Chasing Ice: The 45 Years Photographs

In late 2016, I was commissioned by the Criterion Collection to photograph the cover and interiors for the edition of Andrew Haigh’s masterful 45 Years. I’m a photographer and artist based in the UK, and I had first worked with Criterion last April, when I was asked to design and make the collages for the Dekalog box set. I was eager to work with them again after that, and when art director Eric Skillman contacted me about this film, I couldn’t say no. He brought up the idea of using the mountains referenced in the film as the basis for the artwork and outlined the potential locations where we could stage the shoot. Due to its accessibility at the time of year we wanted to shoot, we chose Switzerland—specifically Grindelwald, at the foot of Jungfraujoch—as the place to photograph glacial crevasses like the one that the doomed first love of Geoff Mercer (Tom Courtenay) might have fallen into.

Even before the project began, I was excited. I’d never been to Switzerland, and as a former skier and current hiking enthusiast, I couldn’t have asked for a more interesting or rewarding commission. I was directed to depict something that is referenced but never shown in the film, and to make this (figuratively and literally) cold image resonate conceptually with the story. When I received the brief, I had assumed these crevasses would be rockier, more hikeable, and less otherworldly than what I found. Of course, I had mistaken a crevasse for a crevice—some hiking enthusiast! I embarked on the trip comically ill prepared, wearing jeans and a sweater, completely unaware of what was to come.

I had seen 45 Years when it was in theaters and really enjoyed it, but watching it a few more times in preparation for the shoot gave me a new appreciation for the subtlety and sadness in both Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling’s performances as an aging married couple, and for how the film’s tonality and pacing contribute to the sense of quiet devastation that propels the story. It was no easy task to convey the spirit of the film in a single photograph of snow and ice, and the assignment proved to be one of the most challenging commissions of my career. My work has always concerned itself with the emotional and social resonance of landscape, but it was difficult to react to something that was so charged and visceral yet also so reserved. Nevertheless, once I arrived at the top of the mountain, I was exhilarated by the day’s potential and the images that I ended up capturing. Short of breath due to the altitude, harnessed to my guide Patrick, and rappelling down into crevasses while taking pictures, I was blown away that I had been asked to do this.

I shot several rolls of film, not just of the mountain and crevasses but of the entire landscape I was surrounded by. I was stunned by the Alps and the town’s proximity to them, and when I came down from the peaks, despite how tired I was, I spent the remainder of the day photographing them, the town, and anything else I found that caught my eye. There is a sense of stasis in a mountain town, and a sense of the ethereal in the mountain itself. I wanted to connect that feeling with the sense of inertia and fragility that permeates the world of the film. I couldn’t be happier to share what I saw up there, and to have collaborated with the Criterion Collection on something that I can only hope does justice to the film that inspired it.

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