Walking The Nile With Levison Wood

In June/July 2014, I joined Levison Wood for the Sudan leg of his Walking The Nile expedition.  Due to security restrictions, we had to cross the Bayuda Desert at the edge of the Sahara.  I wrote the article up for Etihad Inflight Magazine, and you can read it here, complete with my photographs from the expedition.

Bayuda Lizard

Meeting a lizard int he Bayuda Desert, Sudan

Walking The Bayuda Desert with Levison Wood. For Etihad Inflight Magazine

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How To Film An Expedition

Recently, I was asked to give some advice about filming an expedition to Ash Dykes, who’s about to do a solo walk across Mongolia. Having just come back from filming on Walking The Nile with Lev Wood I was well-placed to offer some tips about kit, but most of my knowledge on the practicalities of filming stems from the best-value shooting and directing course I’ve ever done: The Explorers’ Film School.

Three years ago, I wrote an article in Beyond Limits about the film course I did at the EFS, and I thought it was a good time to reprint it here.

HOW TO FILM AN EXPEDITION

How do you tell people about your adventures; and how do you make a career as a professional adventurer? Two questions that many adventurers will hear time and again in their Q &A sessions.

One of the key answers for both of these is video. Social Media has become a powerful tool in the armoury of the professional adventurer, and the easiest and most palatable sharing medium is video. The adventurer can share their videos on Facebook or YouTube so their followers can see what they are doing; they can put links up on websites and online communities; they can send it to sponsors and kit companies to raise funding; and they can even sell DVDs of their adventures, or use the footage to win a commission for a television documentary.

Pen Hadow

But how does one film one’s adventures in the first place? Camera work is a huge field, with masses of terminology and kit to get your head around, let alone thinking about filming a story, constructing a sequence or planning shots. Most adventurers can barely afford their own expeditions, so paying for a camera-man is out of the question. How, then, does a budding explorer-presenter take his first step into the world of media?

I came across an answer to this question during the Adventurists’ Film Festival at the RGS in London, where Andrew Miles of the Explorers’ Film School gave a talk about self-filming for adventurers. Andrew is a professional video cameraman, who has worked extensively with National Geographic, and who specialises in expedition and adventure camera-work. With the Explorers’ Film School, he has established a one-of-a-kind institution to teach people how to self-film their expeditions. He taught Pen Hadow before Hadow completed one of the last great polar challenges – a solo, unsupplied trip to the Geographic North Pole, the footage of which made for compelling television.

During his talk he gave us a few top tips for adventurers who take a video camera with them on an expedition. The key difference between broadcast-able and unbroadcast-able film is how well you communicate through the lens:

• Film with a ratio of 10:1 – for every hour of footage you wish to eventually broadcast, film ten to give you enough material to cut and edit together properly
• Never talk behind the camera
• Don’t babble incessantly – make concise statements and pause to allow for ease of editing
• Never have just unbroken scenery in your film – always have people in it, giving context
• Talk to the camera – that is the medium through which you communicate with the audience at home – and looking at the camera will make them feel more engaged
• Explain what you are thinking/feeling. If you are interviewing other members of the team, ask questions that will draw out how they feel about the trip or event

The Ice Swimmer Lewis Gordon Pugh

I then went onto do Andrew’s full 3-days course down in Brighton. It’s a thorough introduction, where you learn all the essentials of self-filming, from camera handling through to sequencing. Andrew’s specialism in filming in extreme environments means he has learned from his own mistakes when it comes to getting great shots. The 3-days were full of information, and my notebook is bursting with bullet points, but here are a few key ideas to set you on your way.

• Do video diaries just to camera – people tend to talk more honestly to a camera than to a camera with an operator
• Walk on ahead and set up the camera to get long shots – if you are on your own this may mean having to do extra walking
• Keep the camera ready to roll at any moment – you never know when something exciting is about to happen
• When reconstructing something in retrospect, use abstract filming to indicate to the viewer that it is not original footage
• Book-end each shot with a few seconds of silence to make for ease of editing

The planning stage is key – if you are operating a camera, you are carrying extra weight, batteries and storage (films or solid state). You will have to make extra time on your journey for filming, particularly if you are setting up long shots and context filming.

Be sure to film this stage – the logistics and preparation – as it gives a great insight into how an expedition comes together, and insights into your thinking and emotion as the expedition approaches. Talk to the camera, or do interviews with other members of the team if you are not going solo.

