Blog

2011 retrospective: my 10 favourite photos from the past year

So, it’s that time of year again. Since all the good snow was used up yesterday, let’s take the opportunity to repeat the 2010 retrospective post. Here, then, are my 10 favourite shots from the past year. Enjoy!

20110214-kandersteg-027

Shot in Kandersteg where I was accompanying Danish climber Kristoffer Szilas on his quest for hard mixed climb, I spent most of the week dangling on a fixed line below icicles. I was set up to shoot Kristoffer on a M10 when Ramon Marin ran up the classic M9+ “Pink Panther” on the other side. The angle wasn’t perfect to shoot the lower section, but as soon as he reached the terminal icicle, I was in position to capture his facial expressions as he desperately fought the pump to finish the route.

 

Will Foreman getting psyched before a redpoint ascent, Kullaberg, Sweden.

Will Foreman getting psyched before a redpoint ascent, Kullaberg, Sweden.

Will, Rune and I hadn’t come to Kullen for photography but just to have a good climbing day in the early Swedish summer. Will was working on a route adequately called King Kong, with a powerful and slightly scary crux sequence at the top and was readying himself at the bottom, while additionally having just injured his toe. The result was a big power scream, which I was lucky to capture with a very wide lens.

 

Nick Valentine on the famous razor edge section, P7 of Chapelle de Glière, Aiguilles Rouges, France.

Nick Valentine on the famous razor edge section, P7 of Chapelle de Glière, Aiguilles Rouges, France.

My first route with Nick Valentine, with whom I will be climbing in the ex-USSR, was the super fun “Chapelle de Glière” in the Aiguilles Rouges. Photography was a secondary concern until we reached the famous razor edge section. Nick had led it, but I asked him to go back half a pitch when I reached the belay, as this was too good a photo opportunity to pass!

 

Andrew Grosser flipping his rope on the traversing fourth pitch of the East Buttress of El Capitan, Yosemite.

Andrew Grosser flipping his rope on the traversing fourth pitch of the East Buttress of El Capitan, Yosemite.

I have numerous shots of my partner, Fiona, on this section, and they are really good, but the one I ended up selecting was of Andy, member of a team I allowed to overtake us, since they were so much faster. To be honest, I was a bit bored, having stayed at the belay for a solid half hour, and went with my gut to snap some wide angle shots with his rope in the frame. As often the case, experimentation is ultimately rewarded with very unique images!

 

Stefan Jacobsen rappelling from the Stovelegs on the Nose after an unexpected storm blew in, El Cap, Yosemite.

Stefan Jacobsen rappelling from the Stovelegs on the Nose after an unexpected storm blew in, El Cap, Yosemite.

When the storm started on the Nose, it was obviously bad news – we had hoped to be on the wall for another two to three days, but with the low angle bottom section quickly turning into a waterfall and drenching us, it soon became obvious we had to go down, fast. As a photographer, however, it was a great opportunity to capture a very special mood. Additionally, the many abseils allowed me to get quite close (I had only packed a 50mm lens) to the other climbers and capture their struggle in these very adverse conditions.

 

Andrew looks up from the Nose as the weather worsens on El Cap.

Andrew looks up from the Nose as the weather worsens on El Cap.

Shot during a brief lull in the storm, this shows Andrew in the way he must have felt, very lonely on the wall indeed. It is also a side of El Cap that is very rarely captured.

 

Enmore Lin aids a crack on the last pitch of Lost Arrow Spire, with dizzying exposure to the ground and Upper Yosemite Falls running nearby.

Enmore Lin aids a crack on the last pitch of Lost Arrow Spire, with dizzying exposure to the ground and Upper Yosemite Falls running nearby.

When I shot this, I had just been through one of the most trying four days of my life, somehow succeeding in completing my first big wall, and my first solo. Enmore and Stefan had come to climb the last two pitches of the route and set up a Tyrolean traverse back to the rim. As soon as I topped out on the pinnacle, I abseiled down once more, realizing I had the perfect opportunity to capture a leader in an extremely exposed situation. This kind of situation usually requires a lot of forethought and setting up, but in this case, I got it entirely “for free”. I just needed to put up four days of lonely suffering first.

 

Cody Sims reaching the handcrack between the Sewer and the Bloc, with tremendous exposure. Freerider, El Capitan, Yosemite.

Cody Sims reaching the handcrack between the Sewer and the Bloc, with tremendous exposure. Freerider, El Capitan, Yosemite.

Though it may not be the most spectacular image of Cody’s climb, there is something in the early morning light and his contorted body position that really works for me. In addition, the fact that he has absolutely nothing beneath his feet and that neither rope nor belayer show emphasizes the insane exposure, this high on El Cap.

 

Mich Kemeter freesoloing the Taft Point highline, with El Capitan in the background, Yosemite.

Mich Kemeter freesoloing the Taft Point highline, with El Capitan in the background, Yosemite.

This is not any of the images of Mich that made the rounds of world newspapers last month, and it is arguably a lot less impressive than those showing just how high above the ground he is, but it’s still my favourite from the shoot, mostly because of the light, his symbolic body position and the expression in his face which leaves no doubt as to the level of focus required and what’s at stake.

 

David Garnier skiing down the Glacier du Milieu, with Aiguille d'Argentière in the background, Chamonix, France.

David Garnier skiing down the Glacier du Milieu, with Aiguille d’Argentière in the background, Chamonix, France.

Not even a week old, this was shot last Wednesday on an aborted ski-climb of Aiguille d’Argentière. What made us bail, the sun hitting the slope, is also what makes this image works. I love how all the elements here (the granite, the snow, the rope, the mid-turn action freeze) contribute to creating an atmosphere both beautiful and threatening.

