Building Tribe, Building a Cob Oven: Photography for Base Camp X

Base Camp X

My summer began yesterday by travelling to the school’s outdoor education centre to help my colleagues build a cob oven. Yes, I could have spent the morning sleeping in bed, playing my new Fender American Five-String Jazz bass, and drinking dark coffee, but then I would have missed out on a truly beautiful morning wherein I learned how to build an oven from sand, clay and brick. I would have missed out meeting two calm, fun and interesting people. I would have missed out on a chance to shoot Base Camp X tools in the woods. Sleep can wait for the dead.

Base Camp X-2

The cob oven is a project that makes a lot of sense to me. It promotes cooking real food in the outdoors with firewood with a group of friends; all of those things are positive in my worldview. I was lucky enough to be invited along, and wise enough to know that there is nothing wrong with a morning of labour in the warm summer sunshine, especially when it is followed by buttermilk fried chicken, egg, fresh vegetables, tzatziki and Canadian beer.


Cob is an ancient masonry form based on the use of clay, sand, fire brick, hay, stone in various mix ratios to create a series of layers that will stand up to heat, rain and seismic changes. In our case, we were simply trying to build a simple bread and pizza oven that our students would benefit from during their time in the outdoors. What we achieved was not only the completion of the secondary stage of the oven (placing fire-brick on a level sand base and then forming the sand-filled dome covered in a one to three part sand to clay compound), but we also built a sense of community based on coming together to make a basic tool that would be critical to our ancestors.  While my personal skill set does not contain much relating to precision building, I do possess a strong visual ability and talent for transferring skills I do have, such as baking, to new tasks.

Base Camp X-4

Tribe is an idea that I have taken to heart since I began taking photographs for Graeme Cameron of Base Camp X. Graeme is a man who exemplifies the values of his company, and in a world where character often becomes a series of catch words that are never acted upon, I found some real value in his concepts relating to legacy and tribe. No harm in the fact that the tools he produces for his clients are artistic, unique and built to be passed on to others when you can no longer swing or paddle on adventures like brave Ulysses would aspire towards. In my personal life, I have been thinking a lot about tribe and legacy in relation to the outdoors. A collection of beautiful tools is useless if they are never used by me, and perhaps they will be lost to a garbage heap unless I come together with like-minded people to build more than a bank account and a retirement plan.

Base Camp X-3

The tools I had to work with after the cob project were two custom axes about to be sent out to clients: a Translucent Grey Pioneer and a Sunburst Flame Cruiser. While I own a green and orange Pioneer myself, this was the first time I was able to handle a Cruiser for photographs. If the Pioneer is a brilliant standard axe, then the Cruiser is a sexy, perfectly-balanced workhorse. I am a small man in height, but the Cruiser still felt like I could swing it for a long work day in the woods. Maybe what I loved the most was the feeling that this was a serious tool that you would want to display in any workshop, cabin or above the mantle: serious tool, serious art.

Base Camp X Paddle Lake

Finally, three weeks ago I had another opportunity: a chance to go on my first trip while packing two BCX canoe paddles into the Haliburton area of Ontario. I have never canoed before, but I can honestly say that with these paddles tracking and weight were seamless and an extension of my entire body.  The bird’s eye maple paddle featured in the photograph above was my personal favourite when I photographed all of BCX’s offerings from the top of a 6 foot ladder last August. The patterns in the wood, the fit and the finish make other paddles feel clumsy and heavily awkward outside of the canoe, and inside the canoe what I noticed most was the lack of noise each paddle made as it cut through the calm lakes like a blade. My partner chose a walnut paddle for herself that featured a thinner, longer paddle head built for big water; it moved so beautifully for her though I found I needed more feedback from the more traditional blade due to my inexperience and lack of confidence in my stroke.

Next up for Base Camp X will be a series of white background photographs involving axes, a straight razor and a very special piece being sent to Los Angeles this week. Next up for Anthony N. Chandler will be a tattoo, time at a spa, and some serious sleep when the final two days of the school year end on Tuesday.



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