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The Crystal Cave

January 21, 2010

This week a new series began on BBC2 about the world beneath us – How the Earth Made Us – and it took the breath away. Because of this.


(Picture from National Geographic, via The Iron Ammonite)

Every time I settle down with one of these new BBC series, such as the recent Earth, or David Attenborough’s last Life series, I wonder how they will manage it yet again? I’ll always watch but how will they make me catch my breath yet again, making me want to watch and rewatch on iPlayer and then buy the DVD? But they do. And this week it was because of the Crystal Cave, which had so high a visual impact it even featured on the news with only a hint of it feeling like a pat on the back for the BBC.

The power of the visual image – this cave is as hot as any filmmaker can handle. But only for 20 minutes at a time, and then with ice strapped to the torso. Yet, looking at these crystals and the human beings walking around them and along them, like miniature spacemen in their lifesuits, it looks as cold as ice. That’s because the wonder of this Mexican cave challenges all our preconceptions. Most of us have been in caves but they’re nothing like this one.

David Attenborough is possibly the biggest single influence in my life, besides my father, with whom I would go, as a child, beetle and insect collecting on long rambles through the Peaks. That was followed by ambitious trips around sub-Saharan Africa, watching cats’ eyes from boats and tents, or competing with elephants for the last of the shower water at remote campsites. David Attenborough doesn’t present this latest series but these days he doesn’t even have to (although I love him to) because his influence is everywhere. And the influence on me continues, now I want to photograph the world around me. I saw David Attenborough a couple of months ago at a book signing – the line of autograph seekers went down three flights of stairs. So I’m clearly not the only one.

In this blogging world, we can go behind the scenes more and more and learn about the experiences of those behind the camera. Crystal Cave contributor Paul Williams has a fascinating website – it’s not easy to leave after you start your exploration. David Attenborough is currently a long way away, filming at the bottom of the world in Antarctica, and yet now we can follow the expedition.

I can’t wait to see what we get from the next How the Earth Made Us. And the next time I watch one of the BBC’s big natural history programmes I will be amazed but I won’t let that surprise me.

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