Most explorers boldly go to seek out new worlds, but Wellington photographer Josh Exell has taken a trip to explore the past and has even captured his adventure for posterity using authentic 1920s camera equipment.
Josh, 22, from Rockwell Green, went back in time when he visited Jebel Toubkal, North Africa’s largest mountain, following in the footsteps of the first European mountaineers to scale the 13,000ft peak 90 years ago.
He was accompanied on his nine-day trip by his friend Greg Woodward, who like Josh is an extreme sports fan, and they took with them 90-year-old Box Brownie cameras and identical Kodak film stock. Their kit also included a 1920s folding camera and old ice axes.
They researched the trip on the French Alpine Society archives and photographed their expedition with a mix of old and new digital technology.
Josh says: “The film for the old cameras we took with us is still available but it’s pretty specialised. We used Kodak because that’s what they would have used. We did research to try to get as close to reality as possible.
“The film is a lot higher quality than digital images. People always associate digital cameras with super-high quality, but these are like 100 megapixel. The old lenses are amazing, they are so sharp.”
They passed through villages that seemed unchanged by the modern world and as well as scaling Jebel Toubkal they also photographed it for the second highest peak, encountering some extreme conditions in the process.
He adds: “We stripped ourselves away from mobile phones, we walked through old villages that had hardly changed at all in 300 years. It was just me and Greg and our guide who had grown up there. Nothing was digital, we were looking at the light and guessing the exposures. It was really nice, it felt quite good to get away from it all. The internet and stuff like that didn’t really exist out there. They just got electricity four years ago, which is mad. And some of them still didn’t have electricity.
“When we got up to the second peak [which gives the best view of Jebel Toubkal] we realised how dangerous it was. We’re experienced, we do a lot of extreme sports, walking and climbing and that, but suddenly we were up there and we were told about 100 people climb this peak every year, about six people die every year, so that’s about one in 20. It’s super-windy, the atmosphere is very thin, it’s hard to breathe.
“It’s fun though, I loved it, I want to go back.”
They asked their guide if there might be anyone who remembered the original mission, scarcely expecting to find that there was. Yet they were introduced to Hajj who was able to recall the 1923 journey of the three Europeans: “We were told Hajj was 111 years old and we said ‘no way’, his father was one of the first mountain guides, which just blew our minds.”
Now the duo plan to publish a book about their journey.
For more information on Josh’s adventure see www.joshexell.co.uk