the dan milner photography blog: tales of an adventuring photo chimp

September 8, 2012

Further.. Nearer.. Now: Behind the scenes of Further.

Filed under: snow — Tags: , , , , — danmilner @ 12:15 pm

‘F*ck this!’  became my second frequent phrase (after, ‘..it’s tea-time, right?’) during the 3-week Austria filming session for Jeremy Jones/TGR’s new film , Further back in February this year. Camping through constant -20C temperatures for a week was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done: tougher than last year’s Arctic nonsense, tougher than our Deeper AK expedition that primed this whole ballgame. It made me swear. A lot.

And now after two flippin’ years in the making, it’s with us. Further premiered yesterday in Tahoe. In 60-minutes, TGR have condensed two years of cold camping trips in places where sometimes you’d rather not be.  2 years of feeling remote, of hiking lines and getting shut down by the weather. 2 years of patience, frustration, debates, angst and laughter. 2 years of listening to American accents. 2 years of eating freeze dried meals and sh*tting in the snow. And 2 years of unique life experiences.

And to celebrate the culmination of two years of a lot of people’s efforts, I thought it would be nice’ to throw together a few images that capture some of what I shared with the project during the 8 cold weeks I spent with the film crew and athletes in Arctic Svalbard and Austria during the making of this film. A behind the scenes peek at Further through 18 photography insights.. below:

Sub zero temperatures mess with the cheese. After only a couple of days and nights the only way of even getting near to cutting this block of cheese was to use a snow-saw. Our first week out in Austria this year was accompanied by the coldest persistent temperatures on record for over 50 years.

Camp cold. This was as close as the sun got to hitting camp, meaning a 2-3 hour hike up to reach its warming rays and escape the real cold of the valley floor. It took us 5 hours to skin in and haul our gear to this camp zone. Nick the film tech guy hardly ever got to leave camp. I think his fingers are still there.

Mitch digs the window. By contrast our second session in Austria used an unstaffed refuge. It was cosy once we were inside. All we had to do was find it in the dark at 8pm amidst swirling snow remnants of a three day storm and dig it out. Here Klaus and Mitch excavate the window. This was our home for 4 days. Unlike the -20C camp session a week before, I would have been happy to stay here a lot longer.

The Hut. The hut’s location sat it right between some big lines and some small mini-golf warm up runs. I wish we’d known about these gaping cliffs when we were probing about in the dark trying to find the hut, or maybe not.

Topo map of fun. Klaus our guide studies a topo map of the area around the hut. Red colour indicates slope angle above 40 degrees if I remember rightly. Not a lot of room for error here. It is terrain that pushed our limits once the temps started warming up.

Waiting, drying. Being stormed out of the coldest valley in Europe meant having a hotel room for a couple of days to sit out the worst of the storm. It meant drying out tents and kit in any way we could.

Red dawn. Projects with Jones always mean early starts: we’ve done it in AK, in Canada and in the Arctic, but it never gets easier. Clawing your way from a sleeping bag in a hut in the dark is no real hardship, but doing the same from a tent in -20C weather means digging deep inside. Every move as you struggle free releases a shower of frost from the tent fabric. Once you’re out and the sun is rising though, you know why you’re there.

How are the fingers Nick? Dawn-starts mean battling the cold for photographers and filmers who often don’t have so far to skin. Waiting for athletes to reach their lines needs patience and good circulation. The cold we experienced in Austria meant filming with gloved hands to avoid frostbite, skin sticking instantly to cold metal camera lenses as soon you touched them. The oil lube in one of my lens’ aperture blades began to stick it was that cold.

Dear Santa.. Crampons please. Our arrival in Svalbard was met with rain to higher altitudes than we expected. Here JK climbs a rime coated rockband to access his film angle. Part of the idea of camping out is to allow enough time for good conditions to return, to be on location when they do. We had to wait a week in Svalbard for conditions to be prime again, but when they were there was no better place to be shooting.

Snowcheck no.1 . This was Jeremy’s first shot at the chutes on Svalbard (he’s located in the sun, halfway down the main chute, RHS). 24/7 daylight meant we had too much choice of terrain to work with with even northern exposures being illuminated at midnight. Our working day soon became one of shooting between 11pm and 4 am, with breakfast around midday.

Snow check no. 2.  Accessing our chosen location on Svalbard was a mission in itself. With warm temperatures rendering the sea ice slushy, we repeatedly got bogged down en route, each episode taking an hour or so to recover the snowmobile. Ten hours on a snowmobile brought us to here, the edge of the sea ice, and prime polar bear feeding zone, where we were forced to camp the first night.

Packing. Going anywhere on Svalbard means carrying a gun. Here our guide Giggi carries the .33 rifle while filmer Edmunds follows, camera boom on his shoulder. The advent of DSLR cameras has made life easier for cinematographers who on Deeper still used bulky, heavier video cameras and 16mm film cameras. What they save on camera weights is more than taken up by  the necessity of carrying the booms and sliders that seem essential for todays perpetual motion ‘art’ scenes that appear in adventure films.

Camp couloir. Having a basecamp means being able to hit different zones simultaneously. In Svalbard while filming one line, another athlete could be setting off on the 3 hours it might take to each the top of what they have picked out to ride. Here jeremy skins out of camp while we climb a chute  to film Terje. No matter how long you do this job, it’s always incredible when you get to work with legends like Terje.

View from the top. At the top of a line in Svalbard that’s taken hours to reach you’d think you’d stop for a cuppa. Not with Jones. Keeping up with him on the climbs is hard enough, but being ready, in your photo spot when he is ready to drop into his line is another challenge entirely. Aware that the weather in somewhere like Arctic isn’t always the most stable, and keen to nail as many lines in one session as possible, he moves from hike mode to ride mode without pausing. Our camp location is just out of shot top RHS down valley.

Of permits and policemen. Halfway through our 15-day Arctic camp session we were suddenly visited by three people on snowmobiles: a guide, a nature ranger and this policeman, coming out to check our permits. The Arctic is a fragile environment and although so much of it is already besieged by mining and overfishing, the Svalbard authorities take it seriously. Checking our camp permits meant a 200 mile round trip on sleds with a night under canvas themselves for these three.

Bad dentistry. The night before heading out on a camping session is one usually imbibed with booze, often in the hotel room. It’s the same on our return to warmth of heated rooms and restaurant food. The night prior to our first week of -20C Austrian nights we discovered we didn’t have a corkscrew between us, leaving de-corking duties to a less able Leatherman.

Lines. Jones out in the safe zone. There is a moment when a photographer looks down on a scene like this. It’s one when they say, hmm, now I’ve got to get down there myself. Nobody is going to shy away from a powder run, but doing the same, following an athletes line down a chute or face, with a backpack of heavy camera gear changes the dynamic a little. For the first time in the day, all eyes fall on the photographer.

Jones charges Nat Geo. We weren’t the first to ski/ride this chute, but it’s no walk in the park. It didn’t take more than a glance to see that it was 5-star photo/film material, but it took several attempts to get it done, with the athletes and 1 cameraman climbing the chute and the other camera duties being taken up from an opposite peak. On our first attempt, we were in position and ready but got shut down by a change in the weather. It turned out for the better, as days later, we’d figured that the light would be better around 11pm. The line was one of the most unique shots I’ve taken in 15 years of snow photography. Jones took no more than 5 turns to ride the whole chute.

So if you didn’t get to the premier and have to wait that little longer to see the full film (like me)  here’s the trailer:

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1 Comment »

  1. Really can’t wait to see the film Dan!!!

    Comment by Robert Kissane — September 10, 2012 @ 1:09 am


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