Recently, I had the chance to spend the better part of a day observing Fontainebleau legend Jacky Godoffe setting some problems for a local comp. I set out to shoot a series of photos capturing the spirit of this Bleausard specifically, and that of a typical setting session in general.
Long story short: Jacky Godoffe has lived in the iconic French forest of Fontainebleau for pretty much all of his life and was the first to climb the first Font 8a (V11) problem in the forest C’etait Demain. Although he’s still surprisingly strong, Jacky nowadays focuses on setting boulder problems, both in local comps around the world, for the French team to use in their training sessions, and at a world class level at IFSC World Cups. Jacky recently published a book on route setting, My Keys To Route Setting.
I’d met Jacky before at the European Championship of bouldering in Eindhoven in 2013. At this event, Percy Bishto—another icon of route setting and climbing—was chief setter, with Jacky and a crew of strong Dutch locals complementing the line up. I’d actually shot a similar series of images there, but was curious to see whether my skills as a photographer had developed. My goal for this series was to capture some moments that were illustrative of both a typical route setting session and of Jacky’s character.
The occasion for this setting session was the gym’s five year anniversary weekend. The gym is aptly called Delfts Bleau, referring to Delfts Blauw, a ceramic style typical of the Dutch city of Delft, and of course Fontainebleau. The gym was hosting their bi-monthly local comp DB9, with Jacky joining the team of setters for the occasion. This team consisted of a couple of strong local climbers, which included two climbers I’d like to mention specifically. First is Bart van Raaij, somewhat of a Dutch icon in his own right. Bart has spent years of his life meticulously mapping out every single boulder problem in Fontainebleau, publishing his maps and lists in very tightly designed guidebooks that are popular throughout Europe (look for 5+6 and 7+8). Second is Michiel Nieuwenhuijsen, quite probably the strongest climber for the discipline of bouldering in the Netherlands, with Jorg Verhoeven of course being our all round number one climber. Michiel topped his first 8c problem The Big Island in Fontainebleau a while ago, joining a roster of respectable names to have accomplished the same feat.
What’s great about this particular gym is that it has huge sky windows that let in some beautiful soft and rather directional light. You can see in these photos that there are hardly any harsh shadows present, while in some shots the subject is treated to a bit of a spotlight, with the background being slightly underexposed. I love the drama this light adds to a scene like this, and am always looking to use the light in the environment to help tell the story.
The one thing that continues to amaze me about Jacky is the level of energy and enthusiasm he manages to showcase. At 60 years old, he is still in super high spirits and can be childishly happy about the smallest things. I’m yet to see him not be in a good mood, and would be sincerely happy to still be in such good spirits when I turn 60 myself.
My approach to the photographic side of this day was to be a bit of a fly on the wall, but at the same time try and interact with the setters just enough for them to fully accept my presence. Not engaging with subjects at all can make for a bit of an awkward experience for both parties, while I’d not even consider directing the action for a series like this. In the end I’m really just looking to make a sincere connection with the people I’m photographing, with the camera just being a part of the experience. Just a tool.
For more on Jacky, his mindset and career our interview with him here.
Photographer based in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, focused on capturing athletes’ lifestyles for brands.