“It was like a galaxy of fire exploding”

French photographer Armand Sarlangue has won the most prestigious prize in the Siena Awards photo competition. He told us behind the scenes about his exceptional shoot in Iceland.

Inauguration for Armand Sarlangue. The French photographer was awarded at the Drone Photo Awards 2022, presented by the Siena Awards. His photo of a volcanic fissure, immortalized near the volcano Fagradalsfjall (Iceland), was awarded “photo of the year”. Last September, the Nantais family was specially flown to immortalize the natural formation and the timeless landscapes of the island country. “When I arrived there, the volcanic activity stopped abruptly. It was a terrible disappointment, but I continued my journey,” he recalls. He then boarded a 4×4 van to cross the rocky roads of the Icelandic Highlands (Miðhálendið) and the Iceberg Lagoon (Jökulsárlón), east of the island. The night was beautiful, the aurora borealis was going out. But an alarm sounded on his phone: the eruption had just resumed. “It was evening. I was very tired, but I motivated myself to get back on the road to the western tip of Iceland, the exact opposite!” He continued.

Almost 400 kilometers down and five hours later a storm met Armand Sarlangue with very bad conditions. It was raining heavily and the wind was blowing low clouds. “I figured it was my only chance, so I grabbed my rain gear and hiked to the spot.” Once at the top, conditions were still harsh; the main crater was periodically visible, camouflaged by billows of fog and smoke. He decided to send his drone anyway, despite the weather, which was not at all suitable. According to him, it was probably a one-way trip. “When the unit arrived over the fault, I could see an absolutely incredible shape. It was like a fiery galaxy exploding,” he recalls (see his “Big Bang” photo at the top of the article).

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“Magma Persona” or a monster in the lava.

© Armand Sarlangue

“It was an explosion of joy”

Two hours later, he was told that the place had been closed by the authorities for security reasons. The activity of the volcanic fissure then stopped forever. “This is also what makes the picture unique. I’m 99% sure I’m the only one who immortalized this breakout bug. No one else was there that night,” he said. During the 20-minute flight with his camera, Armand Sarlangue was also able to photograph other breathtaking scenes. Semi-abstract images where we can sometimes distinguish shapes and even faces. A simply outstanding work that he did not expect to see rewarded. “I was very surprised and very happy, because Siena is a big event in the world of photography. I didn’t expect to win the grand prize at all. It was an explosion of joy”, he still remembers.

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He fell in love with nature photography through his father, who was also a professional photographer. Since his death in 2017, he has focused his professional activity around this theme. A great success. His work has been exhibited at the prestigious California Academy of Sciences and published in several books. And recently he has organized photography courses to guide and support amateurs in nature. “Photography is a very powerful vector to connect people with nature. It is by having this click that one understands that the preservation of the natural world is one of the most valuable things that exist”. To winter he will be in Iceland with Alban Henderyckx “In the longer term I want to offer tours in the Alps as well as in poorly documented parts of the world”, he told us again.

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