Mind Control, our collaboration with Hazel Findlay about her journey from shoulder surgery to climb-of-her-life, is now available for all to see!
Great to see our images taking flight for the Lowe Alpine Aeon pack campaign, shot in Squamish BC, with a video and Adventure Journal soon to follow!
We're very proud of winning Best Climbing Film at this year's Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival for Psycho Vertical, where the jury commented:
The Jury found this film to be direct and nuanced at the same time, treating important and difficult questions that are seldom brought up within the context of climbing. It engages gently, setting a tone, but circles back with considerations about self-image, doubt, family, love, obsession and escape. It presents as very human and doesn’t insist on anything, and it falls far short of drawing a conclusion, yet it is somehow endearing – showing us the fragility in ‘hardcore’. Often telling three different stories at the same time, this work is nevertheless one piece, holding its focus throughout, with polished editing, intense visuals, and a strong connection to the viewer during the narrative. Then it leaves you with a tentative smile, rather than a slap on the back.
Thank you Vancouver!
After getting to know writer and mountaineer Gwen Moffat while making Operation Moffat a couple of years ago, her words have come to mean a lot. And she doesn't mess around. So I'll admit I was a little nervous when she reviewed Psycho Vertical for UKClimbing.com... 'magical' and 'of course it's flawed' stick with me, so does 'an articulate bear' among so many others. Always a treat to read Gwen's beautifully written words.
We have a beautiful new logo courtesy of Clare Waring at Custard Graphic Design. To me it represents so many aspects of Light Shed Pictures. Solid and playful, exploratory, personal, it reminds me of our cabin in the woods we recently left behind, and in particular one winter night when we lay on our backs looking at a black sky packed with stars. I can't wait to start incorporating it into our work, thank you Custard!
It's Calling is our third collaboration with the mighty and creative Lowe Alpine, our first two being Operation Moffat and The Bothy Project. In the middle of four months on the road in the US and shortly before getting stuck into shooting the mammoth Yosemite sequences of Psycho Vertical, I got an email asking if I'd get involved in this project and could we start now... erm... tricky timing but YES.
Joe's idea was to shoot in four countries with four filmmakers yet somehow combine all those stories into one. Many pages of notes, mood boards and one hell of a detailed brief later, crews in Australia, Switzerland, Scotland and the USA got to work. It was interesting as footage trickled in from around the world, one filmmaker's style informing and influencing the next in line to shoot.
It was an interesting and challenging edit, using all my forces to weave these adventures together and to write a voice over that would serve as glue. But weaving is what I love most, and we're very proud of this short film which celebrates our want and need to get outside and challenge ourselves, however we choose to do it. Enjoy!
A trip along the Liathach ridge with an Olympus XA2 and a roll of film that expired in 2005. I love an experiment!
Our award-winning short The Bothy Project is now live and kicking. Lowe Alpine put together an awesome page about the making of the film including images, interviews and of course the film itself.
Click on the image below to check it out!
Scotland welcomed May through the door with sunshine after a good old week of solid rain. We made the most of it with a climb, a swim and at the end of it all the best kind of tired. We hope you got out there too!
We've been doing a lot of exploring around our new home lately, which means we have a lot of shots of it. It seems a shame to have tonnes of lovely photos sitting on hard drives doing nothing, so we decided we'd try to put together mini photo essays every week or so, in the hope that they get to see the light of day. So here is the first one - a selection of images taken around our new playground, put together in the wonderful Adobe Spark.
Just click on the image to see more!
Our second episode for Epic TV's Choice Cuts series is out! Northwest Climbs brings the old Slice of Squam team back together for a new Scottish bouldering short.
Haven't seen Slice of Squam? You're in for a 2011 treat.
In April, dancer and choreographer Natali McCleary and I were commissioned by Belmont Filmhouse on our 3rd collaboration to visit Aberdeen for a week. The plan? To make a new dance film with 7 young filmmakers and 4 young dancers in 5 short days.
The challenges were plenty - time, a large group who didn't know each other, weather and creating a film. We came at these issues systematically.
Time - Nat and I came armed with a plethora of stimuli to help the group come up with a concept for their movement and film. These included pieces of music, a selection of short poems, themes and headings. We brain-stormed, spider-diagramed and chatted. By lunch time on day 1 we had a concept - the groups' conflicted feelings toward their connection with home, a.k.a Aberdeen. With that nailed nailed we were straight into movement and camera workshops until the end of day 2. Days 3, 4 and 5 were spent shooting in the city and reviewing our rushes at the end of every day.
