Cole Thompson Photography Newsletter

Issue 100   -  October 20, 2017


Dunes of Nude No. 191




Dear Cole: 


I spent the month of August in the Faroe Islands (or was I "on" the Faroe Islands...I'm never really sure).


In this newsletter I'll tell the story of how I came to visit the Faroe Islands, my impressions, how I saw the Faroes as a tourist and how I see them as an artist.


I'll also introduce my new portfolio entitled:


"Nature is Rude and Incomprehensible at First"


And I'll tell the story of how I came to choose that title with a little help from Bill Murray.


I try to make my newsletters more about the images and less about words, but I'm afraid that I have failed in this issue.





The Faroe Islands, A Few Facts


The Faroe Islands are midway between Norway and Iceland. There are 18 major islands in the group, with one uninhabited.  The populations is slightly greater than 50,000 with about half living in the capital city of Torshavn (pronounced torsh houn) which means Thor's Harbor.

The Faroese are a mix Norse and Gaelic origins. The first known settlers were Gaelic monks in the 6th century. The Vikings also visited.


The islands are connected by undersea tunnels, land bridges and ferries. 


The Faroes are a self-governing country within the kingdom of Denmark. 


The official languages are Faroese and Danish. Faroese is only spoken on the Faroe Islands. Interestingly, Icelandic and Faroese have some similarities, but Faroese and Danish have none. The young people generally speak English and I had no trouble communicating anywhere on the islands. 


The islands were invaded and occupied during WWII by the British, who did not want them to fall into the Nazi's control. The British built a runway but it was abandoned after the war and sat unused until 1964 when air service to the islands began.


There are rumored to be more sheep than people on the Faroe Islands. There are also a few cows and some very beautiful horses, similar to those found on Iceland. 


There are few native mammals on the Faroes, a few hares (very large rabbits!) and some mice and rats. There are seals, sea lions and whales (and yes, the Faroese whale).


The climate is cloudy, wet and cold. But not too cold, as they are surrounded by water which keeps the winter temperatures near freezing or above. But it is cloudy most of the year. 


The islands are geographically monochromatic, they are not diverse like Iceland. There's lots of volcanic basalt, sheer cliffs, fjords and inlets.


And Puffins, lots of Puffins.








There is no truth to the rumor that they use real Puffins to make Puffins Cereal! But Puffin Soup is a delicacy on the islands.


Puffins are found on the northern most part of the country with the largest concentration on Mykines Island (pronounced MEE-chin -ness).



The People


The people are small town friendly, but first impressions can be deceiving. If you're walking down the street, even in a small village, a stranger may not say hello or make eye contact. 


I always say "howdy" to people and they would quickly glance up, say "hello" and quickly glance back down again. That perplexed me and so then I tried an experiment: after saying "howdy" and getting a "hello" back, I'd ask "how are you?"


What a transformation would then take place! The people would make eye contact, their face would brighten and suddenly we were friends. 


True story: one day I was out shooting in a remote area. I drove to the end of a road and was walking out further when I saw two people walking towards me. As we got closer, I said "howdy!" and one if the people responded "Cole?" 



The Weather


I visited during their summer and I don't think the temperature ever broke 55 degrees. I loved those cool temps, but they acted as though a heat wave was upon them! They were in the ocean swimming and everywhere I'd go, I'd see people sunning themselves.


I'm from Colorado where we have about 300 sunny days a year. I'm told they have about 300 overcast days a year. I expected their winters to be brutally cold and snowed, but I'm told that they're actually quite moderate being surrounded by water.





I have never seen a country with such nice and clean water closets! No matter where you went, even in the smallest village, you'd find a public restroom that was immaculately kept. 



Painted Houses


Another thing the Faroese were fanatic about is keeping their houses painted. Almost every house looked as though it had a fresh coat of paint. And guess what one of their favorite color schemes is? A black house with white trim. 



Sod Roofs


Many of the houses had a sod roof. Even in the middle of the city they were quite common. I even saw a man cutting the grass on his roof with a weed wacker! In one small village I saw a sod roof with weeds on it and wondered if his HOA sent him a nasty letter?



Roads and Tunnels


The Faroe Islands have great roads and tunnels. The tunnels might go through a mountain or deep under the sea. They're building a new tunnel right now that will connect two islands and save over a hour of drive time. 


It is very odd to go into a tunnel that is several miles long, to go downhill until you reach the bottom, and to know that you are several hundred feet below the ocean floor.


Another thing you see everywhere is roundabouts. I was told that they only have two traffic signals on the islands, both in Torshavn. The new tunnel they are building will have a roundabout beneath the ocean floor.


The new tunnels are very wide and can easily fit two vehicles with room to pull out. But the older tunnels, like the one above, are very narrow and not very tall. They can fit only one car at a time and so about every 100 yards there are turnouts and whoever gets to the turnout first, must pull out.



