Framing the Deep

When someone mentions caves, what do you think of? If you only think of a huge hole in the ground, then, you’re dead wrong. There’s so much more to caves. For a cave, it can take millions of years to form - each holding special qualities that make them unique. In our documentary “Framing the Deep,” we share with you some of what we have learnt in our journey into a chamber of secrets located in the Islamic Republic of Iran, “Nakhjeer Cave”. This cave has hidden itself from mankind until about 25 years ago. It is believed to be about 70 million years old and has been formed as a result of tectonic factors and chemical reactions. It is said that there is a pool of water at the end of this 8000-m-long cave with large holes along sides. During the film, we interview a group of professional French cave photographers who were holding a photography class for Iranian cavers at the time of shooting the film. It was quite interesting to look at the cave through their lenses and from their perspectives.

TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00

Narration: When someone mentions caves, what do you think of? If you only think of a huge hole in the ground, then, you’re dead wrong. There’s so much more to caves. For a cave, it can take millions of years to form. Each holding special qualities that make them unique. This is not to review all the qualities of these “tellers-of-time” here. We plan, however, to share with you some of what we have learnt in our journey into a “chamber of secrets’ located in The Islamic Republic of Iran.

SOUNDBITE [English] Host of Program: “We’re on our way to visit one of those caves. This cave has been chosen because it is easily accessible only a hundred meters away from the parking lot. Moreover, we’ve heard that a group of professional French cave photographers are holding a photography class for Iranian cavers. So, we thought that that would be a good idea if we looked at the cave through their lenses and from their perspectives.

Almost three hours drive toward the south from the capital Tehran, and not far from the city of Delijan, the hills ahead of us are home to cave Nakhjeer. A cave which has hidden itself from mankind until about 25 years ago.”

Narration: When we got to the cave location, we were surprised to see so many people gathering at the site, in full gear, male and female cavers from different ages and nationalities. It seemed like watching a group of astronauts preparing to get aboard a spacecraft. I just couldn’t wait to get in and see what the cave had to offer.

Once we entered the cave, we could hear the loud noise of the group, who had gathered on the steps leading to the main corridor of the cave … some were greeting, while some were giving health and safety advices to the less experienced ones, for, obviously, some of these people were more photographers than cavers.

It didn’t take long before I met Mahmood Raoufi, a veteran climber and caver. We managed to slow him down from the rest of the team. He was among those who first entered the cave.

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Mahmoud Raoufi, Secretary of Arak Mountaineers Club: “As you walk through different parts of the cave, you can see a variety of cave formations. Every corridor has a different cave formation. The diversity of stalactites and stalagmites of the cave is such that one can hardly describe its beauty.”

Narration: This cave, which is believed to be about 70 million years old, has been formed as a result of tectonic factors and chemical reactions. It is said that there is a pool of water at the end of this 8000-m-long cave with large holes along sides.

TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Mahmoud Raoufi, Secretary of Arak Mountaineers Club: “The area outside the mouth of the cave used to be a hunting area or “Nakhjeer” in Persian, and this is why the cave's called “Nakhjeer”.

Although there is water in some parts of the cave, it's not regarded as a water cave; it's a land cave.

When the cave was found in 1989, the mouth of the cave was so narrow that the person who first discovered it could only advance a short distance into the cave with great difficulty.”

Narration: The height of the cave in some places reaches well over 20 meters, its deep valleys and its numerous paths, generates in you a surge of childlike excitement which could make the place dangerous.

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Mahmoud Raoufi, Secretary of Arak Mountaineers Club: “This is one of the side corridors, which is now blocked for the public. A person might be able to advance in these corridors for 40, 50 minutes or even one hour but then reaches narrow paths which make it impossible to take a step forward. It is the time when they find themselves in a dark place where they can hardly see the surrounding area, especially when they are a bit worried about their headlamp or flashlight batteries... the stress is intensified.

It is a weird feeling. For example, as I have led many teams into the cave, I remember cases where some cavers, who had been in this cave for the first time, saying that, “We are lost and this is not the path we came from,” and so on.”

Narration: You could tell he was nervous about having left his team on their own devices. We had to split up, so he could speed up to catch up with the team, that he guessed to be at least half a mile ahead of us. This gave me a chance to feel what he meant when he talked about stress, darkness, silence, long narrow corridors, and the fear of getting lost deep down in the earth.

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Host of Program: “I thought he was behind us!”

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Caver: “No we were chatting away, but he suddenly rushed ahead! I said, “Vahid wait for me to go together!” but he went on going. I thought he was following this cable.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Host of Program: “Was he using that cable as a guide?”

Narration: I forgot to add the word, panic. … I could not believe we had lost one of our camera men in one of those dark corridors…

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Caver: “He's a different Vahid.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Host of Program: “He went to find him. He's not inexperienced, don't worry.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Caver: “Did you find him Mr. Raoufi?”

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Mahmoud Raoufi, Secretary of Arak Mountaineers Club: “No, nobody is here.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Caver: “So maybe I was wrong...”

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Host of Program: “I also think Vahid is behind us. I wonder why you think he went ahead!”

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Caver: “He was right in front of me, we were talking on the way.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Host of Program: “So where is he now?”

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Caver: “He's gone either this way or that way. I think he's gone that way.”

Narration: Luckily, It didn’t take long before we could see the light at the end of the tunnel. A number of the cavers had come to the rescue, and found him stranded in one of the blind corridors. … We were then escorted until we joined the rest of the team, where the photography course was already in full swing.

SOUNDBITE [English] Philippe Crochet, Photographer: “Its better, your gain number, is for example, 100, 4 aperture, divided by five meter its 20, so now don't look as matrix, the gain number of your flash is 20.Ok?”

