AUSTRALIA’S HIGHLINING RECORD –
BEHIND THE LENS
Adventure photographer Aidan Williams talks about what it was like to document the record-breaking project, and shares with us his favourite images from it.
Words & images: Aidan Williams
(This piece is an extension of an image featured in the gallery section of Wild #187, Autumn 2023)
In November 2022 in NSW’s Blue Mountains, a team of highliners pulled off an extraordinary feat: walking across a 1,290m span. It was Australia’s longest-ever highline, and Aidan Williams was there to document the momentous occasion. Aidan is an adventure photographer who, for a few years now, has become known for his ability to capture breathtaking imagery of highliners around the planet, and Wild Magazine has featured many of his images.
Having traveled to more than 43 countries over the past five years, Aidan has documented a handful of lines reaching distances over 1,000m, but this was a first for Australia. (In fact, no one had ever highlined for 1km+ in Oz.) The three-day project witnessed two clean sends of the line, and five crossings. We asked him to choose a selection of his favourite images from the weekend, and to explain what made them his faves. But first, we asked him to give us a little insight into why he decided to specialise in this—what some might call ‘niche’—sport, and what the process and organisation looks like when documenting a highlining record like this.
What is it about highlining that drew you to documenting it?
For the first time in my career I was unsure about my path. I was at a stage in my career where I had hit a dead end, and everything I had dreamt of wasn’t what I originally thought it would be. I had my dream job focusing on press photography, but felt lost, uninspired, and burnt out. I sought freedom and adventure in the hope of finding some direction, and had thought to head to Tasmania – the most adventurous place I could think of. Once I was there, I heard from another photographer about a sport called ‘highlining’, which sparked my curiosity and naturally, all that was on my mind was wanting to find out what it was all about.
Proceeding to do everything in my power to find out what it was, I eventually came across an athlete close to home that took part in the sport. Weeks and weeks passed with me pestering him, and eventually he allowed me to come out and take some photographs. As the sun was setting, it felt almost poetic seeing him out on the line. He was one inch from flying, walking across a vast void on a one inch slackline rigged between two cliffs. It was love at first sight, almost as if this is what I was meant to photograph all along.
What’s the process and organisation involved with capturing highlining moments?
After many years of photographing various subjects and topics, including six highline world records around the globe, it allowed me to fine tune a process to adapt, prepare and execute. On such a large scale project such as the 1290m Australian record highline, you need to be incredibly organised and efficient. Preparation usually begins two months out from a project, but for this record attempt, conversations began a year in advance in an effort to plan and make it happen.
At first I analyse the location, using Google Maps and existing images of the area to get an overview of how the line will look surrounded by the valley. After getting my head around the scale of the project, I sketch roughly 10-20 image ideas out in a diary. I’ll ensure I have a list of the main highline athletes for the project alongside some previous images taken of them, noting their style and characteristics whilst on the line to help decide how and when will be best to capture each athlete. After a lot of planning, I aim to have five shots as my stock standard images, then five winners. Other essential details alongside each image I plan to take include the positioning on a map, the lens focal length I’ll need, and time of day that will make it possible. Extensive planning ensures you know what shots you’re aiming to capture and keep an eye out for.
Despite planning and mapping out specific images, there is still an element of patience in allowing moments to organically happen. There is balance between preserving the experience or record for the athlete and simply being there to get the shot as it is. You don’t want to be the person who distracts the athlete or makes them fall when they’re close to sending the line. It comes back to preparation, rehearsing, and visualising the shot over and over in your mind until it’s second nature, knowing exactly what you need to do and where to be so that when you see the moment happen, you are ready capture it.
At the end of any project, you want to look back on your work and know it does justice to the athlete, the location, the team, and the community .
Image description: Nathaniel Glavurdic approaching the anchor point after he’d successfully sent the 1290m highline to set a new Australian highline record.
This photo for me shows the complete raw emotion involved after the physical and mental toll required to achieve such an enormous feat. This was particularly special, because I know how hard Nathaniel has worked to get to this point. Having an opportunity to capture the moment was a privilege. It’s hard not to get emotional when shooting these moments, because you love what you’re doing so much and have such a deep connection with the athlete as well. You feel everything that they do on the line through the lens.
Image description: Chris Wallace, Adam Evens, Arthur Pera all pull a tagline across the valley which is attached to the webbing.
I love the composition in the this photo, moving across the frame and showing the action involved with bringing the line across.
Image description: Nathaniel Glavurdic reflects upon his walk on the line.
For me, capturing action shots showing raw emotion and candid behind the scenes moments are really special. They show the authentic human side of these amazing athletes.
Image description: Brady battling strong afternoon winds to cross the 1290m highline.
This photograph for me has such a strong impact because a normal highline is hard enough to walk on without falling, let alone with such strong winds present.
Image description: Gabriel Camolesi sent the 1290m highline and became the joint Australian record holder.
Midday sun for shooting is never ideal, but unfortunately with record attempts you don’t have a choice what time you’re shooting. I love this photo of Gabriel because of what it resembles – the fight to walk such a huge line. It’s also great that he finished it off with a humble salute.