Saturday, 2 January 2016

How History is Made

Every year the world's greatest climbers and mountaineers push the boundaries of what can be achieved further and further. There are no cheering fans or stadiums in which these adventurers demonstrate their craft. They toil alone, on the wall, far from the world's gaze.

Over the years, the way in which these feats have been recorded has gone from letters and journals to today's brand sponsored video and GoPro enthusiasts. As with many developments driven by technology and commerce it has resulted in a change of tone and perspective on what is being captured and recorded. A change that can't be attributed to the passing of time alone.

It is said that 'History is written by the victors'. However, as Hollywood has demonstrated with its portrayal of historic events, such as World War 2, history is also written by those that choose to present a version of events rather than simply those that document what has happened.

That's why I started the BoxMonkey project. Box- like TV, Monkey- like climbing. I was concerned that climbing and mountaineering was experiencing its own Hollywood moment. The money being invested portrayed American- or specifically- Californian climbing culture and the ascents of note were narrowed by the climbers photogenic enough to be sponsored by the bigger brands. That's not to say British names, British climbing culture and British filmmaking doesn't often stand shoulder-to-shoulder with these films.

Of course it does; but does the world hear that British voice and can we be complacent? Our climbing heritage is rich and varies from the old mining communities of North Wales to the working men of Sheffield who first ventured out onto Gritstone. Times change, of course, but as times change people, or shall we say the majority, can become completely detached from the roots. BoxMonkey is meant to provide these roots in an accessible and modern form.

There is also another consequence of globalisation and commerce that this project attempts to counterbalance. I was speaking to a leading climber in the GB team recently. They told me that a number of the brand sponsors had had a 'clear out' of the climbers and mountaineers that they sponsored. Being a first class athlete or visionary adventurer wasn't enough. You had to demonstrate mastery of online services like Twitter and Instagram. Climbers with big online followings were considered valuable and those that had failed to cultivate this persona were considered expendable or without value. A meritocracy, yes, but a meritocracy based upon criteria that prioritises marketability over achievement.

Ironically, it is this marketability that creates value and that value is passed onto the climber and enables them to go on trips and make history. Adventurers have, of course, always needed money or support from somewhere; but the motivation for this support has changed. In the UK,on TV, we have an institution that counterbalances these market forces. It's called the BBC. I'd like to think that the BoxMonkey project acts in the same capacity in a similar scenario. Indeed, the British Mountaineering Council recognised as much when they recently featured the project......BMC/Get on the Box Monkey
In closing, I want share one of my recent and favourite short films. It's one that readers of this blogazine might particularly enjoy. Its a film by James Robinson and George Sewell and retraces the steps of an account from Fell and Rock Journal first published in 1916. It's believed this may be the fist 'bouldering guide' ever written. The video - which is shot in a black and white silent movie style - is interspersed with statements from the 1916 article. We watch as a group of modern day climbers dressed in tweed and leather boots attempt the routes featured in them article. It's a whimsical account of what climbing trips were like almost 100 years ago. What makes it all the more special, is the way in which it uses modern form to bring the past to life. You can find the film at or on Vimeo directly from James Robinson and George Sewell.

You can find and contribute at BoxMonkey
Alex Street:2016