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Alex Ekins Interview

16 February 2013

Top British climbing photographer Alex Ekins will launch a unique exhibition at ShAFF with a World Premiere of photographs taken during the filming of the award winning 'Wide Boyz' film.  Alex recorded Sheffield’s Tom Randall and his climbing partner Pete Whittaker’s first ascent of the 160 foot fissure in Utah's Canyonlands.

A Belly Full of Bad Berries, one of the offwidths featured in the Wide Boyz film. Copyright Alex Ekins

Q The film of ‘Wide Boyz’ is being shown at the Sheffield Adventure Film Festival.  What for you is the difference between the film and you taking stills?

It's hard to explain the difference really though it is very different - I usually look at a climb and decide where I want to be for that one shot, that perfect image. so on Century Crack - I was moving around a lot, looking for different angles for that one moment but with film they're looking because it's a moving image they're looking for a whole series of moving images.

Q Climbing's a really dynamic sport - if you're not a climber or a photographer how do you convey that in a still?

You're definitely right.  For a non climber it can be quite difficult - so often I think expression is the way.  In some of those Century Crack pictures Tom and Pete often have a look of pain and suffering on their faces and that's often a good thing to look for and then to show them and convey that struggle and suffering.

Tom Randall on Century Crack. Copyright Alex Ekins 

Q How do you avoid the clichéd bum shot?

Ah yes, you've got to work quite hard to avoid that!  I'm looking for pictures that show the whole body in situ and hopefully from above so you don't get the bum or occasionally from the side.

Q How do you get the shots? Are you roped up?

It varies.  To give you an example, on Century Crack when they first climbed it I didn't go on a rope and I was moving up and down quite a steep, dangerous gully and then I was taking some shots form the top as well.  The second time I was hanging in mid air on an abseil, right over the edge in front of the crack.

Q The topography of Century Crack is absolutely vast - how do you convey that?

That was a real challenge.  I don't think I got one picture that really managed to show the immensity of it, mainly because it starts at the back of the cave and it comes out into daylight and it's so long so you've got issues balancing light and dark from the outside.  Being in a position that really showed it and in lot of the pictures it's hard to convey that it's actually completely horizontal.  Some of them you can see that but then others the perspective's compromised.  It is vast - it's by far the most difficult rock climb I've ever had to photograph, trying to convey what it's like.

The monster Century Crack. Copyright Alex Ekins 

Q You’re judging the ShaFF ‘Single Shot’ photography competition.  What makes a great adventure and Peak District photo?

I think because it's very much about the Peak District it's got to convey some of the atmosphere of the Peak District - if it was just a picture of a rock face with someone on it, it might be a fantastic picture but for this competition it needs to show some of the character.  So if it’s shot on gritstone show the moorland spaces and somebody actually having an adventure within the space or landscape – not just isolated people.

Q What's your one tip for taking a great photo?

You've got to show the emotion.  You need to convey the danger of the inherent in the activity and show a non participant in the sport a little of what’s involved in it. 

The Wide Boyz exhibition goes on show on February 18th alongside photographs from leading Peak District based adventure photographer and filmmaker Lukasz Warzecha.  The exhibition will also feature a return by Dan Lane who exhibited last year and debut ShAFF exhibitions by Andy Leader, Stewart Smith, Nadir Khan and Mat Robinson.  There will be an official launch on Friday 1st March at the Sheffield Adventure Film Festival, more details here. 

For more details about the Single Shot competition (closing date Feb 11th) see the website here. 

More about Alex:

After 20 years as a professional climber and mountaineer Alex Ekins has built an impressive cv as a photo-journalist and includes HRH Sheik Faisal, The BMC, YHA, AMI, Jagged Globe, Sheffield City Council and multiple outdoor equipment manufacturers amongst his clients. Photographs from his portfolio have been published in The Times, National Geographic, The FT, The Guardian, Le Monde and Repubblica and others along with extensive coverage in climbing magazines worldwide.

You can see more of Alex's image on his website here.

ShAFF is 1-3 March at the Showroom Cinema.