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Bowderstones, Badgers and Blowing Whistles

Image for article Bowderstones, Badgers and Blowing Whistles

The funding’s in place, the exhibition is planned, routes have been thought about. After a couple of meetings to discuss the exhibition and some potential ideas to promote the show it was time to get down to actually creating some images. Images are what it’s about after all - not meetings or form filling.

The last Wednesday of July was to be E day. Exposure day. Time to start taking some new photographs with the Instanto. The last time we’d been out was shooting James Mchaffie doing his 100 Extreme routes in 24 hours in late June 2014, the resulting shot of ‘Caff’ on Reacastle was one of the preliminary images used as part of the Arts Council England application. So after two years it seemed sensible to take it easy, and find a simple location just to run through methodologies and routines both with the camera and in the lab. Dish processing 10x12 sheets of film is no doddle.

So my assistant and I headed down to the Bowderstone in Borrowdale - one of the Lake Districts classic bouldering locations. As we were easing back in to things we’d not lined up a specific climber or route to photograph - if someone was at the Bowderstone then great. If not we’d just do some landscapes and get in to the workflow again. A couple of people looked like they were taking bouldering matts up the path as we arrived so all looked promising. And promising it was. It turned out the two visitors to the boulder were Americans, not from Boulder but from Chattanooga, and they were pretty handy at bouldering as well. Lady luck had arranged it that the lady was Lisa Rands, the first American to win a Bouldering World Cup event ( June 2002 in Lecco , Italy) and numerous other bouldering events. Meanwhile the Bishop must have had decreed that the gent in question was ex pat Brit, former editor of Climbing magazine and author of Bishop Bouldering, non other than Wills Young. We’d not taken a picture yet but from now on, and with this kind of fortune, I knew we’d be on a roll and things would be evergreen. With this kind of luck anything is possible.

With only three sheets of film to expose the actual photography wasn’t going to take long. But shooting with ultra large format is all about taking things steady, setting up exactly as you’d like things and then sending the shot. After all, each sheet of unexposed film costs £10 so no need to be trigger happy. Lisa and Wills were happy to be photographed as they warmed up before flexing their muscles on some of the Bowderstones other problems. Wills would be on The Crack Super Direct  (V6) and Lisa, would do The Crack (V4). Both routes being in a position that had reasonable light, and that would give a sense of scale to the Bowderstone - showing the overhang / roof and the ladder. Dark slide one was eased in to the camera, and out of it’s black bag. (As centurions the dark slides have  a few light leaks so are stored in black bags to prevent fogging). Wills held his pose, the lens cap was removed and promptly returned, and that was an exposure done. ( The camera has no shutter - light is allowed in to the lens and on to the emulsion by simply removing the lens cap.) Next up Lisa. “And on three - steady, one, two, three. Done” And one more shot of Wills. Bingo.




Shoot one done. Twenty to go. On returning home the sheets of film were removed from the dark slides in the darkroom, boxed and sealed in black bags, before being dispatched by special delivery to Pete Guest, one of the UK’s leading B+W printers, and owners of one of the few remaining specialist B+W labs. And now the wait. Just as it used to be when a roll of slide film was dispatched to Kodakchrome in Hemel Hempstead, or films were dropped at the chemist, we then had to wait to see what the images were actual going to look like. And six days later word came back from Pete - all is looking great. Just as in 2014 the methods we’d devised to put modern emulsion through a 100 year old camera had worked, and we could start the long and winding road  to putting the exhibition together.


With the fickle nature of summer 2016’s weather, the chance of getting to a mountain crag to take an image were looking slim, so it seemed sensible to do another valley bouldering scenario. And as Neil Gresham is now based in Kendal, and had a degree of flexibility to his routine, it seemed like a plan  to photograph one of the UK’s most well known and highly respected all round climbers and climbing coaches in action. I’ve known Neil for over 15 years, having first photographed him setting fireworks off in Kendal Leisure Centre while covered in silver body paint - a legendary session at Kendal Mountain Festival ‘back in the day’. His side kick Tim Emmett was in gold body paint at the time.

                                                                                               Neil at Kendal Mountain festival 2000

So after a morning coffee at The Brewery Arts Centre (well Neil was on green tea), myself, my assistant,  Andy Airey (the former manager of George Fishers ) and his son Gregor headed up to Badger Rock. Andy and Gregor had kindly offered to come along and help carry some of the equipment. As it was mid day, and bright, we set up to shoot on the sunny side of the Badger rock boulder, and with much banter and fascination we got set up, exposed two sheets of film, posed for selfies and headed back to the cars for lunch.




Neil had to be back in Kendal for 1pm, but I was keen to look at a landscape shot of part of the dam structure at Kentmere Reservoir, so we headed up the valley, talking offside, free kicks and about the merits of plastic whistles. It transpired that young Airey was gaining a reputation as a football referee and had all ready officiated at adult games and attended training sessions aimed at developing a new generation of football referees. Impressive stuff. Alas the rain began to fall as we arrived at the dam, and after standing around for 30 minutes hoping it would clear I decided to blow the final whistle and postpone a Kentmere landscape image to another day.


12 August 2016 by Henry Iddon

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