By Evelyn Short

The “raging river” is contained not by grassy banks, but by tall chiseled-looking gray rocks. Because there are no homes, trees or people, the expansive wall of old lava looks like part of a canyon that could be several stories tall.

“It’s a stream that’s coming down from a glacier, and it found its way down the mountain,” said John Welsh, who photographed the scene. “It’s cut through the rock.”
The rock actually rises only about 4 or 5 feet above the water, and it is a smaller slice of the overall landscape.

It is one of 34 panoramic images of Iceland that Welsh has on display in a solo exhibit at Montgomery County Community College. The photographs are a selection from 8,000 images he took during seven trips to the country.

“I’ve never been there and the pictures make me want to go,” said Holly Cairns, director of The Multiple Choice Gallery. “It looks more inviting than I thought it would from seeing the photographs.”

With a name like Iceland people mistakenly think that it is a country of solid ice.

But, Iceland is an island about the same size as Ohio, with a population of 300,000. It has more than 10,000 waterfalls, hot springs and the coastline has fjords and green, fertile valleys. Despite its name, only 11 percent of the country is covered by glaciers. A good portion of the country is uninhabitable, with moss-covered rocks from old lava flows, according to the Icelandic Tourist Board.

Welsh discovered Iceland by following his sense of curiosity. In the early 1990s he visited Mexico. While there, he met some people from Denmark and became curious about Scandinavia. In 1993 he spent the summer in Denmark, Sweden and Norway. While traveling by train he found himself reading about Iceland and wanting to learn more. In 2001 he took his first trip to Iceland. The more he went and showed people his photographs, the more their interest fueled his desire to photograph more of the country.

“This is my 20th year as a photographer and I’ve never shown until the past few years,” Welsh said. “I was always working for newspapers and doing commercial work. Doing exhibits is new for me.”
At the opening reception for the exhibit on Saturday, Welsh fielded questions from people about the country and its landscapes.

“They were just amazed that this is what Iceland looks like,” Welsh said.

For those, who missed talking with Welsh at the reception, people can read the text mounted next to each photograph in which Welsh describes how he stumbled upon the scene and felt at the time he captured that moment in time.

“Around me steaming vents vented sulfurous clouds that disappeared into isolation,” Welsh wrote about his image Leirhnjúkshraun, which shows peaks of old blackened lava rock covered with patches of snow. It was taken in an active volcanic area in northern Iceland.

The title of each photograph is an Icelandic name relating to the place. Many of the scenes were visible from the road on which he was traveling and were close to cities.
“For some I had to spend a lot of time hiking,” Welsh said. “These are places you find along the way to somewhere else. They’re not in guidebooks.”

The Multiple Choice Gallery is in the library on the second floor of College Hall at Montgomery County Community College, 340 DeKalb Pike, in Whitpain. The exhibition runs through Aug 11. Admission is free. Gallery hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, plus some evenings and Saturdays depending on the summer class schedule. For more information about the exhibit or hours, contact Holly Cairns at or call (215) 619-7349.