Cost of Living


As a tourist, I found prices to be very high, but not nearly as high as Iceland. Gas, food and lodging were all expensive...and made even more expensive by high taxes.  


Their paper money is the Danish Krone or the Faroese Krona, but they use Danish coins.





What would you think if you were to see a car running while the owner went into the grocery store to shop? Or you went to a restaurant and saw baby buggies lined up outside, with babies in them? The Faroese do that because it is so safe there.


I was driving through a village when I saw a 4 year old walking down the street by himself, I panicked and yelled "where are his parents?" And then I remembered, I was in the Faroe Islands. 


My landlord for the month was a police supervisor in a neighboring village. He said there is  virtually no crime on the islands.


And there is no threat from dangerous or wild animals. No snakes, no rabies, no mountain lions, no bears, nothing but very large rabbits and sheep  


The most dangerous thing in the Faroe Islands are the cliffs  They are massively high and every year some poor tourist goes over. The image above is of my daughter-in-law Erica on the left and my son Cody with their daughter Margot in his backpack.





There are sheep everywhere. Literally everywhere. On the roads and on the side of the roads. And if you hit one, you must compensate the owner.


I've never been around sheep much, but they grew on me. They would let you get pretty close to them but would never look up, but I did notice that they always kept one eye on me.





The Faroese whale. I did not know this until Kristian my landlord told me to go down to the harbor to witness it. I found it disturbing. 


However I try very hard not to judge other people's customs by my standards and traditions. 


But I still found it disturbing.





I'm an animal lover and dogs are my favorite. But I found the dogs of the Faroe Islands to be unfriendly. They were not mean, but they were not friendly. I'd approach a dog and talk to them but I wouldn't get a look, a wag or any response. I wondered how these dogs were raised that they were so indifferent to people.


I did meet one very nice dog in a tiny village. He wanted me to throw rocks, which he would dutifully retrieve and then wait for me to throw it again.


Churches and Graveyards


At the center of every village is a cute little church. Their graveyards are very old, I found several headstones dating back to the 1500's.





I always worry about eating in foreign countries because my stomach has a very narrow tolerance for non-familiar foods. It turns out that the Faroe Islands did have some unusual foods (Puffin soup, whale blubber, things with eggs on them, fish balls...) but that wasn't the real challenge. 


The real challenge was finding a place to eat. For the most part, restaurants exist only in a few cities/towns. And because I was out shooting so late, they were closed by the time I returned to Torshavn. 


So what did I do? I ate at gas stations a lot. It's not quite as bad as it sounds, over there a gas station is a mini-grocery mart and you can find basic foods there including fruit and vegetables. They also have a wide assortment of hot dogs.


Their hot dogs are a bit odd. Imagine a bun that looks like a round roll with a hole drilled in it. They ask you what sauces you want (there are about 10) and then they squirt them into the hole and insert a hot dog that is twice as long as the bun!


There was this one pizza place that was in the middle of nowhere and open late, I ate there a lot. There was also a Chinese restaurant that was pretty good in Torshavn.


But the real culinary treat was eating at the only American fast food restaurant on the island: Burger King! It was familiar and I could get ice in my drink. Like many European countries, ice is not the norm and if you ask for "extra ice" you might get four ice cubes. 


Other odd things about the food there: they love salt and advertise it: Lay's Salted. They are also crazy about black liquorice and even salted liquorice.


It was interesting to see that things were not supersized there: candy bars, chips, soda were all smallish in size, like we used to have in the 60's.


One of my favorite foods was their danish, it's unlike anything I've had here in the US. It is very light and delicious! And this danish can be purchased at a gas station.





Because there are so many sheep there, there is also a lot of wool. They are very proud of their soft wool and you can find almost anything made of wool. It looks like that kid on the right needs some wool underwear...





They have amazing horses, similar to those found in Iceland. I call them Beatle horses.


They are short in stature and very friendly, the opposite of the dogs. I'd bring apples along, cut them up and offer them some. They were not the least bit shy or standoffish. 



Road Signs


There were a lot of unusual road signs, and while some were easy to understand, others were perplexing.


For example, it's clear that the sign on the left warns of a school zone. But what does the one on the right mean? Beware of business men and women carrying briefcases?


Traditional Dress


I was fortunate to schedule my visit during the "National Holiday" or St. Olav's day which commemorates the death of the Norwegian King, Olaf the Holy, who fell in battle on July 29th, 1030.


During this holiday everyone dresses in traditional clothing. This is Kristian my landlord and his son. These clothes are handmade from wool and knitted by Kristian's mother.


Small Villages and Extreme Isolation


Most villages are very small, perhaps 50-100 people, and they are very isolated...but in a good way. The people are strong and independent.


Many villages have been connected by tunnels in recent years, but some still must depend on ferries to reach a store, services or medical care.


