We're all off to Iceland

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In this month's issue of Esquire, contributing editor Richard Johnson visited Iceland in search of its elves. To find out whether he managed to find any of the country's fabled 'little people' you'll need to buy the January issue (on sale now). Here, Richard recalls the unusual assignment that first took him to the land of glaciers and volcanic craters...

The first time I went to Iceland was for a photoshoot – a swimwear photoshoot. The wind was reaching speeds of 50mph; and temperatures were below -24degrees. But photographer Terry O'Neill wanted to do things his way: “Shooting swimwear in Iceland you throw the rule book away. But we wanted to pull off the most unlikely idea in fashion. It was mission impossible - freezing cameras, tripods snapping because of the cold, and light meters going all funny. But it was worth it. Now I understand why people climb Everest."

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The eight-day shoot took place on Iceland's moonscape of glaciers and volcanic craters. Icelanders don't own their island - they merely borrow it from the elements. The spray rises off torrential waterfalls as shards of ice. In part uninhabitable, it's ideal for an imaginative knitwear shoot - the pure light shows off woollens to good effect. O'Neill's models, however, were chosen for their experience in lingerie and swimwear. "The last bikini I put on was in Kenya" says Arabella Sharman. "But that was predictable. This wasn’t.”

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Cross-Channel swimmers lard their bodies - models in snow storms favour baby oil. They stood in sleeping bags until O'Neill was ready. Then everything was done at three times the normal speed to minimise the risk of hypothermia. When I went back to Iceland, I wanted it all to be a little less rushed. Well, I was working on a story about the country’s belief in the supernatural. And, when you’re hunting for elves, you’ve got to take your time…

Read Richard Johnson's story in the January issue of Esquire, on sale now. Photograph by Rupert Nightingale

Richard Johnson flew to Iceland with Icelandair (www.icelandair.co.uk or call 0800 988 9989), flying from London Heathrow, Manchester and Glasgow. Stopovers at no additional airfare are available when travelling to/from any of Icelandair’s North American destinations:  Boston, Halifax, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Orlando, New York City, Seattle and Toronto.  He transferred with flybus (www.flybus.is), and stayed in Reykjavik at the Hotel Thingholt (www.centerhotels.com). For additional information visit www.visiticeland.com and www.icelandgourmetguide.com