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Best of 2017

Another year gone already, and as always this time is one conducive to reflecting on the year past. 2017 has been somewhat unique for me, with major changes in my personal life (I got married to the most wonderful woman) and the continuation of my exploration of other domains of photography, specifically portraits and humanitarian work, with a side trip in conflict journalism. This of course doesn’t mean I am anywhere close to stop shooting adventure, my first photographic love, but I love being able to marry all these different disciplines and let them influence my work in so many different ways.

As should now be tradition, here is my selection of my favorite images from the year. You will find past editions there: 20162015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010.

 

Aurélien Vaissière and Malo Gefroy climb “Adrenaline” (WI5) by night, in Manigod, Aravis, France.

In the Alps, winter means skiing but also ice climbing. And I find there is no better way to work with this fantastic medium than at night, using studio flashes. This was my second night ice climbing shoot with Aurélien, and is yet another proof of how crucial having a strong, motivated athlete is to any adventure photoshoot. 

 

Jean-Baptiste Desmoulière at sunrise in a windstorm on Col des Flambeaux, Punta Helbronner, Italy.

This shoot, for fabric manufacturer Pertex, almost got canceled a few times as the weather forecast was pretty dreadful. We ended up going anyway and shooting in a ridiculous windstorm, which turned out to create an amazing atmosphere, especially with the rising sun.

 

Two climbers silhouetted at sunrise on Glacier Blanc, with Mont Pelvoux in the background, Écrins, France.

I spend a ton of time in the Mont Blanc area but also love exploring other mountain ranges, so it is always a treat to head to the Écrins, a few hours to the south. This was from a shoot for British retailed Cotswold Outdoor.

 

Vivian Bruchez on the steep abseils of Dent du Géant, with the sun setting on Mont Blanc in the background, Chamonix, France.

Amazingly, neither Vivian nor myself had ever been to the top of Dent du Géant, an iconic and not too terribly difficult peak at the France-Italy border. This was as much a photoshoot as a fun day out between friends, and perhaps this is why the images turned out so well!

 

Two climbers admiring sunset on Glacier des Bossons, Chamonix, France.

You can’t go very wrong with sunsets on glaciers, but to get to this one we had to run to this position right after a lovely dinner at Refuge des Cosmiques as we were losing the light faster than expected.

 

Jean-Baptiste Desmoulière belays Magaly Charluet on the narrow ridge of Pointes des Cinéastes, Écrins, France.

I particularly like this image as I feel it gives a good feeling of what being on that knife edge ridge. Not pictured, however, is how loose the whole thing was. I have rarely been more scared of a whole mountain falling off (with me included) than on this particular section.

 

A paragliding pilot against morning light in Val d’Aosta, Italy.

And sometimes it is all about being on the right place at the right time. We were on our way to a climb quite far away but passed a pilot about to take off in perfect light. This image basically composed itself!

 

Aerial view of a paraglider pilot above Glacier des Bossons in evening light, Chamonix, France.

Though I have given up trying to work for paragliding brands, the sport is still very dear to me and I was glad to do a couple of photoshoots for the local Chamonix school, les Ailes du Mont Blanc, through the year. This one was all about trying to use the wonderful autumn light of late September.

 

A paragliding pilot above Vallée Blanche, with Aiguille Verte in the background, Chamonix, France.

Trying to shoot Vallée Blanche from the air is something of a logistical nightmare. My tandem pilot and I botched the take off so couldn’t line up properly with the planned models. Thankfully, a random solo pilot happened to be in the right location and saved the day!

 

Portrait of Gaspard Piccot on Vallée Blanche, Chamonix, France.

Portraiture is a domain I feel I am barely scratching the surface of yet, but also the one I am getting most passionate about. This recent image of pro rider Gaspard Piccot on his home turf is one I feel works pretty well.

 

A portrait of a tired Marie Gamen while trail running in Val d’Aosta, Italy.

Trail running can be a very challenging sport to shoot, as one tends to cycle through the same three or four standard images (wide angle from the shoe sole, silhouette against the sky, mid-distance on a winding trail…) so I was really happy to get an image showing a more genuine moment, with a runner really pushing herself.

 

Erin Hayba rides Sunshine on a corn field, Virginia.

