I get offered all manner of books for review and feature here on Linda’s Book Bag, and sadly I have to refuse most simply because there are only 24 hours in a day! However, when Jonathan Straight FRSA got in touch about his book Vegans in Iceland I was so intrigued by the title and the fact that sales go towards supporting the work of Sea Shepherd in Iceland that I had to accept it in return for an honest review. I was meant to be away this week and not blogging but events have conspired against me so I thought I’d return to a country I loved visiting and I’m delighted to share my review of Vegans in Iceland today.
Vegans in Iceland
Are there vegans in Iceland?
Photographer Jonathan Straight hoped to find out when he visited the volcanic island. This collection of portraits documents a remarkable and thriving community; each person’s journey is different but reaches the same conclusion. From a pioneering chef to a footballer, from a former sex worker to an octogenarian, this book gives a sensitive insight into their world.
As they say in Icelandic, njóttu!
My Review of Vegans in Iceland
A series of photographs and biographies of vegans in Iceland!
Before my review proper, I must comment on the physical properties of this non-fiction hardbacked book, Vegans in Iceland is beautifully produced. The weighty hard backed cover provides long lasting durability and the smooth, thick, glossy pages give a sensation of exquisite quality as they are turned. Contrast the stark black and white photography against the white space surrounding the clear and engaging text and this is a book to savour. I love the fact that its sales help support environmental work in the seas around Iceland too.
Vegans in Iceland is a dramatic, compelling and compassionate portrayal of the vegan community in Iceland who frequently find themselves at the margins of society because of their eating preferences. I had no idea, for example, that some restaurants are afraid to list vegan dishes for fear of reprisal and I’d never previously heard of the Cube of Truth. Although the focus is on people, Jonathan Straight provides a fascinating insight into the country too. His portraits cover Icelandic elements ranging across a wide range of subjects from football to weightlifting, sex work to television and grief to protest, so that the book provides a multi-layered insight into a relatively unknown country.
However, it is the people who make Vegans in Iceland such an interesting book. Artistic photographs show them at their best and provide an intimate understanding of who they are as individuals. Here we have a wide range of creative, passionate individuals sensitively portrayed by Jonathan Straight. I found Alda the most affecting because they are furthest from my own experience. I liked the fact that the portraits are slightly more weighted towards women too with more women than men featured because I felt this gave a voice to those not usually associated with the Icelandic persona. The text accompanying the excellently composed photographs works so well because it is simply factual. These are pen portraits provided without judgement or authorial comments so that readers can make up their own minds and respond individually to the people presented in Vegans in Iceland.
Vegans in Iceland is never going to be a mainstream book, but it is intriguing, high quality and fascinating. It’s important too because it raises awareness of vegan issues without preaching or patronising, so that it is thought-provoking. I thoroughly enjoyed reading and viewing it and it has certainly made me consider some of my own food preferences and practices.
About Jonathan Straight
Dr Jonathan Straight is a British writer and photographer based in Yorkshire. He specialises in documentary, portrait and street genres, generally working in black and white. He had no formal training in photography, rather learning at the knee of his late father who was a keen and talented amateur. Receiving a 35mm camera for his 10th birthday and carefully watching his father at work in a home darkroom gave him sufficient grounding to go on and make his own work.
Having enjoyed a successful career as an entrepreneur, he now continues to work on various photographic projects as well as being involved in different businesses and charities.
He was shortlisted for Portrait of Britain 2019, has had photographs published in various places and has held several exhibitions of his work.
In 2018, he published Blood, Sweat, Tears and Helicopters, a documentary study of the Israeli ambulance service. This followed two weeks embedded with different ambulance crews around the Country, and successfully demonstrated the diversity of the organisation and the population it serves.
In 2020, he published Vegans in Iceland, a series of portraits of members of the Icelandic vegan community interspersed with images of Icelandic vegan food and associated messaging. His initial visit to Iceland was inspired by the work of writer Hallgrímur Helgason.