Aidan Williams has taken his photography to new heights and is certainly not in Linden anymore.
In the last year alone, the 22-year-old adventure photographer – who snaps the world’s top slackliners on the highline and has been known to hang hundreds of metres in the air – has travelled to wild places chasing the light and battling the weather for that perfect shot.
“I’ve only had that moment a few times in my life where you kind of just know, you have the right shot,” he said, discussing his breakthrough moment in Greece late last year when one of his jawdropping pictures ended up on a National Geographic magazine cover in Germany.
“I was absolutely over the moon,” Williams, said. “Ever since I began to dream and think what was possible, National Geographic was always the pinnacle.”
Williams snap of the world record of Swiss born athlete Samuel Volery at Navagio ‘Shipwreck Beach’ in Zakynthos, Greece – when Volery walked a 570 metre line blindfolded and without falling in 45 minutes – was even sweeter because he was a last minute fill-in for the job when another photographer couldn’t make it. A few weeks later Williams captured the urban highline world record in Paris at the Eiffel Tower.
Some say the extreme sport walks a fine line between bravery and stupidity. It involves walking across a nylon slackline slung between two fixed and lofty points with the abyss below. But Williams feels safe photographing the world-class athletes, despite his own fear of heights.
“I was literally hop scotching [to events] around the world,” he told the Review of his whirlwind year in 2017.
Williams overseas sojourn started when he booked a one-way ticket to Paris deciding “to go spontaneously .. get out of my comfort zone … without really knowing what would come of it”.
He had met some world-class slackliners a year earlier in Australia with his idol, Queensland photographer and Mountain climber Krystle Wright, and thought it would be fun to use his burgeoning photographic skills to capture the incredible sport.
“I was thinking what is this mystery sport? I saw the potential.”
He spent several months researching it through social media before witnessing highlining in the Mountains and then committing to a trip overseas.
“I fell in love, I couldn’t get enough of this sport. Like photography, it became an obsession.”
Then he flew to Paris in August 2017.
“Nothing was too planned, all that was outlined was that I would make my way down to Chamonix to the glacial peaks of Les Cosmiques, France ... and then to Zurich working for a slackline company as an intern to learn about everything to do with the sport. I ended up doing the media and selling photos. And now I’m getting by, I’m supporting myself.”
His parents were keen supporters of his endeavours, although his mother did write in a letter to say if he went on the highline “don’t tell me about it”.
“They are very proud of me. They know how hard I’ve worked for it.”
Williams said he feels safe photographing the champion athletes, despite his own fear of heights.
“I knew I would learn most from going out of my comfort zone and overcoming my fear of heights. I am still terrified of heights, but looking through a lens really helps to filter what is in front of me.
“It’s one of the safest sports with the correct rigging and among experienced personnel has definitely helped to ease doubts. Being around such an amazing community really helps to push you out of your comfort zone.”
Williams had to acclimatise to a low oxygen environment like the strikingly beautiful Les Cosmiques, France where they were high in the sky and at the mercy of the elements waiting for a break in the weather.
“Some locations like Les Cosmiques take years of planning. It’s 3,800m above sea level, so it takes a lot of groundwork. That was a ﬁfteen-hour day.
“I was stoked to be there, being around like-minded people and getting to photograph a lot of the top athletes in the world motivates you beyond what you previously thought was possible.
“And I was lucky enough to photograph multiple world records and get a decent photograph at the end of it.
“You ride the whole experience, having a connection with the athlete on the line, following every step and every photograph [and] immediately having an emotional response to what you are photographing ... what is unfolding in front of your eyes. I am not embarrassed to admit, the love and passion I have for what I do; both with photography and with slacklining sends you through an emotional rollercoaster - I have been shooting and crying at the same time because you love what you are doing so much.”
The love of photography started early for Williams. He was given his first Kodak camera when he was seven years old.
“I had always been using disposable film cameras, but at the age of seven my parents gave me a Kodak point and shoot digital camera. They must have seen something at early age, even before I knew it for myself.”
“I was having fun exploring and discovering what could be achieved through the lens… which is still the advice I give myself to this day.”
And his love of the lens, continued at Korowal School as a teenager.
“I thrived in a creative environment, relating to people personally including teachers, where you always feel that you aren’t taken for granted.
“I don't think I would be in the position where I am without my art teachers; Anne Marshall and Andrew Ireland - especially Anne who taught photography and really pushed my enthusiasm and drive to learn the art of photography which carried me into further studies in the field [at TAFE].
"Photography is like your first day of pre-season, you are physically and mentally challenged and pushed to the limits. But when you finish the session or get a great photo, it makes the whole experience worthwhile."
Williams said while he has found it difficult photographing new things, he has become used to pushing himself to the limit.
“It’s why I challenged myself to this; both to learn as much as possible, but to also create a shot that has never been seen before.
“Every day honestly, I still don’t know how it happened but it feels like a dream. I really have to pinch myself.”
His next plan is a photo essay on the life of some Bangladeshi athletes to show life beyond the highline.
“I’d like to do something again with National Geographic. I loved sport growing up, I wanted to go to the Olympics and it’s kind of transformed into sports photography ... and now I’m interested in combining this with documentary photography, I really enjoy that, telling that story.”
Williams work will be featured in his first solo exhibition at Gallery ONE88 Fine Arts in Katoomba this month. He said it would explore the idea of mind over matter – just as he has overcome his fear of heights to follow his dreams, so the champion highliners have managed their own fears.
“The time I spent with these athletes confirmed to me that doubt, hesitation and fear can be extinguished through a mindset that reflects personal and physical success at all costs.”
The exhibition Chasing Lines opens on April 24 and runs until May 6 at the gallery at 186-188 Katoomba Street.