awe-inspiring photographs of michael bailey-gates and india menuez in iceland
In a new book, Thomas Whiteside photographs his inspiring friends in the majestic Icelandic landscape.
Photographer Thomas Whiteside's breathtaking new book, Route 1, Mike and India, began with a vacation to Iceland in 2015. He photographed his boyfriend, artist Michael Bailey-Gates, there, using long exposures to capture intimate, light-filled moments in the dark (there are only four hours of daylight there in the winter), and thinking about a suggestion from a colleague. "She asked me to think about the 'joy of life' when taking the pictures," Whiteside explains. "It was such a simple idea, but so helpful and directional for me." The trip—which included bonfires with Bjork, moonlit hikes and a bath in the Blue Lagoon—was so memorable and inspiring that Thomas and Mike returned the following summer with model and actress India Salvor Menuez.
This time, they rented a camper and followed Route 1, a road that circles around the island and its active volcanoes, roaring waterfalls, blue icebergs and glacial lakes. "I wanted to build on the first series of photos and document a relationship between Mike and India," Thomas explains, "being on the road together created a special intimacy between the group."
features Thomas' photos from both trips, which document the group's close connection, and includes delicate, often-nude images of Mike and India frolicking in fields or peeing freely in the woods. It also focuses on their individual relationships to the otherworldly landscape they traveled to. "For Mike, Iceland represented this idealized fantasy place that he'd been dreaming about his whole life," Thomas explains. "For India, it was about her experiencing this connection to the country where her mother and much of her family is from." In one such image, Mike rears up out of the water, appearing more mythological than mortal, and in another, India's fiery red hair is caked in aquamarine mud, the soil of her ancestors.
The book, which Thomas self-published through Dashwood Books, also includes a poem by India, artwork from Mike's sketchbooks and an afterword by artist Chloe Wise. Limited to just 400 copies, the book is as intimate and personal as the journey, which Thomas discusses in the following interview.
When did you fall in love with photography?
My high school art teacher gave us an assignment to find a photo from a box of discarded magazines as inspiration for a painting. I settled on a Steven Meisel Allure cover image of Linda Evangelista. The portrait really struck me, and I used it as inspiration in a number of paintings after that. I studied the angles of her face and neck and painted it over and over. To this day, it's still one of my favorite angles when I'm shooting someone.
In the book, you include a self-portrait of you as a teen. Did you know at that time that you wanted to become a photographer? What would that teen think of the photographer you've become today?
I was always the little artist kid. When I was ten, I tore out the pages of a Rothko library book and hung them around my bedroom like it was a gallery. I moved all of my furniture to the center of the room, including my bed. I lived like that for a month. When I was a little older, I was always carrying around a digital video camera documenting everything and taking video portraits, often of myself. I have hours and hours of awkward teen footage, which I'm thinking I'll use for a future project, actually. When I asked my friend Chloe Wise to write the intro to , she referenced some of these childhood videos and how this experimenting was the beginning of my image making. As a young person, I didn't know I'd grow up to be a photographer, I just knew that I needed to make things.
How did Route 1 begin? Was this your first trip to Iceland or had you been before?
It began as a vacation with Mike to Iceland over New Year's 2015. Neither of us had been before. When we told Rory Satran [U.S. editorial director of i-D] about the upcoming trip she suggested we document it for i-D. She asked me to think about the "joy of life" when taking the pictures. It was such a simple idea, but so helpful and directional for me. She published a few photos with a story about our "loved-up trip to Iceland". That was our first time there.
James Merry, who works with Bjork, is a good friend of ours. He introduced us to her and his group of friends who showed us around. It was an amazing way to experience Iceland.
When we went back to Iceland the second time, we brought India with us. Her family is Icelandic, and she's spent a lot of time there. She had helped us plan the first trip, and now with this one, she'd recommended we get a camper so we could all drive around and sleep in the truck. I wanted to build on the first series of photos and document a relationship between Mike and India, so being on the road together created a special intimacy between the group.
We followed the major highway that circles the Iceland, Route 1. The second trip lasted a week. We all slept in the camper, including India's boyfriend Jack Shannon. They were our unofficial chefs for the trip—India and jack would literally run into the hills, pick some fresh wild rhubarb, and then come back to the camper and make rhubarb chutney at night for dinner.
Who are Mike and India (to you)? Why did you want to shoot each of them in Iceland?
Mike is my boyfriend, and India and Mike have been friends for years, so when Mike and I started dating he introduced me to her and I fell instantly in love. For Mike, Iceland represented this idealized fantasy place that he'd been dreaming about his whole life. At the time, he hadn't traveled as much as I had, so to see him in this place for the first time was really touching. For India, it was about her experiencing this connection to the country where her mother and much of her family is from. I knew it was a place very dear to her and that felt like home, but yet there was also a disconnection. It reminded me of my own experiences to my hometown, a place I left at age 15.
What is your favorite memory from the trip?
There were so many times where we'd be driving and turn a corner and the view would open up to some magical, fairytale landscape—an insane waterfall or miles of moss-covered lava rocks; moss so thick we literally used it as a mattress to nap. The weather tends to change very quickly in Iceland. Within five minutes of a torrential rainstorm, you have blue skies and rainbows. It's really just such a surreal place.
What is your favorite photo from the book?
There's a portrait of India in a hot springs pool that I love. It was an abandoned outdoor pool nestled in between two hills. We had hiked a bit to reach it, the air was quite cold, so when we finally got in the hot water it was perfect. I love India's expression in that shot.
Was there a moment you didn't capture but wish you could have?
We had a lot of great times inside the camper that I couldn't really capture—sometimes shooting takes away from enjoying the actual experience. For instance, watching India and her boyfriend Jack cook for us, and then enjoying the meals. I loved those simple moments.
How did the natural lighting in Iceland impact your photography?
The amazing thing with Iceland is that in summertime you have 22 hours of daylight. And there are these really long periods where the sun is at a perfect height, floating along the horizon for hours. It's like an extended period of magic hour. Of course in the winter, when we first traveled there, the opposite was true—with only four hours of daylight—so I played a lot with long exposures. There's a photo from James Merry's mountainside home, and the moon is so bright it looks like the sun.
Why was it important to include Mike's sketches and India's poetry?
I wanted this book to capture our full experience; it's as much for me, as it is for India and Mike. I wanted to document their memories as well. Mike was never without his sketchbook, always drawing throughout the trip. I asked India to write a poem, and we decided to take a line from the poem and run it up the spine of the book.
What is more important: a timeless photograph or a beautiful photograph?
That's an interesting thought. What makes a timeless photo is hard to tell when you're taking it. I think timelessness is more powerful and more rare. But I love beauty. I love images that make people happy. I don't care to document anything grotesque or disturbing. If I had a choice, I'd watch only movies with happy endings, and I hope these photos achieve a little of that as well.
Text Zio Baritaux
All photography courtesy Thomas Whiteside