I can’t say that horse riding is a sport I had ever shot before, but when my wife asked me to capture what it feels like to be riding her beloved Sunshine through the local fields, as she has done since a young age, this is what I came up with.

 

Elementary school teaching in Kiziba Refugee Camp, Rwanda.

I also had a couple of humanitarian jobs this year, including a trip to the border between Rwanda and the DRC, documenting the work of a NGO providing higher education to refugee learners. In this shot, the soon-to-be-graduate teaches in the local elementary school, already giving back to the community.

 

Portrait of a Congolese refugee in Kiziba, Rwanda.

The highlight of my trip to Kiziba Refugee Camp undoubtedly was visiting the students in their homes and getting to meet their families and hear their stories.

 

Portrait of Ollie, a government soldier, during an assault on rebel positions, as part of a scenario of the 2017 Conflict Photography Workshop in the mountains of Andalusia, Spain. THIS IS A SIMULATED SCENE.

Finally, something a bit out of the left field, as I participated in the amazing Conflict Photography Workshop last November, learning how to behave in dangerous situations. Though I have no intention of photographing active conflicts, I felt it would be a valuable addition to my skillset and could come in extremely handy given some of the places I travel to on a regular basis. The last two days of the workshop consisted in a full on military scenario with plenty of actors and pyrotechnics. Though I got plenty of action images, this soft portrait during a lull in the fighting remains my favorite image.

 

Here’s to many more adventures in 2018!

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Wildlife photography: birthday safari in the Masai Mara

Wildlife photography from a safari at the Little Governor's Camp, Masai Mara, Kenya.

Wildlife photography from a safari at the Little Governor’s Camp, Masai Mara, Kenya.

I think it’s fair to say I’m not usually known as a wildlife photographer. It is something I enjoy dabbling in, however (especially if it means playing with fun toys like all the Nikon exotic tele-lenses!). So it was a great surprise when my (amazing) fiancée told me that her birthday gift for my 31st, last fall, was a two days trip to a luxury lodge deep in the Masai Mara. We flew there a few hours after returning from a gruelling weeklong stay in the Kakuma refugee camp, at the South Sudan and Uganda border, and the contrast couldn’t have been greater.

I’m no Nick Brandt, but here are some of my favourite shots from those extraordinary two days!

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Best of 2016

Now that 2017 is upon us, one of my resolutions is to update this blog a bit more often… This year has been as busy as ever, and I’ll confess to having let updating the blog fall by the wayside, as Facebook and especially Instagram took over some of my daily updates. Still, there is a tradition I wouldn’t want to break, taking a bit of time to pause and reflect on the year elapsed, and make a selection of my most meaningful images (out of 87,000 shot this year!). You will find past editions there: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010.

 

Landscape view of Cerro Torre and the Fitzroy Range with extremely high winds, El Chaltén, Patagonia, Argentina.

Landscape view of Cerro Torre and the Fitzroy Range with extremely high winds, El Chaltén, Patagonia, Argentina.

My year started with a long trip to Patagonia, combining some climbing attempts in El Chaltén with sailing around Cape Horn and in the Beagle Channel. Unfortunately, the infamous Patagonian weather grounded us in town for weeks at a time… This image of all the main peaks of the range gives an idea of how wild things can get!

 

Jean-Baptiste Desmoulière reaches Paso Superior, the gateway to Cerro Fitrzoy, Patagonia, Argentina.

Jean-Baptiste Desmoulière reaches Paso Superior, the gateway to Cerro Fitrzoy, Patagonia, Argentina.

One of our attempts on Fitzroy didn’t get very far as the glacier and bergshrunds were too open to allow passage this late in the season. Still, the climb to the bivy site at Paso Superior was incredibly spectacular!

 

Reflections of Cerro Fitzroy in Jean-Baptiste Desmoulière's sunglasses, Patagonia, Argentina.

Reflections of Cerro Fitzroy in Jean-Baptiste Desmoulière’s sunglasses, Patagonia, Argentina.

We couldn’t help but dream of mountains, even if we didn’t get to stand on their summits!

 

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The dinghy from Selma in front of a wall of ice, part of the massive Pia West glacier flowing from the Darwin range into the Beagle Channel, Patagonia, Chile.

Part of the sailing trip, this shot of the dinghy in front of the Pia glacier gives a small idea of the unbelievable scale of the place.

