in Iceland. The light, the colours, the beautiful untouched expanses of snow – the entire landscape is like being in a fantasy world. When I think about Iceland’s horses, I think of them as inseparable from their home. To me, this home is a snowy tundra filled with black sand beaches and glacial water nestled within miles of one another. 

Can you tell us about your award-winning photo Endless Dream?

This is actually one of my favourite images from the series – you can read more about it in length here

You say that above everything else, you’re a storyteller. What’s the story behind In the Realm of Legends?

In the Realm of Legends is about the intertwined love story of these horses and their incredible home. I chose to show this coexistence through examples of how aesthetically the two fit together like pieces of a puzzle. 

What is the connection to legends and mythology?

There is such a rich cultural history of horses in Norse mythology, and I fell in love with the intricate tales of the equestrian and human worlds working together. There is also the actuality of the breed’s existence in Iceland, which can be traced back to more than a thousand year ago. I also loved hearing from our host family about how horses appeared in their childhood stories. 

What did you learn about Icelandic culture?

I found that the relationship between horse and man was different, in that the horses were treated as a part of the family. I found it amazing that at the farm we stayed at, the owners knew each and every horse’s name. 

Are you working on a new project?

I just got back from a trip to Kenya where I was lucky enough to photograph what are considered to be the largest tusked elephants in the world. These “big tuskers” have tusks that touch the ground or weigh over 100 lbs, and experts believe that there are less than 20 left on Earth. Being in their presence is like walking among the dinosaurs, probably because their tusks give them a resemblance to their prehistoric relatives, the Woolly Mammoth. They are truly extraordinary animals. 

I also just released more limited-edition prints featuring the wild Sable Island horses. I was granted permission to use a drone on the island and created the first body of work of its kind featuring aerial images of the horses.

Click on the below photo to view the trailer for the film In the Realm of Legends by Drew Doggett.

Interview: Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir. Photos: Drew Doggett.


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