• Sound is essential for an expedition – more important than images. You can monitor it with something as simple as iPod headphones
• Write out beforehand what you hope to get out of the expedition and what you want to film – reference these notes throughout the trip to make sure you are on track – daily goals and through the whole expedition
• Think about what you will need to film to make up a full, broadcast-able programme: cut-away; landscape; interviews; transient shots; camp-life
• Be efficient with your shots – get a variety each time you set your camera up, such as wide, static and moving, from the same position, to generate “filler” video efficiently

So there’s a few starter points. Andrew’s course is jam-packed with advice and is an extremely worthwhile piece of education if you’re considering filming your expeditions. I started with filming a trip to Italy on my iPhone, and even that was made much better thanks to Andrew’s advice! Head over to his website for more information and some examples of films made by explorers trained by Andrew.

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Preparing My Feet For Walking The Nile

Boot

Ahead of Walking The Nile with Lev Wood, I’ve been getting my body ready for the 200-mile assault.  But as much as conditioning, I’ve been learning how to stop things going wrong in the first place.  And central to this, is looking after my feet.

Here’s a little video about what I’ve been doing to get them ready.

How do you prepare and protect your feet for expedition?  Let me know in the comments section.

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Training for Walking The Nile

Walk The Nile

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be joining Levison Wood on his Walking The Nile expedition . He’s aiming to become the first person to walk it’s entire length.  He’s walking over 4000 miles, and it will take him 12 months.  I’m only walking for two weeks, but doing 20 miles a day.

Naturally, I need to prepare for this, somewhat.  Given the limited surroundings, I’m walking everywhere I can in London.  Not only to prepare my body, but to break in my new Altberg desert boots.  Have a look!

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Rap & Shakespeare? Seriously?!

 

It’s not often that I seek out either Shakespeare performances or hip-hop: the former are often long-winded and self-indulgent; and the second consists largely of angry men telling me of their ill-gotten income, vehicular favouritism and sexual proclivities.  So, to attend a performance in which the two are combined filled me with a sense of foreboding.

Shakey P

Charlie Dupré as Shakey P

Actor/rapper Charlie Dupré claims that Shakespeare and Hip-Hop have more in common than you might expect.  In this one-man (and two instrument), self-written performance, he abridges several of The Bard’s plays into ten-minute raps, interspersed with short insights into the wider history of Elizabethan literature.

We’ve been here before: trying to make Shakespeare accessible by making him faster and colloquial.  Dupré’s approach is to take strong acting talent, some outstandingly fast MC’ing, and combine it all with a clever, funny and accessible script.

“Shakespeare was a rapper,” explains Dupré, “And rappers are poets; Eminem is what Shakespeare would be if he were working today.  Don’t forget that Shakespeare wrote for bawdy theatres.”

Dupré With Musicians

Dupré With Musicians

Our performer explodes onto the stage with a verse from Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Puck is a suitable character for him to take on – that narrator of mischief and magic.  His masterstroke is in doing what all great education does – teaching without you knowing it.

The performance is excellent, with Dupré convincingly slipping between roles in duologues.  Whilst it is certainly an accessible introduction to Shakespeare, audience members who know the plays will take more from it, spotting subtle acknowledgements like a parent watching a Pixar film.

Hamlet Skull

Stop! Hammer-let Time

Dupré distils the essential themes of those plays: jealousy and regret in Othello; ambition and hubris in Macbeth; nobility and revenge in Hamlet.  I’ve seen all of these plays at least once, but I came away from this experience with a greater understanding of them than before.  This isn’t dumbing down – Dupré approaches the works from subtle and illuminating perspectives.

Overall, a great performance of some excellent writing.  The chorus of his Stan/Othello homily jarred, but other than that, it’s hard to fault.  I’ll definitely watch this again in Edinburgh.

 

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Getting Dandy At Lord’s

Being Dapper at Lord's Cricket Ground

A dandy at Lord’s

‘Hey man, how you doing?  When was the last time I saw you?”

I’m trying to scrape my jaw off the floor. Having just been introduced to one of the most accomplished sportsmen in history, he now thinks that he knows me.

It’s one of the most surreal days of my life. On a lovely summer’s afternoon, lubricated by Chivas Regal and Perrier-Jouet cocktails, the Saville Row Tailors’ Association are throwing their London Collections: Men event. Apparently some of the biggest names in men’s style are here: Tommy Hilfiger; AA Gill; and a descendant of Mahatma Gandhi who causes women to melt in his presence. The finest British cloth-artisans are parading their wares, draped over the frames of men with cheekbones cut from marble, and torsos like Adonis, lounging like leopards on carefully positioned seating.

David Gandy

That descendant of Gandhi

It’s very nice. And, apparently, very important (The FT has labelled this the Number 1 men’s fashion event in the world.). But all this is of secondary value to me; for, exceeding the dandiest outfits that I have ever laid eyes on, it is the venue that truly takes my breath away. The Association have chosen to hold their event at the Marylebone Cricket Club. The home of cricket. Lord’s.