 

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The expedition yacht Selma battered by high winds and heavy swell in the Beagle Channel, Patagonia, Chile.

Our beautiful boat, Selma Expeditions, takes on some weather. Rounding Cape Horn was an incredible experience and I can’t wait to do more sailing work. I shot this particular image during a rough couple of hours, I remember standing on the bow slamming on the waves, getting soaked through and having the time of my life!

 

Flavia Saraiva (Brazil) looks relaxed on her routine of the beam's finals, where she eventually placed fifth.

Flavia Saraiva (Brazil) looks relaxed on her routine of the beam’s individual finals, where she eventually placed fifth, during the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Another huge adventure in 2016, and a departure from my usual subject matter, was shooting the Rio Olympics. I had a full accreditation and so access to (almost) all the events. I ended up shooting 46,000 images, but this one particularly resonates, showing dedication and extreme focus during what may be the most important two minutes of her life.

 

Kevin Mayer (France) celebrates his unexpected silver medal and new French national record in the men decathlon.

Kevin Mayer (France) celebrates his unexpected silver medal and new French national record in the men decathlon during the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Though I shot a lot (a lot!) of action images during the Olympics, the images that really meant the most to me were the ones showing the emotions of the athletes. Here, Kevin Mayer having achieved an incredible feat in the decathlon, quietly celebrates.

 

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The mother of Paulo Amotun, who ran the 1500m in the Rio Olympics, here in their family home in the Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya.

An even larger departure from my usual subject matter, I spent a while in refugee camps in Kenya this year, working on a long term documentary project with my fiancée, covering the story of the Refugee Olympic Team. This portrait is of Paulo Amotun’s mother, and seeing first hand where he grew up before getting an opportunity to compete on the world stage was so humbling!

 

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Little girls run near a water distribution point in the Nuer community of Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya.

Of the many images shot in refugee camps, this one stands out for the joy and candidness of these little girls. It was shot right next to the household of James and Pur, two Olympic athletes and South Sudanese refugees.

 

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Alan Porthault trail runs in early morning light in the Belledonne range.

Of course, I still spent most of the year shooting mountain adventures, in particular for long time client Montane. This was on the first day of a long climbing, trekking and trail running shoot in the south of France, and as we hit the trail, dawn light illuminated the morning fog at just the right angle for perfect light conditions, which only lasted for a few magic minutes.

 

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Elsie Lemordant and Vivian Bruchez ski tour near Col des Marbrées, Chamonix.

I love how despite having shot the same sports in the same locations for quite a few years now, it’s different every time. Here, passing clouds created great light, and I shot from below the Col des Marbrées to create this very graphic image of Vivian Bruchez and Elsie Lemordant, on a Mountain Hardwear photoshoot.

 

Climbing in the Policromuro crag above Massone, during the Arco Rock Star photo competition. Featuring Cristina Santini and Nicolo and Enrico Geremia.

Enrico Geremia celebrates an evening send in the Policromuro crag of Arco, Italy.

Finally, it’s always a pleasure to shoot rock climbing, my first love in the world of adventure sports. And there are few places better for it than Arco, in Italy, with its great relaxed atmosphere, sweeping limestone faces and easy-access crags. Shooting for the Arco Rock Star photo competition (where I placed second), we tried to do something a bit different and shot in the evening and night.

 

Can’t wait to see what is in store for 2017!

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More Verdon freesoloing and BASE jumping

Mich Kemeter freesolo climbs the crux 6b+ pitch of ORNI (Unidentified Crawling Object) in the Verdon Gorges, France.

Mich Kemeter freesolo climbs the crux 6b+ pitch of ORNI (Unidentified Crawling Object) in the Verdon Gorges, France.

In early December, I had the pleasure to return to Verdon to shoot Austrian climber Mich Kemeter on his latest exploits, freesoloing a number of insanely exposed routes. On some of them, he carried a parachute, offering a (small) chance of recovery in case of a fall. Here is a small portfolio of these adventures.

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Best of 2015

With a few delays, here comes my now traditional (20142013, 20122011 and 2010) selection of the most significant images I have shot last year:

 

Claire Mercuriot flies next to Aiguille du Grépon at sunset, Chamonix.

