This article originally appeared on Creators.
Iceland is a mystical, snow-studded wonderland where cold winds dance with hot springs and the Northern Lights are as awe-inspiring as they are unpredictable. It's not the country's idyllic scenery that first attracted Nick Turner, though. Rather than capturing Iceland's natural beauty in the form of volcanos, geysers, and glaciers, the artist chose to turn his lens on its wildlife, documenting his fascination with Iceland's horse population in a series of salient photographs that have him literally running naked among the beasts.
"I think there's a misunderstanding about the work," Turner tells Creators. "It's not me just running wild with horses naked, or anything like that. Far from it, actually. I'm trying to project this idea of running with them and being in that world because that's the dialogue I am having. I think man has a lot of primal, animal-like instincts."
As a child, Turner was always comfortable in nature and around animals, preferring the company of horses to his classmates at school. "Some of these insecurities and feelings stayed with me growing up," he explains. "The self-portraits mostly shot in nature or with horses became this experiment of trying to understand why, growing up, I felt so unconfident and like an outsider."
Turner's need for self-examination grew into a broader desire to understand human instincts, and his work eventually became a general statement about society itself. "I wanted to be part of the tribe, one of the horses, not just a man standing next to them," he notes.
The artist works with multiple mediums such as painting and drawing, and considers his pieces to fall within the category of figurative expressionism. When painting, he'll do a charcoal or pencil sketch first, then use his entire arm to make large gestural brush strokes while painting in oil or acrylic. "I'm far more interested in the energy of the subject—a horse or nature itself—than a perfect representation of it," he says.
When photographing, Turner applies many of the same principles that he does when he draws or paints. He'll find a location and shoot as much as he can without spending too much time on technical aspects such as composition and lighting. This gives his work an organic, natural feel that makes the viewer practically unaware of any separation between the artist and his horse subjects.
As a child, Turner spent many years traveling throughout Europe, and he attended high school in France. Duly influenced by classical European art and culture, he sees his self-portraits as modern re-imaginings of large-scale Greek sculpture, or as contemporary takes on Old Master paintings. "My intention, though still focused on the natural environment, is more emotionally-based and abstract," he says. "I'm painting more deconstructed horses or landscapes that are less about the images themselves and more about the feeling and intensity of them."
Turner started traveling to Iceland in 2011, and has since been back half a dozen times. As 60% of Icelanders believe in fairies and other supernatural creatures, the country's open-mindedness to the unseen was something that also attracted Turner. "As a child, I had an active imagination and read great books about adventure and magic, so there's definitely an appeal to Iceland based on this."
"I find the more subtle nuances of images more emotionally charged and important than directly capturing something," he adds. "I want the viewer to feel something when looking at my work, not just something attractive or interesting, but also the importance of nature and all its complexities, and how man interacts with it in society today."
Turner's creative philosophy continues to evolve as he learns more about himself and the world around him. He's especially adamant about not overthinking anything and letting nature unfold on its own. "Being in awe of something so much greater than you is an important part of human growth: it humbles you and keeps things in perspective," he says. "I'm trying more and more not to take art too seriously, or myself. Life is short; it's nice to take some time to enjoy being alive."