Standard
Blog

The best christmas present: joining the Snow Leopard 2012 Expedition

20111223-jumpnick-01.jpg

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might remember that last July, I managed to climb a route I’ve been dreaming about for a while: the Frendo Spur on the north face of Aiguille du Midi, in Chamonix. The best part, however, was that my partner on it, Nick Valentine, had become a good friend in just a week and we had worked really well together on this climb.

Nick and another of his friends, Jon Gupta, with whom he climbed a few other routes in Chamonix after I departed last summer, decided a few weeks ago to up the ante and aim for an extremely ambitious goal: being the first two Brits to win the Snow Leopard Award. This medal used to be given by the Soviet Union to every climber who managed to summit all peaks above 7000m in the USSR, then as now a major accomplishment. There are five of them, now located in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan after the collapse of the Soviet Union. By order of difficulty, Peak Lenin (7134m), Peak Korzhenevskaya (7105m), Peak Communism (7495m), Khan Tengri (7010m) and Peak Pobeda (7439m). And because we (almost) live in 2012 and not 1950, they’ll climb fast and light, alpine style, with no porters, no fixed lines and no pre-established camps. If conditions are right, it should be possible to manage all the summits in just 40 days, two less than the standing record currently held by superman Denis Urubko.

Last week, Jon came to Cham to practice some off piste skiing, and Nick made a quick trip from Verbier, which allowed us all to meet and discuss objectives, with the result that I can now announce I will join the expedition, as both a team member and a cameraman/photographer. I’ll of course do my best to reach all summits, but my priority will be to bring back some awesome footage to, ultimately, produce an inspiring movie.

Right now, the expedition is still in its early stages and we are actively looking for grants and sponsors (don’t hesitate to drop us a line if you think you may help!). I’ll probably talk about it some more whenever significant things happen, but if you want to keep in touch and stay updated on our progress, you can follow the 2012 Snow Leopard expedition on facebook and twitter, and a proper website is coming up soon.

And that’s only one of the three potential expeditions I have slated for 2012! Exciting times ahead for sure.

20110716-frendo-06.jpg

Standard
Blog

Moved to Chamonix

20111205-hoar-01.jpg

I have made no secret in the past that Chamonix, in the heart of the French Alps, is a very special place to me. It’s where I learned to love the mountains, mostly through hiking and skiing, from a young age. And in the past couple of years, I have made as many trips there as I could, flying for long weekends from Denmark or Sweden, always trying to climb big alpine routes. So last summer, when the time finally came to go full time pro as a mountain photographer, the decision to move to Chamonix was an easy one, especially since it is also a major hub for the climbing and skiing elite that I make a living stalking with a camera.

The trip to Yosemite delayed things a little bit, but upon my return, I hopped on a train right away and started the fun task of looking for a place to live in the valley. As it turned out, this was the worst possible time, as the skiing season was just about to start and hordes of ski bums had invaded the town and driven flat prices sky high. I soon joined forces with one of them, Englishman Charlie Evans, and after much searching and a few sleepless nights ruminating our limited options, we finally got lucky with a huge apartment right in the centre of town. We are now sharing it with a third flatmate, Stéphanie, and possibly a fourth yet to be determined. And the view from the giant balcony or from my bedroom window, encompassing pretty much the whole range, from Le Tour to Les Houches (and the Aiguilles Rouges in the backside) is simply incredible. Certainly a very worthy base of operations!

Though things were desperately dry when I first arrived, at the end of November, the past two weeks have seen some very heavy snowfalls (over 1m50 in the past 10 days, with more on the way!). I already got some skiing in and just acquired a full touring/freeride setup to go explore the backcountry and, hopefully, get a lot of climbing done!

Before the exciting things start again, when the cablecars reopen and water ice forms in the valley, enjoy this selection of the images I shot since arriving in the valley, only a foretaste of what’s to come, I hope!

Standard
Blog

Free Craft and Vision ebook launch

You will probably remember Craft and Vision as the publisher of my ebook on adventure photography, Extreme Perspectives. Their model is simple: produce high quality, original content in easy to read and beautifully laid out ebook format, and sell it for a very low price, usually only $5.

Earlier this summer, I was contacted by C&V’s founder and spiritual father (as well as badass humanitarian photographer and writer), David DuChemin. He asked all the current C&V authors whether we would be keen on each contributing an essay on the topic of our choice, to be then assembled into a big ebook and given away, for free. No caveat, no small print, no time limit or even “like us on facebook first” (though I believe you need an email address for checkout). It may sound a bit crazy, but if I have learned one thing from the internet, it’s that the more you give away freely, the more good things happen to you. It was after all from giving away my article on mountain photography to the website the Luminous Landscape that I landed my publishing contract for Remote Exposure.

So I jumped in, and while traveling in London in September, I wrote a 2000 words essay on a topic I have thought about for a while, the importance for “advanced” photographers to share their work and receive feedback and criticism. And of course, when I tried to give a bit of context and define things better, the essay evolved organically into something more comprehensive, examining on the way the different stages in the life of a photographer.

Well, the ebook has been released a couple of days ago, and it has essays by David DuChemin, Piet Van den Eynde, Andrew S. Gibson, Nicole S. Young, Stuart Sipahigil, Eli Reinholdtsen, Michael Frye and myself. And all of those are definitely worth a read!

You can head over there, pay the awesome amount of 0$ and start reading right away: Craft and Vision.

And don’t hesitate to let me know what you thought of my contribution, I always love to get feedback (even, or maybe especially, bad one).

Standard