Claire Mercuriot flies next to Aiguille du Grépon at sunset, Chamonix.

A spur of the moment shoot, we got incredibly lucky with conditions, allowing us two magical flights from Aiguille du Midi. Though I have many sunset shots, this one of Claire against Aiguille du Grépon in perfect light really stood out.

 

A team of women, led by Bettina Aller, on their way to the North Pole via skiing the last degree.

A team of women, led by Bettina Aller, on their way to the North Pole via skiing the last degree.

Going to the Arctic and skiing the last degree to the North Pole was certainly taking me out of my comfort zone, but I really enjoyed those six hard days on the ice, following an all-woman team during the inaugural edition of the Mamont Polar Cup. Here, Bettina Aller crosses a potentially dangerous water lead.

 

The Chamonix PGHM (moutain rescue service) in action, shot for Montagnes Magazine.

The Chamonix PGHM (moutain rescue service) in action, shot for Montagnes Magazine.

Though I haven’t shared many of those images yet, I spent a lot of 2015 embedded with the incredible Chamonix PGHM rescue service, following them on their daring rescues. Here at night, in a storm, on Arête des Cosmiques.

 

 

Tom Boyer climbs a short rock step below Camp 2 on the Abruzzi Ridge of K2, Pakistan.

Tom Boyer climbs a short rock step below Camp 2 on the Abruzzi Ridge of K2, Pakistan.

Along with the North Pole, the other big expedition of the year was to the second highest mountain in the world, K2. Though nobody ended up summiting this year due to poor conditions, it was still a grand adventure. Here, Tom Boyer on a short rocky step below the infamous House Chimney, on our acclimatization round.

 

A group of local villagers help Brant Didden and other members of a K2 expedition to cross a flooding river near Skardu, Pakistan.

A group of local villagers help Brant Didden and other members of a K2 expedition to cross a flooding river near Skardu, Pakistan.

Getting to K2 was half the adventure, and coming back an ordeal I won’t forget anytime soon. This was shot near sunset after hiking 90km of treacherous glacier terrain and flooding rivers in 2 and a half days, and driving 8h on the bed of a Land Cruiser on very sketchy roads. At this stage, crossing a flooding river/mudslide and escaping a near-riot of angry local villagers was par for the course.

 

Agathe Petrini dances in front of a sunset on the Mont Blanc range, Chamonix, France.

Agathe Petrini dances in front of a sunset on the Mont Blanc range, Chamonix, France.

I have done a couple of photoshoots with my friend Agathe Petrini, an awesome dancer and teacher from Chamonix. It was tough to choose only one image!

 

Jon Gupta and Will Harris climb the Traverse of Écandies in Switzerland's Val d'Arpette. Montane photoshoot.

Jon Gupta and Will Harris climb the Traverse of Écandies in Switzerland’s Val d’Arpette. Montane photoshoot.

And of course, throughout the year and in between big trips, I keep climbing in Chamonix. Here, shot for my oldest client, Montane, Jon Gupta on the fun Écandies Traverse.

 

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A PGHM rescuer gets winched from the EC145 helicopter on Aiguille de l’M.

Though I have many shots of helicopter winching, this one really stood out due to the great light and the presence of my beloved Drus in the background.

 

BMW and Salewa joint campaign photoshoot in San Martino di Castrozza, Dolomites, Italy, featuring Simon Gietl and Gerhard Fiegl.

BMW and Salewa joint campaign photoshoot in San Martino di Castrozza, Dolomites, Italy, featuring Simon Gietl and Gerhard Fiegl.

September saw me on a number of big photoshoots, including a joint campaign for Salewa and BMW. Juggling with complicated logistics and terrible weather created some very interesting challenges. It was also great to apply my lighting to real, high-pressure photoshoots.

Sadly, Gerry (on the right in this shot) died a few weeks after this was shot, while descending from a major first ascent in the Himalayas.

 

Aerial view of Aiguille du Tour after a winter storm, Chamonix.

Aerial view of Aiguille du Tour after a winter storm, Chamonix.

It’s always great to get new point of views on familiar terrain, especially right after big storms. Here, on a recce flight of the rescue helicopter, I managed to capture Aiguille du Tour looking very ominous. Probably my favourite landscape shot of the year.

