Photographing Toru Nakajima In Cornwall

July 12th, 2010

In May 2010 The British Mountaineering Council broke from years of tradition and held their annual international rock-climbing meet on the granite sea-cliffs of Cornwall.

Toru Nakajima on the cover of Summit - Copyright Alex Ekins

I was lucky enough to be able to attend the event both as a BMC host climber and as a photographer shooting for the Japanese climbing magazine Rock and Snow and UK magazine Climber. Toru Nakajima was returning for brief second visit to the UK and both magazines were expecting him to climb some news worthy routes. The roles of a BMC host are primarily to introduce the visiting climbers to traditional Cornish sea-cliff climbing and try to keep them alive.  Toru was accompanied by Keita Kanahara (A veteran of 15 different routes on Yosemite’s El Capitan and new routes on Baffin Island). Hosting alongside me was Mark Glaister, an extremely experienced and accomplished climber as well as an excellent photographer and most usefully the author of the new Rockfax guide to the West Country.

Toru Nakajima climbing 'Tears Of A Clown' E7 6c on-sight at Sennen, Cornwall, England - Copyright Alex Ekins

Photographing sea-cliff climbing is one of the most problematic of the climbing photography genres. The very fact that the sea is at the bottom of the routes makes finding good compositional angles difficult and getting into suitable positions can be extremely dangerous. The sea itself is a terrible hazard for cameras, even if you manage not to drop your camera into the sea (which I’ve done), it’s possible to fall into it yourself with cameras attached (which American photographer Michael Clark has done). Also it’s very easy to get caught out by rogue waves.  Even if you manage to avoid all of the above the salty sea-air will get to your cameras anyway without you even noticing. The solution is to use some sort of waterproof protection. This is easy enough if your using a compact camera, just buy a small drysac or a mini Peli-case. However if like me you need to lug about digital SLR’s with big pro lenses and strobes you will need to be more imaginative. The obvious solution might be to use the excellent Lowepro Dryzone or a large Peli-case but you will also have all your climbing gear with you as well. Harness, ropes, rack, helmet etc, etc. All this kit is bulky and heavy. You will need to be able to climb down scary descent routes and dodge the waves. So a good solution to lug everything around in a big (the biggest you can get), well designed climbing rucsac. Your camera gear goes in the rucsac in a large drysac. I used a massive ortlieb padded out with all the clothing I was going to need to stay warm. If you feel you might need a bit more padding cut up a foam sleeping mat and fit it inside the drysac. Another option is to pack your cameras and lenses in individual padded cases inside the drysac.

Toru Nakajima on the Cover of Climber, soloing 'Storms Over Africa' In Cornwall, England - Copyright Alex Ekins

Photographing elite level rock-climbers is very similar to press photography; lots of sitting around and waiting before a sudden surge of action. So use the time to find the best angles and chill out before it gets scary. The big problem with Toru is that he climbs so fast that if your not utterly ready you will miss it.

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