News from Nowhere
L’île française. 2019
Still frame from a film discovered in The National Film Archive of Iceland
Documentation by Þorgeir Þorgeirsson
Special thanks to the family of Þorgeir Þorgeirsson
Photographic assistance Vigfús Birgisson
Fabricated movie poster
Archival inkjet print on Hahnemule fiber paper
On 6th December 1963 three French men were the first to set foot on a new island south west of Iceland just three weeks after the island starting forming. The island had not been given a name at that point but was called Séstey (island unseen) namely after the massive plume.
A small group of photographers were documenting the eruption on a boat in a safe distance from the eruption, noticed the bold explorers and filmed the first land-walk. They watched in surprise as one of the explorers placed the French flag on the recently formed shoreline. The expedition was commissioned by the magazine Paris Match which explaines the other flag placed further down the shoreline.
The moment when the island was declared a French colony was perhaps forgotten soon enough. Two years into the eruption the island was declared a nature reserve as it presented a unique opportunity to study and follow closly the development of biocolonisastion. Today for the most of us, the island can only be seen from air and only a handful of scientists are allowed to go the island twice a year for research purpose.
The eruption did not subside until June 1967 when the island reached 2.7 km2 in size. Since then Surtsey has steadily diminished due to erosion and is now less than half of its original size. In 2008 the island became part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.