A sense of place

Golden Memories Cwm Bochlwyd
For me, there can be few more pleasurable ways to spend a day than climbing sun-kissed mountain rock under a blue sky with soothing zephyrs caressing your skin. It’s a return to childhood where grown men and women play just for the sake of playing; a legitimate excuse to be who we really are with no one there to laugh or look disapprovingly through the jaundiced eye of conformity. Yesterday was one of those days. Georg and I went to the Idwal Buttress and solo climbed on rough, grippy rock before wandering across to the Cneifion Arête, surely one of the most beautiful climbs in Britain. It’s a route I always wanted to do with someone I used to know. Sadly, we never got around to doing it and for the third time in four days I found myself walking down the Gribin Ridge thinking about them.

I adore the Gribin and have been up and down it umpteen times over the years but, strangely, it had been four years since my last visit. On that day I was introducing that certain someone to the narrow arêtes of Snowdonia. We had a wonderful day and photographs show us sitting together on a ledge in the first flush of love. When I came upon that ledge it shook me to my core. I’m not ashamed to say that I sat and wept as I recalled some of the most beautiful experiences of my life. Later, I climbed up onto the summit of Glyder Fawr and then came down the same way hoping to catch some light on Tryfan which lies across Cwm Bochlwyd. It didn’t happen but one of my mini obsessions had started and the very next evening I returned, repeating my ascent of the False Gribin and once again spending an hour on ’that’ ledge.

Most of my time spent in the mountains is spent alone and usually at times or in places where it is rare to see other people. These special places, loved by many, feel completely different when you are alone in them, especially at dawn or dusk. People give me funny looks when I’m going up as they’re coming down but coming from a mountaineering background I never feel in any danger while up there during the quiet hours. What I do feel is a very strong connection to the landscape as my thoughts, emotions and the mountains themselves coalesce to take me to a state of being which transcends the more mundane parts of my life. My consciousness is expanded in a way that years of drug abuse never managed to achieve and my worldly woes, though still present, are seen in a truer perspective. On our ledge I sat on a rock which has probably not moved for 10,000 years. Countless others will have sat there and many more will in the future. It’s a tiny plot of land in a huge arena of rock, insignificant to most but sacred to me.

I sometimes wonder if we who spend time in the mountains leave a part of ourselves there, or some of our energy which remains after we’ve gone home. Could it be that on that joyous day of four years ago a little of who we were then remains in situ, waiting to be felt by others? Sitting there with tears in my eyes it was difficult, if not impossible to tap into that energy, if it was ever there at all.

I would love to believe that we do leave something of our passage through the wild places but over the years I have spent climbing the mountains of Snowdonia I have increasingly come to believe the opposite to be true. Rather than us adding something to these ancient landscapes, it is the landscapes that add something to us; we leave nothing, but take away a lot which we carry with us even when the mountains are distant. That’s how it was with me and now that I live in those mountains I feel it even more keenly.

Could you be thinking, “What has this got to do with photography”? If you are, then let me assure you that it has everything to do with photography, or at the very least, my approach to it. The places I photograph mean something to me; they are a large part of who I am. I don’t see them as beautiful but random acts of geology, or objects to add to my photographic collection. They have inspired in me almost every human emotion imaginable. On the hills I’ve experienced sadness, exaltation, pride, fear, relief, gratitude, love, humility and a very real insight into my own mortality.

 

Although it would be nice to visit all the amazing places the world has to offer and photograph them, I know that I could never do them justice because as wonderful as they undoubtedly are, they mean nothing to me; they have nothing to do with what makes me who I am, they are not a part of my story. Through my photography I am trying to tell my story, the story of a lost soul who found salvation in nature. My relationship with the mountains is not a passing fancy and the mountains are not just an interesting subject to point my camera at. No, for over a decade they have been the one constant in my life and whether I am happy or sad they are my first ports of call, giving their all but asking nothing in return, only that I spend time with them.

On returning to the first paragraph of this piece, it was wonderful to spend time with my friend Georg and share the camaraderie of the rope, but come late afternoon I needed some quiet time to commune alone with my muse and once again sit on a summit, scanning every horizon reliving happy days spent in the Welsh highlands of Eryri. For those of you who reside in towns or cities, imagine floating on high surveying the place where you spent your formative years, tracing your comings and goings as if on a map and the memories those tracings would evoke. A solitary vigil on Yr Aran that evening was a similar exercise.

Landscape photography must surely be about the relationship between the photographer and the landscape and the emotional response that one inspires in the other. If it isn’t then I am doing it wrong…
My Life

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~ by nicklivesey on April 16, 2014.

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