I thought it unusual that in these very small villages, and with all of this open land, the houses were built in a small cluster with only a few feet in-between each house.




How I Came to Choose the Faroe Islands


One of my favorite trips was to Iceland, but in recent years it has become too popular, crowded and expensive. And so in my quest for something more isolated, I noticed the Faroe Islands. 


I tucked that idea away for several years, but I didn't acted upon it.


Then a couple of years ago I got hooked on the BBC TV series "Shetland." That got me interested in visiting the Shetland Islands, but as I studied the map I noticed the Faroe Islands nearby and they looked more isolated. Plus they are very easy to reach: a direct flight to Reykjavik and then a short hop to Vagar. 


And that's how I came to visit the Faroe Islands.


I have mixed feelings about promoting the Faroe Islands, on the one hand they would love the tourist income. But on the other hand tourism may change the Faroe Islands like it has changed Iceland. I'm told that locals now find it difficult to afford the rents in Reykjavik due to tourism. I guess nothing is good or bad, but a mixture of both.




How I Planned the Trip


How do you prepare for a month long photo trip to a foreign country? 


Minimally. I planned my flight and lodging...and that was it. . 


I did not look at the work of any other photographers and I did not look at guide books to find the "must see" locations. 


I do this so that I have no itinerary, no plans and no expectations.


I simply wander about, look and hope that I can "see."






One of the reasons I enjoy shooting in remote locations is that it allows me to leave behind my daily cares and focus on just one thing: creating.


Unfortunately this trip was anything but carefree. 


Just before the trip, I contracted a case of diverticulitis. Besides being painful, I was worried it would reappear on the trip. Then during the trip I came down with a virus that left me suffering from fatigue, sore joints, vertigo and tinnitus. 


Within the first week, my photo computer back home died and I was unable to access my work. Then my primary camera died and I broke two of my neutral density filters. 


Then there was the incident of putting diesel fuel into my gasoline car (isn't that supposed to be impossible?)


But the worst was my father. In the space of three weeks he found a lump, had surgery, was diagnosed with cancer and died. The good news was that he was 89, never suffered and went in his sleep.


All of this was terribly distracting and did not help me focus. I've heard people say that suffering helps bring about creativity, but I did not find that to be the case.



How I Saw the Faroes as a Tourist


Through my tourist eyes, the Faroe Islands were beautiful and colorful. Every time I came around a bend, there was a sight more beautiful than the next.


After a while, you took it for granted.


These are iPhone snapshots I took along the way to share with my friends and family.






New Portfolio: Nature is Rude and Incomprehensible at First


Faroe Islands No. 8



In the month there I took about 1600 images, culled that down to 103 in my first pass and am now working to reduce that to about 25 images. Here are a few that are in the new portfolio.


Faroe Islands No. 97


Faroe Islands No. 96


Faroe Islands No. 83


Faroe Islands No. 72


Faroe Islands No. 71


Faroe Islands No. 13


Faroe Islands No. 3




How I Named My New Portfolio, with Bill Murray's Help


Usually a portfolio name comes quickly and easily to me, but this time it did not. I did not want to name the collection: "The Faroe Islands" and I was struggling to find an appropriate name.


Now back up about two months. I heard that Bill Murray was coming to Denver, and since I love Bill Murray and his style of comedy, I purchased tickets for my wife and myself. Then I heard it was a joint act, that he had joined up with a cello player named Jan Vogler. I thought...okay...well...comedy and a cello?  


Then I saw a CD available with Bill and Jan and I purchased it. Umm, this is not a comedy show. Bill reads American literature and Jan plays the cello. I listened and I liked it!


On the CD Bill reads a verse from the "Song of the Open Road" by Walt Whitman, it goes like this:


Allons! whoever you are come travel with me! 

Traveling with me you find what never tires. 


The earth never tires, 

The earth is rude, silent, incomprehensible at first, 

Nature is rude and incomprehensible at first, 

Be not discouraged, keep on, there are divine things well envelop'd, 

I swear to you there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell. 


Allons! we must not stop here, 

However sweet these laid-up stores, 

however convenient this dwelling we cannot remain here, 

However shelter'd this port and however calm these waters we must not anchor here, 

However welcome the hospitality that surrounds us we are permitted to receive it but a little while. 



That phrase: Nature is rude and incomprehensible at first...resonated with me and became the name for this portfolio.






Print Drawing


The winner of the last newsletter print drawing for "Run Aground" is Neal Cross! Please contact me Neal so we can arrange delivery of your print.


This newsletter's print drawing is for the "Jim Bridger Power Plant" above. Simply email me at and put "Jim Bridger Power Plant" in the subject line.


And of course, saying "howdy" is also appreciated...


I know that some of you have entered many times and may be discouraged, but please don't give up...someone has to win and it might as well be you!


Cole Thompson Photography