The Long Room

The Long Room

“Do you know where we are?” I ask a passing PR girl, my eyes like saucers.

“The Long Room,” she answers, helpfully.

“Yes,” I respond, “But it’s the Long Room!” she smiles patiently and walks away. I shrug the acceptance of a trainspotter explaining the importance of a British Rail Southern Region 10201 diesel locomotive to a passing commuter, and make my way up the stairs to the door of the Players’ Dressing Room. To be here is almost beyond reckoning. To wander here freely is a privilege truly beyond reckoning.

I walk back down the stairs, through the Long Room, down the steps to the outfield and gaze towards the Media Centre and Old Father Time. Then I do it again. Twice. I imagine the long line of great captains and players who have done that very walk, cheered on by the gentle baying of the Members, as they prepare to partake in the greatest mental battle in sport. I am awed, breathing in the heritage, gravity and legend of the place. I really can’t believe I’m here.

Player's Dressing Room

Player’s Dressing Room

As much as the venue, I had come to get an understanding of what is currently making British men’s tailoring (and British style and design in general) the most appealing in the world.

“It’s the workmanship and quality,” explains Joe Morgan of Chittleborough & Morgan, “In London, we’re not about fashion and speed – as they are in Paris – London is about timeless style. Craftsmanship. But it does have a vibrancy and youth – we have apprentices coming through, whose ideas we consider. We always look for ways to innovate, particularly with accessories, but a well-cut suit will always be a well-cut suit.”

Andy Rowley, of Budd the Shirtmakers, agrees, “Heritage is returning to the fore – timeless style is in fashion again, as people look for integrity, credibility, and things that are made to last. All our shirts are cut on the premises, and it takes time to make one of our shirts. That carries into a wider approach to dressing – it’s not something that can be rushed.”

“Why should women have all the fun?” continues Joe, “Dressing well is a joy. But it’s more than that. Taking time to dress well is part of what it means to be a man, and women appreciate a man who cares about his appearance.”

AA Gill & Tommy Hilfiger

AA Gill & Tommy Hilfiger

As I mulled over these insights, I gazed out over the delicately manicured outfield at Lord’s; a venue in which the true essence of the gentleman has been codified and distilled in the laws of a ball-game. Excellent cricket (Test cricket – not that noisy IPL malarkey) is about integrity, longevity, grit and determination: line and length for a bowler; patience and poise for a batsman. It’s the timeless truths that we return to time and again, whatever the passing trend for Pelican Shots and Switch Hits.

The tie-in between Chivas and Saville Row is about qualities that both brands share – craftsmanship, heritage, all that good stuff… And the essence of being a man. Naturally, as part of this, they wanted to get some dashing men talking about what it means to be a man, and to make a lovely little brand video about it. For some reason, (and by the reactions of the camera crew, they were as confused as to this selection as me) somebody had decided that I was one such person, qualified to answer the somewhat weighty question of “What It Means To Be A Man.”

It was whilst scrabbling together a response to this question, which has baffled history’s greatest philosophers, that I was introduced to someone rather better qualified to answer it.

“This is Brian,” I was told. I turned to look into the eyes of the greatest batsman of the modern era.

“Mr Lara,” I uttered, before totally losing the skill of speech. His eyes lit up and he cracked a grin.

“Hey man,” he replied, “When was the last time I saw you?” Now utterly bemused, I stared vacantly before muttering something about never-having-met-him-before-because-if-I-had-I’m-sure-I’d-have-remembered.

Brian Lara

Lara in his heyday

He looked at me sideways and smiled knowingly, “Nah, I definitely know you,” he said, “Anyway, I gotta go. See you around, man.” And so passed my encounter with a man who’s very being embodied poise, elegance, grace and power – never before or since has a person so perfectly encapsulated the skills of batting.

And in it was the answer to my quandary: The essence of being a man is not what you wear or what you do – but how you wear it, and how you do it. With integrity, pride, and a desire to be the very best.

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Lichtenstein At The Tate Modern

Oh Jeff

Oh Jeff

The first time I saw a Lichtenstein, I was underwhelmed.  A blown up comic book?!  What’s so great about that?  But this Retrospective at the Tate Modern doesn’t just draw attention to his skill; by putting his art in context and showing it’s evolution, it explores the philosophical element of his work, combining high and low art.

Lichtenstein’s approach was driven by his desire to explore questions of authorship and originality, and to understand what causes aesthetic value in post-industrial art.   Lichtenstein was interested in how “two things that are very much alike differ in value… there must be some very subtle thing that has to do with painting.”  He explored the interface between industrial-scale printing and painting, by hand-replicating printing techniques.  The brushstroke itself became a central feature of his work – and he painted stylised abstractions of brushstrokes, in order to draw attention to what he saw as the primary contributor of value to art.

