The moment I close my eyes and think about Hornøya, a smile is automatically drawn on my lips.
Pictures of the pristine-white island cross my mind, with its volatile and frantic weather changes or the noise of thousands of seabirds fluttering above my head still bringing inner peace to my mind.
A raven is seen looking for food and flying around the cliffs of the Norwegian bird sanctuary of Hornoya.
Located at the Barents Sea, at Europe’s easternmost point, Hornøya is a small, uninhabited island with only one man- made object on it, a lighthouse sitting at its highest point at 65 metres above sea level.
Home to majestic king eiders, adorable puffins, elegant guillemots, kittiwakes, shags, and sometimes rare migrants like the golden oriole or the pallid harrier, among others, it has proven itself as a sanctuary for birds.
When I left Germany I did not have high expectations. In fact, I had none. I was just happy to have joined the team in the last minute, but also unconfident and worried: “Would I have the right gear?” “Were my lenses big enough?” “Was I mature enough – photographically speaking – to face the challenges ahead?”.
But once on the island, and after three hours of wandering through the snow, carrying goods, gear and water to the lighthouse with the other nine photographers, I realised I had seven days to unleash my creativity.
If there is one thing that that island gives you it is total freedom, the only limit while on it is your own resourcefulness. The North gave me its weather, its light and its wildlife, allowing me to lose track of time and simply let go while enjoying its nature.
In the first hours, we explored the cliffs through the paths that wave in and out of rocky outcrops, looking for key spots to take our first pictures and aiming at causing minimal disturbance to the birds.
Birds fly around the cliffs of the Norwegian island of Hornoya Kittiwakes, Guillemots and Shags sharing the cliffs.
After a few days, we saw the first puffins slippering through the snow covering the rocky land, catching the eye of us foreigners with their bright and colourful beaks, their waddling-like walk and seducing us with their games. Some focused on their fights, quite fierce given their cute looks, and although I unsuccessfully tried once or twice to capture their disputes, my attention was driven to the scenery, the ever changing light, and the raging sea.
The guillemots, on the other hand, might not be the most charismatic or the most exotic birds, but their elegance and simplicity made me forget everything around me, and picturing them turned into my main amusement on the island.
Amid the noisy squawking of the hundreds of other seabirds and the beat of the waves against the cliffs, I found a spot for myself and had the chance to take one of my favourite pictures.
It shows two couples of guillemots, or murres, the four of them wearing their “glasses”, posing for me as I was lying on the ledge in between their frenzy flying in and out off the cliffs.
I like to think the murres in my picture are two couples that have argued and are waiting for the sweet moment of making peace, but that of course hinges on interpretation.
The most mesmerising moment came at night, though, with the northern lights, and the most wonderful explosion of colour I have ever witnessed.
After watching a few lights and as I thought the show was coming to an end, the green magnets, as I like to call them, suddenly exploded right above our heads into a stream of coloured light which restlessly, again and again, burst into natural fireworks covering the northern sky in green, violet and even scarlet curtains.
I realised that brief moment was too beautiful to be captured, so I threw my camera and my tripod on the snow and decided to lay back and just enjoy the show, and I don’t regret not having it on camera as it is stuck in my mind as one of the best memories ever.
Today, I still have a smile on my face as those memories take over my thoughts. Hornøya is a true treasure trove, and my only hope is that it stays the same, untouched, with its bird cliffs teeming in activity while visitors like me keep enjoying the outstanding view and the striking arctic scenery.