It all started with a single sentence in a blog post about Iceland: “A farmer is looking for help at a weather station and sheep farm.”
It was 2012, and after studying photography in the industrial German city of Dortmund, I was ready for a change. I had been planning to visit Iceland for a long time, and when I read about the outback farm, it all came together. I responded to the post, landed work, sold almost everything I had, and booked a flight.
Marsibil Erlendsdottir, farmer and weather station worker, picked me up at the small airport in Egilsstadir, near the easternmost edge of Iceland.
Driving to the weather station took almost two hours – past snow-capped passes, beside waterfalls, past reindeer and empty summer houses. As we got closer to the destination, the road became narrow and rough. Finally we reached the end of an isolated fjord, where a small yellow lighthouse appeared in the distance.
“Welcome to the end of the world,” said Mrs. Erlendsdottir with a laugh.
The Icelandic Meteorological Office operates 71 manned weather stations across the country, 57 of which report rainfall, snow depth and ground cover once per day. Ms. Erlendsdottir, who accompanied Billa, overseeing one of the 14 stations also reported cloud cover, weather conditions and other meteorological phenomena.
Every three hours, day and night, regardless of the weather, Billa checks the measurements on the weather devices at her station and transmits them – temperature, barometric pressure, wind conditions and so on. another – go to the Reykjavik office.
Her reports, along with those from the rest of the country, are published online and broadcast via radio. For forecast farmers, the information Billa provides can help them decide what to do on a daily basis. For fishermen at sea, information could be the difference between life and death.
There has been a weather station in this area since 1938 and it is always operated by real people. (Given the harsh regional conditions, automation wouldn’t be possible, Billa said.)
This area is extremely remote. During the coldest months of the year, the farm can only be reached by boat, and when the storm hits, it can be cut off from the outside world for days.
Billa grew up in the weather station with her brother and five sisters. She married one of the local fishermen and had a family of her own, raising two children – one of them, her son, was born in a boat on the way to the hospital.
Billa’s husband has passed away in recent years, leaving her to run the weather station and farm on her own. Billa could easily leave this place, but she decided to stay.
“It’s never boring here,” she said.
Initially I worked with Billa for 10 months. Growing up on a farm in Poland, I found many familiar jobs: tending to sheep, helping to train Border dogs, fixing fences, gathering hay.
Billa doesn’t like the limelight. It took more than a year for her to be comfortable enough for me to take a portrait of her.
In the meantime, I began to document her life and work, following the rhythm of her day – and weather reports.
Like Billa, I enjoy spending time off the grid, and so I keep going back to the farm where there is no cell phone reception. In total I spent about two and a half years there.
The area becomes especially inaccessible during the winter months, when daylight lasts only a few hours and the lighthouse’s continuously rotating beam of light cuts through the darkness.
For months in a row, the farm was covered in snow and the sound was muted – except for the sound of the surrounding ocean. In winter, the crushing waves gradually become wild, winds are stronger than ever, and weather conditions are more unpredictable.
But even during the harshest blizzard, Billa leaves home to take care of the animals and check the whereabouts of the musical instrument.
Each season has its own set of quests. In the spring, when sheep lay, cattle need to be monitored 24/24. In the summer, hay for the winter months must be collected. And during the fall, sheep were brought down from the mountains.
In addition to all the farm work, Billa also maintains the lighthouse, built in 1908. Her shop cabinets must always be stocked, given that the nearest supermarket is 50 miles away.
In winter, it takes an hour by boat to get to the nearest shops. Ship ships arrive every two weeks, but only when weather permits.
The situation here is harsh, but living in harmony with nature gives Billa a sense of inner peace. She can’t sit still and spend as much time as possible outside.
A few years ago, Billa’s daughter Adalheidur, who accompanied Heida, finished her studies in Reykjavik and moved back to the farm to accompany and help her mother.
“If I move, my mother will definitely stay here alone,” Heida said.
“Here,” she added, “she feels free.”