How was that fall for you?
It was terrifying for sure, and huge, but it was fairly safe because the wall is so steep. I also had a great belayer who would jump up as the rope caught me. This meant the fall was pretty soft. But yeah if things went wrong, there was a chance that you would swing into the rock and smash yourself up. In fact, when Alex Honnold was here, he bruised his ankle pretty badly falling from exactly the same place.
Walk us through what happened?
This was a project of mine on Table Mountain that I was trying. It’s this beautiful wall of rock with a blank overhanging prow that has no gear for about five meters. The climbing there is tricky and the holds run out right at the top so I had to get my feet up really high and do this off balance jump to the final hold. I knew that if I missed it, I would kick off backwards.
Did you scream?
I can’t remember. I think I was too scared to scream! Screaming is a funny thing – sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t. And when it happens my mates like to remind me about it afterwards.
What did you think when you first saw the image?
Yeah the image is amazing. It far exceeded my expectations. It’s a really difficult position to shoot from because the rock is in shade but the background is super bright. I thought I would be silhouetted, so Micky did a great job balancing the exposures. The image also captures both the scale of the fall and the sense of weightlessness that I felt moments before the acceleration kicked in. I knew it was a great shot when I saw it.
As a climber, would you prefer that falls are not shown?
On the contrary. I think falling off is an important part of climbing. I fall off a lot and I embrace it. I wouldn’t have managed to climb many of these hard routes if I hadn’t been prepared to take falls like this while trying. Falling is actually quite complex, both technically and mentally, and it’s something you need to practice all the time, otherwise it can be a real mental block and limits progress. The more you fall, the more you learn what is safe and what is not. This is super important for risk assessment. You also become better at focusing on the climbing rather than the fear of falling. It’s really rewarding being able to stay calm and focused, while climbing at your absolute limit.
What makes a great climbing shot in your view?
A great shot captures the movement and emotion of the climber and the aesthetics of the climb and setting. Bum shots, taken from below, really annoy me.
Can you give a sense of what it takes to be a climbing photographer? Climbing photography takes a huge amount of effort and skill. To get a good shot, the photographer needs to get in position above or to the side of the climber and they need to be able to move around while hanging on a rope. This normally involves either climbing a route or abseiling in from the top.
They need to be able to ascend and descend the ropes as the climber moves and must be comfortable operating a camera and changing lenses high above the ground, without dropping anything. They also need to control their swing on the rope, which takes a fair amount of core strength. They have to understand what the climber will to do next and what positions look good in a photo. Basically, they need to be a pretty good climber themselves, which Micky is. He had to climb up a route next to me and dangle there for a few hours until the light was good enough to shoot.
Have you come across Red Bull Illume before?
No I hadn’t but I think it’s awesome to see a role reversal where the photographer gets the limelight. All too often the athlete gets all the glory. Micky is a good friend of mine so I am super psyched for him.