A brand new group - It's hard not to get to know each other quickly and bond when thrown together for 5 intense days, but getting the filmmakers to join in with the movement warm-ups and the dancers to check out the filmmakers new camera knowledge certainly helped speed the process up. My biggest challenge was an 18 year old boy who didn't believe I knew my stuff for 2 whole days. In the end he asked me for a work placement.
Weather - We couldn't find a worthy indoor alternative to the outdoor locations we'd scouted, so we did what we always do - packed extra jackets and an umbrella and braved whatever the weather threw at us, which in this case included snow. Personally, I prefer shooting grey skies to blue so I was happy.
Creating a film - The group continued to develop their concept as we shot, worked hard and became a wicked team. When I left at the end of the week with the rushes I had a good idea of what they collectively had in mind for the edit, and sent the rough cut around the group for feedback before finishing it off.
Low and behold, we did it... thank you Aberdeen!
I’m a grubby woman in a pizza place. I know I am, but don’t realise the extent of it until I go to the bathroom and look into the mirror.
Black fingernails and five day old socks. Scratched legs. Deep brown face - part sun, part dust - hair standing up, up and over and around from that same dust and sun and dryness. I take a little time here to look at myself. From the corners of their eyes other women look too. I want them to look, and to see that I’ve just been somewhere and done something, spent time somewhere they may never get to know. My reflection is my proof. I must look awful, but in that mirror I am beautiful, I am queen.
Later I peel off my clothes before I shower. My ankles are black bands. My legs have gone furry, my hair doesn’t change when I take the kirbies out. I’m reluctant to wash the layers off because they will go, out and off and away. I want the change in me to be visible, to stay there - my full body tattoo. But I wash it all off and it disappears down the drain, my ankles three or four times before the black bands are gone. It’s dirt, after all.
Maybe some of the scratches will turn into scars.
It's been five years since Al and I last spent time in Squamish, eight since we made our first trip up and down the west side of North America, learning a lot about how we wanted our lives to be. For the past month we've been easing back into something similar, getting fitter, getting sun, getting clean with a swim rather than a shower. At first I was sad that my old self who got strong and brave and conent here seemed to have gone, or morhped into some one else - some one older, more cautious, podgier. It was sad because she was some one I've held onto and imagined being again over and over for all this time. It's taken some work to let go of who I was and what this place meant then. But the more I let go the closer I seem to get to her, and that old feeling of contentment swells.
I got into youth film making projects because I needed some work, and for a while felt pretty out to sea with it. But the more I did the more I got into it, realising that just because I'm working with a group of young people who are new to filmmaking doesn't mean we can't make something worthwhile and 'good' together. Stuff I'd be proud of if I'd made it on my own. More often than not I find a kind of freedom in these projects. Sometimes a participant will do something with a shot or piece of equipment that I've made a loose rule against for one reason or another, but it totally works. Or we'll work in a style I've always wanted to try but never got round to, etc etc. And I like sharing what I've learned so far. The whole package pushes me and gets me psyched.
Take the KIN project with Vox Liminis for example - a project led by a group of young people working creatively to open a dialogue about having a family member in prison.
We've all been young which is usually the common denominator I start with when confronted with a new group, but family imprisonment is a topic I have no experience or knowledge of, and this group were mostly in their early twenties. Goodbye once again comfort zone! I didn't need to worry, this was a very creative, deep-thinking bunch, and it was a privilege to be let into their lives briefly.
So, as an unusual project for me, I thought I'd write a little about the process that went into making KIN.
I often start a film with a piece of text, and KIN has definitely strengthened that part of my practice. Before we met, Vox sent myself and two other artists working on the project some short videos and pieces of writing the group had worked on in previous workshops. I was immediately reminded of the power of tackling a topic without taking it head on - most of the writing was anecdotal and abstract, making it all the more intriguing, and building a picture of these young people that went beyond a relative of theirs being in prison. Funny how much is said in what isn't said. One small sentence that struck the whole team was about a participant talking to trees when they were younger. It made us think of being able to speak without worrying about a response.
We had less than 48 hours to decide on a concept and shoot the film during a residency at Hospitalfields in Arbroath in January. The plan was real collaboration with the young people taking the lead, but other than that we were starting from scratch. We had a beautiful old house and its grounds to work with, the individual and collective experiences of the participants, a camera and a massive topic to explore and communicate. Performance artist Lou Brodie suggested we got started with each of us personalising a passage from Full Metal Jacket, and this became the foundation of the film.
