Saturday, May 2, 2009

Tenacity, Determination and Pipe Dreams

For the past few weeks I've been shooting photos in a giant "cave" in Maple Canyon, UT. It's not a cave in the traditional sense of the word, though there is one of those a few feet away under a seasonal waterfall. This cave more like a huge alcove with a stone roof. Think of it as a Sydney Opera House made of stone. It's 90' from the back of the cave to the front and about the same from side to side. It's the same distance from the ground to the apex of the cave.

Now imagine a climber starting at the back (or side) and climbing upside down in the belly of the cave, heading for the apex. To the untrained eye it looks impossible from every angle. It looks like a Pipe Dream.

I first saw the cave about 10 years ago. I passed it off as an impossible area, at least for me. A few years later routes started popping up in the cave and I took a second look, establishing Toxic Potatoes (11b). It's one of two short warm-up routes in the cave and is quite possibly climbed more than any other route in Maple Canyon. AWESOME! Today routes dot the entire roof of the cave, most of them 5.12, 5.13 and 5.14...very near the top end of the climbing difficulty scale.

So, I've been photographing a small group of climbers who spend three days a week working the same projects over and over again. The first day I shot images at the cave was their second day climbing there. In the three weeks I've been there I've watched them go from hanging between every bolt, resting and working the moves, to firing large sections of the route without taking a rest. While on a redpoint ascent (a climb with no falls or hanging on gear), one of the climbers made it through all of the crux moves and was within 2 feet of the anchors when he missed a hold and fell. He came back two days later and did it all over again, determined to clip the anchors. Once they've finished their "projects" they'll move to another route. It might be a harder route in the Pipe dream Cave, it might be elsewhere in Maple Canyon or in an entirely diferent area. But they'll keep going until winter drives them into the Gym or south to warmer climates. It's a fascinating process. I'm inspired by their tenacity and determination. They are incredible athletes.

My wife is a writer. While attending conferences and mingling with other writers, she's learned that the industry has a saying concerning writing as a career: If you can do ANYTHING else, do it. From time to time I question if photography is really something I should pursue as a profession. I have a job that provides a good living for my family. The average photographer makes as much as the average writer in a year; the equivaent of one months income in the average US household. Those who are financially successful do it at a huge expense in time and emotional resources. It's a consuming monster. Like my wife and the climbers in the Pipe Dream Cave, I feel driven to be a photographer. I'm no longer satisfied to do something just because it works or it's safe or comfortable. You might say I feel compelled to get "the" shot.

I'm constantly asking myself what kind of photographer I want to be. It's an important question and I'm figuring it out. The more I'm in the field the more clear it becomes.

I'm not 100% sure yet, but I'm figuring it out one Pipe Dream at a time.

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