Before I became a photographer, I was a rock climber. It was my life. I traveled around the country in search of the ultimate climbs and even to France where I lived for a few months. To this day I never feel as home as I do in the mountains. Although I don’t do much climbing anymore, it still defines who I am.
My photographic career actually began with me photographing my friends as they attempted some of the best and hardest climbs in the world. Often I lived in a tent or in a house with a dozen other climbers. Looking back, those moments were some of the most blissful in my life. Today, when I show up in Camp 4 in Yosemite or traipse through the oddly rounded boulders of Joshua Tree, I may not know a soul, but I still feel as though feel surrounded by long-lost friends.
In years past, when I’d aim my camera towards climbers, I’d focus on the steep rock and physical beauty of the scene. These days, I’m more interested in the people. It’s what I call the other side of climbing. Even though I don’t climb much anymore, I’m still a climber through-and-through. It’s part of my essence and my language. This album of images tries to capture that.
The following images are presented in the context of the printed book in which they appear.
The guy on the left is John Bachar. The impact he’s had on my life is indescribable. He was at one time the undisputed best rock climber in the world. In college, I had posters of him climbing - without rope - vertical granite walls that I only dreamed of. Awhile back, the sport changed and John went in his own direction. Still he remains an icon.
Which is why it’s fitting that I placed his portrait next John Long’s, another giant in the world of climbing. (The first one day ascent of Yosemite’s El Capitan ranks as one of his great achievements.) I first ran into him when I was just starting to climb. My partner had taken a long fall to the ground - screaming the entire way down. Fortunately he was mostly ok, though shaking and babbling.
Largo - as John Long is known - came over to see if he was okay. Jeff, my climbing partner, still scared from his experience quickly perked up at the sight of this climbing legend. Jeff mumbled something about this being the end of his climbing career. Largo responded in his trademark booming voice, ” Ho man! Don’t give up the sport!”
Those words still ring in my ears whenever giving up begins to feel like an option.
These two fellows are brothers, Alex and Thomas Huber. Understanding what great climbers do is difficult for nonclimbers to even comprehend. These two climbed the 4,000 feet of vertical to overhanging rock of El Capitan in Yosemite in two hours and 45 minutes. To put this in perspective, it takes most people about four hours just to hike that distance. Imagine climbing a 4,000 foot ladder with most of the rungs missing (and death the certain consequence of screwing up) and you’ll have an idea of the stamina and fearlessness required for the feat.
For those interested in the technical details, the portraits were all shot with my 4×5 view camera using a 150mm lens. The film I used was Polaroid Type 55 - now discontinued. The borders you see are inherent in the film - they’re not some digital effect. With a 4×5, there’s no ability to focus when shooting. I instruct he subject, who’s about two feet from the camera, to stay absolutely still while I load film, close the lens and snap the shutter. The focus is so shallow that any slight move will ruin the image.
Still, there’s a look to the images that can’t be duplicated with anything else. The Polaroid produces a negative which I scan and then print from the digital file. The other images were either shot with my 1d MII or my 5D.