John Steck Jr.

In the summer of 2013, I lived in Iceland for three months in order to attend two different artist residencies. On my third morning there, I awoke to learn of the loss of my mother. I made a very hard decision to not travel back to America for her funeral but to mourn her loss in the sublime landscape of Iceland. I knew I wanted to make a cairn as a symbol of celebrating her life.

When I looked at the map of Iceland, I instantly knew where it had to be: north of Raufarhöfn, the northernmost part of Iceland’s mainland. This area was two hours away from the ring road, and not anywhere I had planned to be while traveling the country. It seemed completely relevant not only to have to make more of a journey out of this, but it felt very symbolic to do so in the most northern part of the island. This location on the map referenced the symbolism of looking up to the sky, the idea of where heaven is, of where our lost ones go. I am not a religious person and question those kinds of beliefs, but in that moment it was what felt right spiritually.

I made it to Raufarhöfn late at night, which of course didn’t feel late since the midnight sun was just hiding behind very thick clouds. I spent an hour searching for stones and building my cairn. I then, hesitantly, took one photograph of it, on a positive film that gave me one original print.

I didn’t originally want to photograph the cairn. I felt it went against the ideas it represented, but in the end I really wanted my family members to see it. I knew they would have a great appreciation for this symbol, and they would understand the beauty I tried to find in celebrating her life. This cairn represents the loving memory of my mother, Terri Clarke, and the journeys ahead, in which she will always be a part of me.

John was featured in Romka 9 in 2015.