Climbing Eden Park

September 29, 2011

By Bogdan Cristel

After 40 hours of flying Bucharest – Amsterdam – Beijing – Auckland, I arrived in New Zealand; my first time in the Southern Hemisphere.

The first nice surprise here was that both my check-in pieces of luggage arrived on the same flight (I expected it to take a week and to be on the safe side packed a toothbrush in my hand luggage).

After a day of adjustment, with serious jet-leg (New Zealand is 9 hours ahead of Romania), slowly the Rugby World Cup started for me.

The first big assignment was the RWC opening ceremony and the first match. Reuters had three photographers covering it – Jacky Naegelen, Nigel Marple and me. When Tim Wimborne, our photo editor, asked if I wanted to be in an elevated position for the opening ceremony, I said yes without any thought. I had no idea what it meant.

Organizers held a dress rehearsal two days before the opening ceremony giving photographers a chance to check shooting angles and identify highlights. For me it was different – I was one of four photographers shooting from the stadium roof.

We were all equipped with harnesses and safety cables to attach working gear. All our equipment, about 20kg (44 pounds), was carried to the roof in a box, secured with rope, to our shooting position lest it fall on any spectator below.

A 20-minute walk up multiple stairs and I was already sweating carrying the equipment box to the location reserved for us. I was just above the official tribune of Eden Park, exactly where the opening ceremony’s projected lighting was located, with only the sky above.

We had earplugs and safety glasses as just 10 meters (yards) behind us was a fireworks launch site. It was pretty cold and very windy but I couldn’t complain. I was rugged up for the occasion but standing on the edge of the roof, a few feet from us, were Maori performers and they were nearly naked.

Everything went well in rehearsal.

We reached the stadium 7 hours before the start. Two hours before the opening ceremony I prepared all my gear, filled the big black box with more equipment this time and was ready to conquer the peak. Another 20 minutes, sweating again, I put my gear box down and almost fell over it. I was right on top of Eden Park. I didn’t have a Reuters flag with me, but the pictures I shot prove that I was there.

Everything seemed to be okay, but I double checked anyway. It’s a difficult location to work and I kept pressing the shutter button on one of my cameras (hanging around my neck) and I saw everything was black and white, like 100 years ago. I quickly recovered my camera’s settings and started to work on the ceremony. Ufff – I was about to shoot all the ceremony in monochrome – what an artist!

It was very easy to work hard there. Sitting on my knees and being forced to keep both cameras around my neck for safety. It was difficult to change between them, something that I needed to do quite often.

Everything ran pretty quickly and we were surprised by the fireworks. We didn’t even have time to put the ear-plugs in.

The ceremony ended, but not my adventures in Eden Park. I descended from the top of Eden Park to shoot the first half of the opening match from an upper level of the main stand which offered a different view of the field. I preferred the position but the location was not great as there were security cables blocking my view. And I could not connect to the Internet, probably due to an overloaded 3G system. Hmm – that would have to wait until I got down to the sidelines where we had a broadband cable; frustrating.

After the first half I continued my journey as I needed to get to the ground; where I had the privilege to move during the game, unlike most photographers who must keep to a fixed position. I was on the wrong side of the stand to easily get to where I wanted to be. So, I had to run about 200 meters (yards) with all the equipment on me, including a 400mm lens. I remembered being in the army, but I was 20 years younger then.

Reaching the ground I continued my physical challenge and had to kneel while taking pictures as I mustn’t obstruct the view of the audience behind me. Being free to move and track the development of the match gave me some interesting pictures.

The match ended. I was tired but happy to have made it back to the room where we had set up our editing office. I had the great privilege to make images from three different positions at the home of the All Blacks legends, Eden Park. And not at just any game, but the official opening of the RWC!

(View a selection of our best photos from the RWC here and listen to the photographers and editors discuss the challenges they face here)

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