Camera adventure

Photo Epic: Reframeing Adventure – 2021 by Dan Milner in pictures

It is estimated that there are now more photos taken in a single year than the collective total number of humans who have ever walked the earth. I don’t know about you, but I find that to be quite a mind-blowing thought.

Regardless of the ambitions or purpose of these photos, regardless of the depth or insignificance of the story they capture, whether taken in a disinterested documentary or in the depths of narcissism, where that they were taken, however, and why they all have one thing in common: that they were taken through a lens (pinhole camera obscura enthusiasts excused).

We professional photographers live our lives through a lens, literally. Our cameras pay the bills, but they also tick our creative boxes and give us an excuse to travel and document life as it unfolds around us, on and off the bike. We live what we film, and vice versa. But over the past two years, that goal has been distorted by… well, you know what. The old 1/1000th of a second predictability to dictate my own timeline and moves replaced with viral variants and Plan-Bs.

The lessons of this pandemic are hard learned for everyone. After spending the past 3 decades manipulating dials, apertures, and shutter speeds to the nth degree to finitely shape the story I want to tell, navigating the chaos of the pandemic as a photographer has brought me up to ‘now relearned patience and trust in what comes.

But despite the chaos and insecurity of suspended travel and canceled filming, I still consider myself lucky: I am healthy and can still ride my bike and take pictures, even though my work schedule is characterized by the deluge and drought – the new normal in so many aspects of our lives.

So here are some of the visual chapter markers of my year as a mountain bike photographer: just another handful of some 1.2 trillion photos taken in 2021.

(Note: As with much of my work, many images I take over the course of a year are meant to be revealed months later by the brands or media commissioning the shoot or story; stay tuned listening for revelations in 2022)

Chamonix, January 2021

With a mix of passionate locals, loyal powder junkies, excited seasonals and giddy tourists, ski resorts represent one of the most surreal demographics at the best of times; but close their ski lifts for an entire winter season and they adopt an even more unique dynamic: one painted in a thousand shades of frustration. France has closed its ski resorts for the entire 2021 winter season, and while people bustled about with regained time and donned ski and splitboard gear in search of sanity, I instead focused on my bike, challenging myself to try to ride snowy descents all winter long, and all without a fat-bike.

I chose descents accessible via warm, sunny, south-facing road climbs to complete my challenge, and alone or with my friend Jez Wilson, I rode every week except two when conditions made the trails lousy. fatbike prerogative, with the impossible combination of being too deep and too heavy for my 2.5 inch tires.

Finale Ligure, Italy, February 2021

I’ve been shooting in Finale for over 13 years, and for such a seductive place to drive, it always strikes me how difficult it is to film it – at least if you want to capture the context and that seductively dreamy coastal feel, rather than close-ups of intense EWS-style tracks hemmed in by tight brush; that’s why this hilly section of the ‘women’s DH’ is so well documented by almost every photographer, myself included.

Filming for the local guiding team MTBguideXP meant being treated to trails I had never walked before, despite having spent weeks in Finale over the years. Francesco’s treats included a trail winding through a beautifully gnarled cork oak forest – a creative goldmine for a tree-loving photographer like me.

Gorges du Tarn, France, May 2021

They say “necessity is the mother of invention” and the same goes for adventure travel photographers whose traveling wings have been clipped. With travel reduced, I headed closer to home for the kind of biking adventure that’s normally associated with the remote wilderness of Mongolia or the Yukon: packrafting.

Joined by the two Julbo/Mavic riders Jérôme Clementz and Fred Horny, we descended the stunningly beautiful Gorges du Tarn in south-central France for three days, paddling each morning and landing to hit the trails along the way. along the gorges every afternoon. This simple venture, played on ‘home soil’ without the hassle of long term expeditions, has proven to be one of the most entertaining and rewarding adventures we have ever done.

Chamonix, June 2021

Think global, act local: it’s a slogan that can easily be applied to find a slice of adventure, and one we applied when Shimano came to town to shoot a movie about me and my perverted will to carry bikes on the pretext of adventure. But even with my own bed a few miles away, it felt appropriate to at least have a slumber party under the stars, our bivouac sacks spread out in front of Europe’s biggest widescreen. The Shimano episode will be released this spring.

Dolomites, Italy, July 2021

The pandemic has manifested itself in multiple ways, but the one thing we all share is an absence of socialization, before, during or after the ride. Sharing laughs on the track and stories afterwards is part of our amazing sport – usually. In July border crossing restrictions were finally eased to allow several of us to spend a week together in the thorny Italian Dolomites. The mini-rally took place under the guise of a Pro bike gear test session and a photo and video shoot, taking place on some of the toughest trails you could imagine – but we all knew that it was just about “bringing the band together” and rekindling friendships, and for that we were grateful.

Engelberg, Switzerland, August 2021

Initially organized in 2019, a small project to explore the curious agricultural lifts around the Swiss town of Engelberg finally came to fruition in 2021. After 18 months of waiting, followed by a three-hour train ride, our patience was rewarded; five days spent mixing loops in the valley with overnight mini-adventures that reach far into the afterlife, all on incredible trails. Keep an eye out for the full story this spring in the magazines.

Pila, Italy, September 2021

I’ve been shooting for Endura clothing for over a decade, documenting the green hues of Scotland to the dusty trails of Mallorca, but with some moves hard to predict in 2021 I’ve chosen to keep filming local and I headed for Pila, Italy, an hour from my base in the Alps. Of course, the bluebird days leading up to filming faded as we arrived, with clouds billowing over the mountainsides and choking our trails in mist (and repeat for road filming a few days later) – but it’s a familiar challenge at least, unlike the uncertainty of the pandemic. Patience, bants, lots of espressos and opportunistic dramatic silhouettes tied us down until the holy light finally, and happily, returned to do justice to the spring-summer catalog.

Rwanda, Africa, September 2021

Legacies can be hard to shake, especially in a place few people visit to help change their perspective. The small central African country of Rwanda has a troubled history culminating in the 1994 genocide, but the country is a different place today. It still has political problems, but being safe and welcoming, Rwanda’s stability has seen the return of tourism, mainly to indulge in wildlife safaris; by contrast, mountain bike tourism is still a nascent operation, which puts this type of place firmly on my map to explore: I’ve hopped on the only flights I’ve taken in over 22 months.

Accompanied by Mitas riders Ludo May and Fed Horny, and aided by local MTB guide Tyisenge and Bhutanese ex-pat guide Pelden (that’s a long story), we spent 9 days exploring Rwanda’s incredible singletrack, but also to enjoy some of the most enthusiastic welcome we have ever had on a bike. Full article in magazines from March.

Thanks to Yeti Cycles, Shimano, Fox, Mavic, Maxxis, WTB, Crank Brothers, DMR, Giro, Alpkit, Lumix UK and F-stop packs for their continued support in getting me rolling – and shooting – out there.