Brushtrokes

Brushstrokes

Lichtenstein was fascinated by commercial and corporate imagery, and began replicating it with various changes.  He never worked from “life” – instead, he re-interpreted existing images, experimenting with styles and techniques of representation, and discovered Ben-Day dots – which printing presses used to mass-produce colour.  Lichenstein pain-stakingly painted each dot individually, through screen stencils (originally he used a dog-grooming brush).  In this way he explored that “subtle thing” by bringing the aesthetic value of the brushstroke to an industrial technique.

The first work in which we first see the subject matter that made Lichtenstein’s name is Look Mickey; an image of Donald Duck & Mickey Mouse fishing.  A re-drawing of an illustration from one of his son’s books, it is an odd subject for an artist: cheap trashy illustrations, with poor registration.

Tyre

Tyre

Around this time he was drawing stylised versions of adverts – such as Tyre - exploring symbols and representation, and how women were depicted in commercial imagery as extensions to household objects.  Later, in his Mirrors series, he would return to themes of representation; whilst there are no reflections drawn, the shaped canvases and stylised lines inform us that we are looking at “mirrors.”

Masterpiece

Masterpiece

There’s a strong sense of humour in much of Lichtenstein’s work, with wry observations of the fickle nature of the art world; in Masterpiece (above), the young artist’s rise is being predicted.  Perhaps this was a tongue-in-cheek self-reference; the piece was displayed when Lichtenstein’s own star was rising, at a solo exhibition at the Leo Castelli gallery in New York.

Whaam!

Whaam!

This is when he creates his classic Pop-Art works, based on war and romance comics, exposing clichés and stereotypes.  The works are focused around the “Pregnant Moment” – the crux of a tale from which you can imagine the rest of a story, but at this exhibition we can see the original comics from which Lichtenstein drew his images.  By knowing what he leaves out, as much as what he puts in, we understand what Lichtenstein wants us to focus on.  I find the images surprisingly moving, evoking questions of loss, righteousness, anger, nobility and despair: Why were the soldiers fighting so long in the jungle?  Who was the U Boat targeting?  What did Brad do to upset her?

Galatea

Galatea

There was mixed success with his sculptures: I enjoyed his Explosion series, where he used steel mesh in place of Ben-Day dots, and Galatea, his take on the much-covered Greek myth of the statue that comes to life; but I found his exploration of Art-Deco’s “domesticated Cubism” less engaging.

Throughout his career, Lichtenstein tried to engage with the Old Masters and explore theories of art.  So it seems right that there is an entire section dedicated to his “Art On Art,” such as Frolic; a surreal version of a Picasso piece, which references an illicit affair that Picasso was conducting with a young lover.  Lichtenstein’s series based on Monet’s Rouen Cathedral were done because “no-one would expect it,” but he was responding to the wide reproduction of Monet’s work and raises surprising questions about form and delineation.

Perfect

Perfect

The Perfect/Imperfect series explores judgements of quality in art – Lichtenstein creates arbitrary rules about lines ending or beginning and, based on whether the work meets those criteria, the work is labelled either Perfect or Imperfect.  I liked the cheeky triangles extending from edge of the Imperfect canvases, and the sculpture equivalent is appealing.

In later years, Lichtenstein returns to Pop-Art imagery with a series of enormous nudes.  In these, much of the rawness of the work is lost, as the lines appear cleaner and more stylised – the colours brighter and more modern.  But they evoked a strange sense of Dystopianism for me, different to the vulnerable emotional females of his earlier work.  The women here seemed vacant and artificial – reduced to form and objectified.

Philosopher

The final room is quite unexpected: Lichtenstein has re-interpreted classic Chinese landscape paintings with Ben-Day dots.  Again, he is engaging with reproduction and Old Masters – this time the Chinese ones, whose work has been copied, non-industrially, by their protegés.  The graduation and flow of the dots suggests cliffs, clouds, lakes and seas; the paintings only make sense the further you are from them, and in each is a lone figure picked out in a bright colour.  I liked them.  It made me reflect on where humans sit in existence.  Maybe this was Lichtenstein’s exploration of that topic as he neared the end of his own life.

This exhibition does what a Retrospective should: it covers the whole body and evolution of an artist and puts them in context artistically and historically.  Not only did I learn that there is more to Lichtenstein than WHAAM! and Masterpiece but I enjoyed the exploration of the Philosophy Of Art.  It’s only on for another week so get there if you can.

Until May 27, sponsored by Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Tickets 020 7887 8888, www.tate.org.uk

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