Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Ice Pit: Preview

Panoramic Shot of The Pit on Sunday

I left work 15 minutes early and jumped in the wagon and headed back into Milwaukee. I hadn't yet officially packed for the weekend and most of my outer gear was still drying off from the day before climbing at Governor Dodge. I got home and started transferring things from already pre-existing piles in my room into the newly formed pile of stuff to bring. I always try to pack light when traveling anywhere, but it seems any time photography is involved, my load doubles in no time at all. Between bringing two camera bodies, a selection of lenses, extra batteries, tri-pod and ascending and climbing gear, I knew I would have a hard time minimizing weight. The winter poses many different challenges for a climbing photographer. Some of the challenges I began to learn during my first two excursions, and some new ones presented themselves over the weekend. For this trip I brought no food, and hoped that I could get full on Kind Bars provided by The Pit's festival sponsors, and large plates from the Tilted Kilt at night. I also didn't have to bring a tent or any sleeping gear, and rather decided to invest in a hotel room to help warm up after the long days spent outside. There was also a gathering at the same hotel Saturday night where Dean Einerson gave a slide show about his travels and epic adventures, which we all found entertaining and inspiring. The festival conveniently provided two kegs of free beer to help coax us regular and moderately boring climbers into telling others about our own hardman epics and made up first ascents of big-wall routes in Yosemite that never existed such as "Buttercup A4/5.12X"

Dean Einerson making easy work of The Pit's tallest lines.

Saturday was my first attempt at doing photos at The Pit from a hanging position. The still active quarry poses many problems when hanging near and above climbers. Knocking loose rock and ice off was a big concern of mine. While photographing rock climbing you can position yourself directly above a climber with little risk, and it is even common to share the same anchors as the climber. While on ice, everything needs to be further apart and more isolated because of falling ice, which happens frequently with almost every swing of a tool or crampon. I carefully lowered into position about fifteen feet to the right of where Dean was climbing, and started looking for light and interesting ice features. Unlike rock climbing, the moves performed while ice climbing are consistently more vague, and relatively unspecific to the route. I found it to be drastically more important to find the right location for the climber on the route, rather than the specific move they were performing, which is often the "decisive moment" I look for while shooting rock climbing. I looked for interesting ice flows, exposed rock, and variations of ice color and thickness. Ice is especially challenging to photograph because of the subtle variations that can be lost with a poor exposure, and looking for distinctive characteristics helps me frame and meter each shot. It was very much a learning experience to shoot hanging on Saturday, and I am happy with the results I got even with the mostly uninspired light that was present during the overcast afternoon.

Dean Einerson lower on another lap of the same route.

Unknown climber pulling over an icy bulge.

I am still not totally convinced that shooting from above is the best way to capture the feel of climbing ice. And I am beginning to understand that humans are even more "out of place" when clinging to a massive ice wall. I discovered that shooting in a way which showcases the scale-shift between man and nature will play a dramatic role in how the viewer and non-climbers react to the images. There is something undeniably powerful and scary about ice, as well as heights, which is why most people choose to stay indoors when ice is blanketing our city streets, and are also well satisfied staying planted safely on the ground. Combining the heights and ice is even scarier to most. I feel the images that showcase the air beneath the climber's feet and the (seemingly) infinite ice wall they are climbing, provides the viewer with a dramatic moment they would have otherwise avoided in life.

Unknown climber making their way up 100 feet of vertical ice.

As many of you may know, I am photographing ice climbing for my Photography Thesis Exhibition at MIAD, which will open on April 16th. I am spending an increasing amount of time and energy into selecting, editing, and printing these images (large!) and ask for your patience when requesting low-res copies of any of the images. I will continue to post shots specific to The Pit's Ice Fest, which will most likely be my next post, and plan on submitting these event specific photos to the Midwest Ice Climbers organization and The Pit directly. Knowing this, please be aware that most of my energy is being focused on selecting the most powerful images to be used for the exhibition, which can be viewed for free during the shows month long opening. I am also working on creating a website, which will house the images more permanently, and in a higher resolution to be viewed indefinitely. Thanks to all of those who helped make this possible and were willing to have me hang precariously near and around them in order to get some of these shots, and also allowing me to drive the ol' wagon down that graveling road directly into the quarry, that was most excellent. Many thanks to Dan Koperrud for organizing the event and being an all around celebrity hardman. Anyone see him on the news??



.n. said...

i have to say that shooting from below will likely give you the desired effect. when the viewer can see the mammoth size of the wall... well, it makes a difference.

from looking at the first few images i just don't get the magnitude of what is being climbed. with the final image... it is apparent and breathtaking. the last image is fantastic!

just my measly 2 cents worth...

Dan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike Palic said...

Hey Matt, I think I talked you for about 30 secs at the ice fest at the ice pit.
I'm wondering if you have any of a climbing in a orange jacket w/ white helmet.

Ryan said...

Great photo blog super ice climbing shots.

Andrew said...

Hey Matt, I was wondering if I could get some beta on Buttercup 5.12R/X. I think I might have talked to you about it a little bit... I was kinda tipsy...I ended up sharing a room with you and actually drove home with you too. Um, yeah, so could you get that beta to me? Thanks.