Image: Captain Noel kinematographing the ascent of Mt. Everest from the Chang La [one of his Sherpa porters can be seen steadying the tripod]
The Society's new exhibition – Everest through the lens – marks the centenary of the first European expeditions to Mount Everest. Open to visitors until 20 January next year, the exhibition explores how the films of Captain John Noel helped create the popular image of Everest in the 1920s and reveals some of the lesser-known elements of the expeditions including the role of the Indigenous and regional labour forces who supported the teams.
The Society and the Alpine Club, London, were instrumental in the planning and execution of the first European-organised expeditions to Everest, having formed the Mount Everest Committee in 1919, which combined the geographical, cartographic and scientific interests of the Society with the mountaineering expertise and technical knowledge of the Alpine Club.
Following the success of the 1921 Reconnaissance Expedition, which gathered and shared vital geographical information, the Mount Everest Committee sought to further survey, map and photograph the landscape and document the people of the Himalayas. This led to the involvement of the photographer and filmmaker, Captain John Noel, who was aware of the commercial opportunities available to present the first film footage of the people and landscapes of the region – and the attempt to summit the mountain – to public audiences in the West.
At the heart of our new exhibition are the visually stunning films that Noel produced of the 1922 and 1924 expeditions. The exhibition goes behind the scenes of Climbing Mount Everest (1922) and The Epic of Everest (1924) to unpick the uncomfortable and complex social, racial and geopolitical dynamics that shaped the expeditions – from their beginning to enduring legacy.
The exhibition also includes a large number of photographs, film stills and manuscripts from the unique Mount Everest Collection and Noel Collection which are being exhibited for the first time. Other items never previously shown on public display include a vivid blue programme from the cinematic release of Climbing Mount Everest, a postcard sent from Everest Base Camp to promote The Epic of Everest, and a promotional banner poster that advertises the 1924 film as ‘a wonder film of adventure on the roof of the world’.
Everest through the lens, produced with global experience design agency, Event, is on display in the Society’s Pavilion until 20 January 2023. It is free and open Monday to Saturday, 10.00am to 5.30pm (it is closed over the Christmas period).
Climbing Mount Everest (1922) and the BFI National Archive restoration of The Epic of Everest (1924) can be watched on BFI Player which also hosts the Society’s archive film collection online.
The exhibition is accompanied by a season of events which draw upon and further develop the ideas explored in the exhibition.
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