Narration: The darkness and the shadows here, remind me of a photo studio where photographers are in full control of the light, the difference being that, you should constantly watch your heads and feet against laser blade crystal edges and deep holes.

TIME CODE: 10:00_15:00

SOUNDBITE [English] Philippe Crochet, Photographer: “The gain number is 20, four meters between you and the subject, 20 divided by 4 is 5, and five is the aperture you have to put. Yes, and you can do the photo with direct flash. If you want you can use old flash with that. You had the trigger with that?”

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Woman, Caver: “I had”

Narration: Behind the head lights what makes this group of French instructors and their work stand out, and has brought international fame, is the fact that, they are not only strong cavers but also competent photographers

SOUNDBITE [English] Philippe Crochet, Photographer: “So, after the theory this morning, now we practice in the cave, it’s a very important moment because we have to, for some people it’s the first time they use this method, it’s hard for people, and there are very good results, I'm very surprised because people learnt very quickly the role of the histogram, and I'm happy tonight because at least half of people have very good results with back light for example, so it’s a very good beginning and we follow after with other new rules to apply.

The main point of today was to see the main difference with the position of the flashes, we began with direct flash which is very flat but it was important people consider by themselves that it’s not good, after we put the flash on the side with the better results and at the end we put backlight which is a more interesting light, so people as understand they have not to use direct flash and they have to put the flash on the side or backlight.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Host of Program: “Here we are in this amazing cave, with some spectacular phenomena, on a training course on photography on cave photography, today morning there has been a training session in the hotel and in the afternoon all the team moved in to the cave so they can put in practice what they have learnt in theory.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Annie Guiraud, Photographer: “I think that, this level was under water.”

Narration: Ann is one of the French instructors of the team who’s been to many caves across the world. I had a chance to take a short walk with her during her break time, I asked her what she finds unique about the cave.

SOUNDBITE [English] Annie Guiraud, Photographer: “Every cave is actually unique, it’s difficult to compare caves, so this one is very particularly interesting because of the crystals and so many crystals for such a long distance, and we don't see that very often in many caves around the world, some other caves would be particular, specific for their features, their shapes, their river, their rocks, whatever, but this one is definitely the crystals.”

TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00

SOUNDBITE [English] Annie Guiraud, Photographer: “For me it’s a place in nature, where I feel at ease, at home, almost at home. There is some peaceful atmosphere the silence, the completer darkness, it’s another world, different from the outside world, and we feel sort of protected in a cave”

SOUNDBITE [English] Host of Program: “In a cave like this, at first you’re captured by the whole hugeness of the cavity but later on, you find yourself totally absorbed and mesmerized by the beauty of the details, simply amazing.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Vahid Masdari, Iran Mountaineering & climbing Federation: “The formation of caves begins with a crack or fault on the surface of the earth due to earthquakes. Then talks to the earth’s gravity, rainwater flows into those cracks and follows its path downward. Acid water, i.e. the water which has been subject to CO2, dissolves limestone. Almost 98% of the world's caves are the result of dissolution. This cave, like other caves, has been created by surface water flowing into a crack or fault which has been already dissolved and gradually widened over time. Water has the feature that when it stops flowing, it deposits its minerals. The same limestone which was dissolved in the water, now deposits as sediment due to water evaporation. Cave formations are the result of limestone deposits. They are of different categories such as calcite, and aragonite; and there are more than sixty categories in the world which result from mineral deposits.

But, in places where water is flowing or dropping and where water volume increases, cave formations are formed vertically like stalactites on the ceiling, or stalagmites which are formed in a conical shape after water drops on the floor; we also have curtain cave formations. But cauliflower-shaped crystals are formed mostly due to the moisture on walls which gradually combines with air, and leaves a sediment. That is why some of them even develop upward, a direction against gravity. Their growth process is very long, much more than that of a stalactite. A stalactite may grow, in a very humid cave, one centimeter every one hundred years, but the cauliflower formations may hardly grow one centimeter in every 1000 years.”

Narration: Photography by its nature takes you to places. This can be much more difficult to achieve in total darkness. Cave photographers have always tried to take viewers deeper into the unseen world; some, however, have gone way beyond.

SOUNDBITE [English] Michel Renda, Photographer: Why 3d? Because some people cannot go into cave, and for people it’s very interesting to enter a cave with a 3d picture, because with a 3d picture they see the cave in a window, you can enter in this window and you are in cave.”

Narration: Mitchell is an internationally recognized specialist in taking 3d photos in caves across the globe, his desire to add a third dimension to otherwise flat photos and his passion to pick the strange world to the public has taken him to castaway places with invaluable discoveries.

SOUNDBITE [English] Michel Renda, Photographer: “I have three good memory of three caves of the world, first cave is Lechuguilla cave in the new Mexico, us, it’s the biggest one of the world and beautiful beautiful cave, for me it was a dream to take a picture in this cave.”

TIME CODE: 20:00_23:01

SOUNDBITE [English] Michel Renda, Photographer: “The second cave is Chauvet Cave, it’s in south of France, with the oldest man paint of the world, its 36 thousand years ago and for me it’s fantastic to shoot in this cave and the third cave I found this cave with my group, in France with a blue formation, this cave is unique of the world and I remember I was crying in front of the formation.”

Narration: It’s cost Mother Nature almost 70 million years to create this masterpiece, and with this great treasure come great responsibilities. While Most of us tend to associate adventure with activities like exploring the outer space or deep cold oceans. This journey has tried to open a new window to one of the darkest corners of the planet where the nature had little or no opportunity to show off its works of magic. 

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