We recorded these passages sitting on the floor in a quiet room for voice over, and took the talking to the trees idea outside. Each member of the group found a spot in the grounds they liked for one reason or another, I hooked them up to a radio mic, and they spoke without any of us knowing what they were saying. Some went through their pieces of writing, some spoke to a family member, some talked through the ideas which had become their piece of writing. It created a personal space, an intimate set of rushes, and looked pretty sweet. In the edit we were able to weave these moments together with the voice over to create a sort of stream of thought, at once specific to an individual, then shared with another group member as they happened to say the same words, or were almost able to speak to one another through what they had written. Multi-faceted if you will.
Next was how to adapt our surroundings to fit our concept. What did a big, grand old house have to do with us? We found that we were drawn to filming outdoors more than indoors, and decided the house and its grandeur represented a box, conforming, judgement, old ideas. Being outdoors was a fresh start, breaking out, turning away from established ways of thinking. This is why we focused on a sunrise, grass growing through leaves, climbing a tree. It was important to us all that there was joy and hope in our film. Again, we explored the space as a group, with each participant pointing out shots they wanted to get because of what a certain part of the house or grounds represented to them.
The edit has been equally collaborative. More accustomed to sitting alone at my desk to bash out a rough cut, we watched the rushes together at the next group meeting and talked through our ideas for the film. Everyone was inspired by Gigi's moment of talking to the trees when she says 'I regret not saying this before but...', and we decided to take that idea and develop it a little, with each participant recording a message there and then to their family member. I think this was an important moment - while the bulk of the film is quite abstract and open, we also wanted to talk directly about the participants' relationships with their relative in prison because of the open dialogue they are trying to build. I then went away for a few hours and presented the beginnings of a rough cut which we discussed again - what was working, what wasn't. This was a totally new way of working for me, which I don't think would work with just any old team. Since then I created two more fine cuts between which feedback was collected and changes were made, finishing with this final film.
They say it sometimes don’t they, that restrictions can be good. Creatively speaking that is, how it’s good to have parameters or your mind goes wild and there are too many options and you’ll end up making something rubbish.
I agree with this theory, and lately have come to think it applies to your body too. I’ve always been healthy and really without limits as to how fit I could get or what I could aspire to do with myself, and that’s great, it’s a phenomenal way to exist.
But without ever knowing anything else, it goes unappreciated, or at least it did by me. I rarely said to myself – 'hey, you’re fit'. Or, 'that was a hard thing you climbed', or 'you’re quite good, well done'. I was always thinking I could have and should have done better.
This trip to Torridon was my first with a new approach, albeit developed by necessity.
I had a spell of bad luck last year. It began with an ankle injury, which a shoulder injury joined, which a long spell of migraines added to, which culminated in a weird case of appendicitis and a good old stint in hospital, made foggy by morphine and puking. Everything I'd been into for the last decade or so fell off my radar for months and months and months.
This was the first time in my life that I was stopped dead in my tracks, and all functions, even the most basic ones, were taken from me for a while. Which meant I had to get these functions back, one-by-one, slowly, steadily, carefully.
At first the thought of that panicked me. But in all honesty, I didn't miss a lot of the things I thought I would. At times I sort of enjoy the process of putting myself back together. Taking time, taking care. Like being a beginner again, it's hard not to make progress. But at other times of course I get frustrated, impatient, and miss my old strength and energy and confidence in my capabilities.
There is definitely a power in learning to let go. It’s too easy to get so close up to your life that you can’t see what the heck you’re doing, let alone find time to think about it. I was in a cycle – trudging around bogs I didn't really want to trudge, trying to climb rocks I didn’t really care about, churning out work I didn’t always step back from to see what I was making. Suddenly, unable to climb or trudge, unable to work, I had time to think about these things a lot. A lot a lot. It was a sabbatical with pain killers instead of pay, and quite pleasant in many ways. And important, as it turns out.
Step by step. Walking and eating. Being awake for a whole day. Jogging and pilates… re-visiting climbing, remembering how much I like it. These days I am the partner who walks up the hill the rest of the group run, who seconds rather than leads, who reads in the car for an afternoon, who asks for a less ambitious plan for the weekend. I'm proud when I run 5k, I'm satisfied when I climb, well, anything. I go ahead and let myself be happy with those things - it's all progress, it's all progress.
So this trip to Torridon marked some firsts - my first Munro in an age, my first boulder since I let my muscles disappear, our first trip away since we let go a little. It's exciting to return to things I've loved for ages and see them in a different light.