Simon Riddell, an artist and first responder from the Isle of Skye in Scotland, has faced the harsh elements of the Cuillin Mountain range to complete his documentary Peak Perseverance. Using the volatile wet plate collodion technique to capture images of the stunning landscape, he is also documenting his journey through PTSD and aims to raise more awareness about the mental health condition through his work.
“The film aims to inspire people to get out of their comfort zones, to not be afraid of making mistakes, but to learn from them, and grow into better versions of themselves.” – Simon Riddell
Battling PTSD after responding to his father’s fatal heart failure in 2016, Simon experienced acute anxiety, depression, and flashbacks for years afterward. It wasn’t until Covid that he was diagnosed with PTSD and shortly afterwards he discovered the photographic process called wet plate collodion. Simon says in the documentary that wet plate collodion helped him completely focus on the present moment as it is an immersive, hands-on, volatile, and time-sensitive technique of creating photographs that uses potentially explosive chemicals.
In the beginning, it often took about 8 hours to create a single image. Mastering the technique, he began a project focusing on mental health called Mental Collodion. You can see more press coverage of this project here.
Simon says about using wet plate to capture his emotions and states of mind:
“To be able to capture these feelings and moments of despair on a piece of glass is difficult enough, but well worth the effort to hold in your hands a marker, so to speak, of where you were and to then realise that you made it through, that those feelings were, in fact, temporary and that essentially there’s always hope, is an incredibly powerful thing” – Simon Riddell
Despite the forced isolation of Covid regulations, Simon found ways to collaborate with others to make their portraits via video chats.
“I had to find a way of connecting people in that time of complete isolation and being able to blend a Victorian process with a digital means of communication felt very satisfying, as those plates we made together will always be around and will never fade” – Simon Riddell
After finding a series he made of wet plate collodion portraits of his Lifeboat crew team members in 2022 (commissioned by Creative Scotland and part of his Spirit of the Highlands project), the BBC featured his story in a recent documentary on The Culture Scene which can be viewed on iPlayer or Youtube, respective links here and here. The documentary follows Simon’s journey through PTSD and his use of art such as the wet plate collodion process as therapy.
Peak Perseverance Documentary
Peak Perseverance focuses on Simon’s journey through PTSD to recovery, including recent EMDR therapy but also moving from his Mental Collodion project to his mountaineering adventures in the Cuillin Mountain range in winter.
I asked Simon how he got into mountaineering:
“I’ve been exploring the outdoors for as long as I remember, really. I got into climbing and mountaineering in my 20s and then started working as a steeplejack for a few years. I used to rock climb all over the Highlands each weekend.” – Simon Riddell
He tells me that the documentary is wrapping up with the aim to finish filming by the end of this coming winter season.
“I’ve been shooting solo, which has been really arduous, but I’ve managed to get some great footage, and the drone content is epic.” – Simon Riddell
Simon’s adventures in the Cuillin have also included an expedition with David ‘Heavy’ Whalley to a place where Heavy led a rescue effort in 1982 for an American Fighter jet that had crashed. After making a plate photograph of Whalley, the two first responders then paid their respects to the crash victims and their families. It was December 2022 and temperatures had plunged below zero.
The next May (2023), Simon returned for a 2-day expedition to the same place, this time, there was no snow and temps were sweltering. Carrying a 35kg pack, he created wet plates of “Loch Coruisk, the Cuillin ridge, the ‘Mad Burn’ and Scavaig river.” One of the images he made features Captain Maryon’s monument at Sgùrr na Strì, a monument made by one of Maryon’s close friends. Captain Maryon’s remains were found here, but he went missing from a Sligachan Hotel in 1946 so it’s a mystery what happened to him. In Simon’s plate, oddly enough, quite a few people have mentioned they can see the outlines of two skulls.
“I can’t help but wonder what happened to the Captain, but there is no doubt that the incredibly remote view epitomises Scottish beauty.” – Simon Riddell
There is a GoFundMe for Simon’s documentary, Peak Perseverance, which is linked here if you would like to support the making of the film!
Recently, Simon has also returned to his first responder service in the Coastguard. Find more about him and his work at his website linked here.
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