As I rappelled down the cliff, the scene began to shape itself in front of my eyes. Clouds, coming in from the south, gave a mystery touch to the landscape and contrast between light and shadow, painted lines, movement and grace into it. Hanging from a fixed rope, just as light was beginning to fade, I could see Tom and Rosita coming closer, rapidly climbing the route’s last stretch.
He had to come really close so we could get the wide-angle shot we needed and time was running out. My fixed line offered me very limited movement freedom so all I could do was stay there and wait and suddenly, just like magic and in perfect timing, each piece of the puzzle took it’s place. Tom got there just right, we co-ordinated things, clouds cleared the vision of the col. and light was, what can I say? Just perfect…!
A couple of years before, I was hanging on a rope, swinging wildly as each piece of gear I pulled came off. My friends, hanging some 30 metres up and away, just waited in awe as I cleaned the route’s last pitch. Light was diminishing and clouds where passing by very quickly, revealing once in a while, the marvellous landscape that laid beneath us.
We were one the last stretch of Domingos Giobbi, a technical over-hanging route on Pedra do Baú’s north face in Brazil. Exposure was overwhelming and as we managed ourselves into the maze of clouds, the air dampened with a feeling of grandeur, challenge and nature power, we felt as if we were climbing the spines of the earth, towards the rapidly deteriorating weather.
In 2004, while chatting with Tom, a great friend and fellow climber and photographer, we started to discuss that “image” we both imagined on that route’s last pitch, though had never been there together. We decided we had to make that into an image and that it had to be at the end of a winter day, just after a cold front when air would be crisp, clean and the light perfect.
Tom wanted to free-climb that last pitch, which meant he would be climbing with his bare hands and feet, using equipment just to hold him in case of a fall. The stretch was normally climbed with a lot of gear to aid the climber (aid climbing), so aside of chasing a perfect pre-conceived shoot we had both never seen in real life, we wanted to try it in a bolder and harder fashion.
The late photographer and inspirer Galen Rowell, once wrote an essay in which he described a four stage visualisation scale to describe the process of image creation. The scale’s last step, and highest conceptual level, culminated in what he called a “created image”, one in which “the photographer brought something to an image that wasn’t initially observed. A subject matter previously seen only in the photographers mind’s eye, revealed as a visual treasure hunt that became part of an image of nature.”
I cannot actually tell if I read Galen’s article before or after the Domingos Giobbi shot, but as I recollected reading it some time later, the shot jumped into my mind as a perfect pre-conceived image. It defined how one’s imagination may create and pursue an instant never seen in the real world and as a matter of fact, make it actually happen and become the desired image.
At the time I first climbed Domingos Giobbi, I did it without a camera, in totally deteriorating weather, reaching it’s last stretch almost at dark and of course, I was aid climbing. Tom on the other hand, had been there a couple of times and always wanted to give it a try free climbing it. We imagined what would be the perfect time, day, best angle, route point and went there to get the shot.
Such a creation process, drives a sense of fulfilment so great into a photographers mind and heart, that perhaps this feeling alone can drive him through a lifetime career. Never meant to underestimate the value of spontaneity, pre-conceived shots like this, help us develop strong ties to our personal vision and style, and makes us be what we are. Visionaries.
Maybe one’s best images are never pre-conceived, they just happened in front of his or her eyes, but I can see spontaneous images, even in the hard-news front-line, totally dampened by one’s vision and style, mixing some level of “created images” with the shape and dynamics of the rapidly changing world. Probably the best photojournalists I know manage to do just that. They find in the world an image they had never seen there, but that aesthetically and conceptually fills the exact message they wanted to transmit.
A couple of minutes after this image was taken, clouds took over the lower landscape completely and in a short while, night fell down. We only had about 5 minutes to get the shot, after that, all there was to do was get up, eat, have fun, rappel down at night and get home safe and sound!