Climber Chris Jelley has worked in professional photography for the past two decades. His personal projects focus on documenting unique cultural scenes. For his latest series, he decided to document the world of professional climbing.
The individuals that compete on the bouldering competition circuit are some of the strongest athletes in any sport. They put their bodies through intense training and conditioning routines. With this in mind, I decided to set about producing a photography project focused on a professional climber. I made contact with Matt Cousins, the current British bouldering champion. He introduced me to his training partner Alexander Lemel. He is very much under the radar in the climbing world. Ten years ago Alexander found climbing and gave up a nine-to-five career, walked into Mile End climbing wall and asked for a job, where he worked his way up to being the head route setter.
Two years ago Matt started training with Alexander in the boardroom at Mile End Climbing Wall, their private sanctuary. Matt says, “Without Alex I would not of achieved what I have so far. When we first met I could hardly do any of the warm up routines Alex set on the training board”. People are intrigued as to the secret behind Matt’s current success. However, if you asked either of them they would tell you: There is no secret. It's just that they share the same philosophy, which is simply to train hard.
Initially I thought I would focus on Matt, as he is a recognizable figure on the UK bouldering competition circuit. But as the project developed, the direction shifted to become about both; the man behind the man (so to speak) and the importance of a training partner who is on the same wavelength and pushes you further.
Two of the most unassuming guys have welcomed me into their world for this ongoing project. They train for the love of training at least five sessions a week, as well as working as route setters across various climbing gyms. They climb not for the recognition or fame it may bring but because it is who they are. They have found their passion. This story is of dedication, obsession, drive and what it means to be psyched.
Matt Cousins is sponsored by Scarpa and The Arch Climbing Wall. Alexander Lemel is Head Route Setter at Mile End Climbing Wall London. Images shot at both The Arch and Mile End Climbing Walls London.
London based climber and photographer