 

Mich Kemeter freesolo climbs the crux 6b+ pitch of ORNI (Unidentified Crawling Object) in the Verdon Gorges, France.

Mich Kemeter freesolo climbs the crux 6b+ pitch of ORNI (Unidentified Crawling Object) in the Verdon Gorges, France.

Verdon is a place where I have shot a lot but never get tired. So when Mich Kemeter asked me to come photograph him freesolo climbing in early December, I didn’t hesitate for long. ORNI is one of the weirdest, scariest lines I have seen in a while, so freesoloing the very awkward crux with hundreds of meters of exposure certainly required a great mastery of the sport.

 

Paragliding flight of Vallée Blanche with Élodie Bobillon, Chamonix.

Paragliding flight of Vallée Blanche with Élodie Bobillon, Chamonix.

The final image was shot only a couple of weeks ago: as winter didn’t seem to want to arrive, we ended up flying a lot. And Vallée Blanche after taking off from Aiguille du Midi never disappoints!

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2015 Red Bull Elements

Aaron Durogati takes off from Planfait during the Red Bull Elements in Talloires, France, on September 19, 2015.

Aaron Durogati takes off from Planfait during the Red Bull Elements in Talloires, France, on September 19, 2015.

Just like two years ago, I was asked by Red Bull to shoot the paragliding portion of their Elements race, a fun adventure relay featuring rowing, trail running, paragliding and mountain biking. I shot half of the day from the airs, flying tandem with Jérôme Baud, and half from the various take offs above Talloires.

This was sandwiched in between commercial shoots, and it was very fun to just go with the flow of the event. A lot less fun, though, was editing the resulting 3 800 images before day’s end!

Here is my highlight gallery, and make sure to also check the ones from Stef Cande and DROZ photo!

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K2: acclimatization, base camp and the trek out

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2015 turned out to be a terrible year for the Karakoram, with no summits on K2, only two on the much easier Broad Peak, and a few on the Gasherbrums, the complete opposite of last year. We acclimatized slightly above Camp II on the Black Pyramid, around 6800m, coming down on July 17th. Unfortunately, we never really got the weather window we needed for a proper summit push, and the very high temperatures degraded the route, leading to very high avalanche and rockfall danger. The high point on the mountain was reached by the very strong Swiss team of Mike Horn, Fred Roux and Köbi Reichen, at 7500m on the Cesen ridge.

Once it was clear we couldn’t summit, the focus switched to getting home, not an easy task from deep in the Baltoro. Logistical snafus, long treks on blistered feet, hair rising jeep rides and cancelled flights ensued repeatedly until, on August 4th, I finally managed to board a plane back to Chamonix.

Quite an adventure it has been! Enjoy some of my favourite images from the trip.

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K2: Pakistan, the trek and Base Camp

I have now been in Pakistan for over two weeks, and even though climbing proper will only start tomorrow, with our first and only acclimatization rotation (to about 7200m), it has already been a string of awesome adventures: from discovering Islamabad, to driving the infamous Karakoram Highway over two days of cramped minibus, a hairy jeep drive to Askole and six days of trekking up the Baltoro glacier, among the tallest mountains on Earth. Here are a few images, transmitted over satellite from Base Camp, to give you an idea of what things were like. Enjoy!

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K2 bound!

Ulrik Hasemann climbs to the Upper Torre glacier at sunrise, while the summits of Fitzroy, Poincenot and Saint-Exupery barely show. El Chaltén, Patagonia, Argentina.

Well, it’s now official: I will shortly be attempting to climb the second highest mountain in the world, K2, at 8611m. It’s a much harder (and more interesting) affair than Everest, as the route is steeper and more technical, the weather harsher and there are significant objective dangers. To date, there have been only about 340 summits, compared to Everest’s nearly 7,000!

I will be joining Madison Mountaineering‘s team as a high altitude cameraman and photographer, and will especially focus on Vanessa O’Brien, the current female speed record holder for completion of the Explorer Grand Slam (7 Summits + both Poles), and who will attempt to become the first American woman (and first British woman to make it back down alive) to summit the mountain. We leave next week and won’t be back before middle of August, but Base Camp should have an internet connection, so I will hopefully be able to share some images along the way.

It will be a very exciting and challenging new adventure, so soon after the North Pole, and I can’t wait!

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