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Ogof Ffynnon Ddu – Chris Howes, 2002

28 April 2008

Most regions of the world contain caves (and the UK and Ireland are riddled with them), so that side-trips when shooting stock become a relatively easy thing to arrange.

That said, my favourite caves are local to me in Wales – one of which, Ogof Ffynnon Ddu in the Swansea Valley, pours a tempest of water through black limestone passages, sculpted and sharpened by the flow.

This image of a caver in Ogof Ffynnon Ddu is not part of a series or shot for any specific project – it is simply one that I like. Generally I prefer photographing the sport of caving; working on the human interaction with the underground rather than depicting the cave alone. In this picture, the feel of running water from the roof and the movement in the rushing streamway were retained by using the slow-burn illumination from a single flashbulb, which was triggered by an infra-red slave and recorded on Ilford FP4.

Underground, you line up the shot in the velvet-black studio, fire the flashes and see the picture for a fleeting moment against the darkness, with yet to come the excitement of developing the latent image and discovering success or failure. Although since taking this picture the move to digital with all its advantages is complete for me, something still yearns for those receding days of film.

Chris Howes was born at an early age but didn’t start living until his father thrust a box camera into his hands, soon followed by the local alchemist swapping it for a better, German 35mm model and showing him something of the wonder of printing. An interest in caving came during school years as a matter of obstinacy (with a collier in the family he was told any activity was okay, other than going underground). This led to a love of flash photography mixed with a dash of problem solving, given the difficulties of the subterranean environment and its ready ability to destroy equipment. Including that first trip in 1968, Chris has never caved without a camera.

With a training in zoology, most freelance photography is aimed at environmental issues and travel, while producing monochrome photos underground remains a passion. Chris has written four books about caving, including the end result of a ten-year project on the history of underground photography and another as a manual of modern techniques.

Since 1988 he has edited the cavers’ magazine, Descent and is a member of the Outdoor Writers and Photographers Guild and holds a Fellowship of the RPS gained for cave photography.

Photographer since 1975, EPUK member since 2003.

See more work by Chris Howes

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