In a book filled with stark and beautiful contrasts, Joseph Fox explores the rise of Icelandic football

The Madrid-based photographer has collaborated with writer Matt McGinn to produce a visual and interview-led publication, diving into the prominence of the sport in the country.

23 September 2020
Reading Time
4 minute read


“I wish I had a more romantic origin story,” says Joseph Fox of his path into photography. Not everyone has one of those bewildering moments when a lightning spark flashes and a camera lands in your hand, not least if you’re a normal creative person finding your way into the industry. For Joseph, anyway, it was when he was young and his parents gave him a camera; a camera he used to capture his first image during his A-levels once his college had started to offer photography as a qualification. “Before that I hadn’t considered art as a career path,” he tells It’s Nice That, “although I was in a band and had always loved music.”

All it takes is an inspiring tutor to kickstart the momentum in a student, and luckily that’s exactly what happened with Joseph. This led him to study Photography at Arts University Bournemouth, later working in a small local magazine publishing house based in London. Recalling this time as “the most important step”, Joseph was able to get his foot in the door of the city and, before setting off to Madrid in 2017, he was able to contact national publications to showcase his work. “Although all of this sounds very easy, I would be the first to admit that my career up until now has been very up and down,” he adds. “The majority of my achievements have come through self-initiated projects or collaborations that I have made along the way – this work included.”

What he’s referring to here is Against the Elements, a new book formed in collaboration with writer Matt McGinn that explores the rise of Icelandic football. Having both met while in Madrid through a mutual friend, the duo commenced work on a couple of football magazine features. Promptly a solid working relationship was formed and, a year before the World Cup, Matt approached Joseph with the idea – “which I think he had been cooking up since Iceland beat England in the European championships in 2016,” explains Joseph. “I think for both of us it was a bit of a stab in the dark, because there had been a lot of coverage about Iceland and the reasons behind their rise to prominent, but what Matt was proposing was something more developed and went beyond some of the articles that had been written before.”


Joseph Fox: Against the Elements

The music industry, religion, stereotypes and the “strength from their Viking ancestry” are examined and critically explored throughout Against the Elements. And, in comparison to his creative process prior to this project – one that involved heavy research and “taking the photographs in [his] head” – this story isn’t too dissimilar. Birthed from a unanimous interest in overlapping the stories that touched on and complimented both the text and imagery, the mingling of these stories required plenty of prep and an immersive attitude when it came to photographing the subjects.

“An example of this is when Matt writes about how the Icelandic players talk about drawing strength from their Viking ancestry – that do-or-die attitude they bring to the field. Whereas some of my images warmly poke fun at these cliches of the Viking mythology, with pictures of re-enacters taking money out of a cash machine at a Viking festival or the plastic horned hats that fans wear to games.” And that’s just the pinnacle of what makes this publication work; it’s the juxtaposition between written and visual contexts that allow for a comprehensive outtake on the sport in Iceland.

There’s one image that Joseph notes in particular, one of the football stadium placed in the foreground of the mammoth, rocky Icelandic landscape [pictured above]. “Although at first glance this image looks like a typical football match,” explains Joseph, “your eye is soon drawn to the scenery in the background.” The country is known for its otherworldly backgrounds and environments, yet when placed with a socially constructed sport it gives it this added hint of surrealism – or better yet, fakery. There’s no denying that this image looks as if it could be Photoshopped (and what’s great is it very much isn’t), but within Against the Elements, much of humanity – its characters, one of its most treasured sports – is contrasted with the stark and beautiful backdrop of Iceland.

In the near future and moving forwards from “the Iceland book”, Joseph plans to launch a further book with designed Lizzie Frost and Spanish publisher Terranova, titled Gracias Por Su Visita. “The project is a photographic typology of the traditional bars that provide the backdrop to daily life in Madrid.” Lensing the impact of rising rents, “changing tastes” and globalisation, it’s very much a welcomed follow-up.

GalleryJoseph Fox: Against the Elements

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent the last seven years as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.

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