The Craigieburn Forest Park area is about 1.5 hours from Christchurch and holds a special place in my heart and soul. On arrival to Christchurch New Zealand back in 2007 (via seven years in Australia) and as an avid mountain biker, this region was my first real baptism of mountain adventures for a bloke who grew up in the UK with no mountains at all. I would throw myself down mountains on a bike weekly back in the day, and even then, from the very first second I felt a profound feeling of peace the higher I climbed into this beautifully mountainous region. Back then I would rarely venture out alone into the mountains, as it was a new experience, but as time passed over the years, and with the new adventures that I pursued, the more comfortable I became being solo deep into the mountains throughout New Zealand. To this day, just like that very first adventure into the Forest Park, I feel safe when in the New Zealand mountains, rain or shine. It feels comforting, familiar, and it just feels right deep into my soul.
I have a confession to make. I’ve only had a handful of times that I’ve felt really connected to the mountains over the past decade. Parenthood, the earthquakes and then shifting to central Auckland on 2012 did not help, and over the past 10 years I’ve still travelled extensively throughout New Zealand, and even lived in my camper van for 4 months tripping throughout the South Island, where I bagged peaks most days, but it never felt the same as 2007 – 2011. I believe I can now see why. I feel that the experiences have not been genuine, and that commercialising the outdoors creates a disconnect from the higher power that surrounds us- Mother Nature. I treated my body and soul pretty roughly for as long as I can remember, and excessive outdoor endurance sports, ended up as no more than an addiction and a distraction from ME. During those years while challenging the outdoors, it blurred past me as I blasted my way through it blinkered at the true beauty and wonder that surrounded me. Who truly wins? Mere mortals or the great outdoors?
We moved back to Christchurch about 5 years ago, and spending time closer to home in the hills was enough to make me feel connected to the Earth, but lately the mountains have been calling me once again. I’ve been spending more time in the Craigieburn region and that profound energy and joy still exists when I’m there. Yet this time around it feels different. It’s 2021 and I don’t run anymore or ride a bike due to injuries sustained from years of physical abuse that I put my body through while challenging myself outdoors. What I do most days now is walk and hike, and I’m in love with the whole experience, moving slowly and being more present, once again I can now see the wonder and beauty of this Earth and feel part of it again. Its not 2007, as now I’m an older man, but it’s the closest I’ve been to those early feelings of wonder and a profound appreciation for this beautiful place we call home.
Having a fresh outlook for the outdoors though hiking sits so well with my film photography too, as the nature of medium format image taking plays well with the new slower pace. I’m now attempting to capture the wonder I talk of though my lens, and i’ve got a new series underway that explores this reality. I’m not looking at representing landscapes in a traditional sense, rather I’m looking at expressing how I’m closer to a higher power beyond the scripted existence we all now play a part within- that disassociated world far removed from nature. This project is a work in progress and in someway, it actually began in 2007 when I first began documenting my adventures arriving in New Zealand.
Here are a few images from the base of Craigieburn Ski-field access point, and close to the scree fields before I ran out of light and had to turn back. There was a brutal landslide on the track, and I did not want to be clambering over that mess in the dark! For the whole 4 hours of walking, it was torrential rain, which was quite challenging using a TLR! No waterproofing seals or tech back in the last 1950s! The first roll was Kodak T-MAX that I picked up on Trademe cheap (3 rolls) and unfortunately its faulty/ chemistry is damaged in some way and resulted in an aggressive mottling/ soft hazy patches across the majority of the captures. Shooting wide open at f3.5 with the unique characteristics of the Yashica635 lens, does not help much either. I wonder if the Rolleicord would exhibit the swirly/ soft aesthetic as much? Next visit I’ll take that camera instead and compare. The second roll was Ilford Hp5 and thankfully as usual, consistently good. With building a series, I find that I need to return multiple times to the region, and I will be back to re create some of the damaged images for sure. I won’t lie, I’m a bit upset with how the TMAX roll ended up, as they are some of my favourite outdoor images I’ve captured to date, and really do showcase the wildness of Craigieburn Forest. Thankfully I still have a lot of Winter left to recreate the set of images.