Kathmandu For the last 18 years, American photographer Jim Herrington has been photographing the legends among mountain climbers who were active from 1920s to early 1970s. From the famous Italian mountaineers Reinhold Messner and Riccardo Cassin to British climbers Chris Bonington and Douglas Keith Scott to American climber Royal Robbins to Austrian mountaineer Kurt Diemberger, he has photographed many and the list is endless. “It started with Sierra Nevada Mountain range in California. I wanted to photograph the old-timers only of that era (around 1920s) from that area (California), but it just kept growing. It became sort of an obsession,” Herrington shared of his photography book project in an interview with The Himalayan Times. He is near the end of the project and he had come to Nepal recently to take picture of Kancha Sherpa as part of the project. Sherpa “is the last surviving member of the 1953 Hillary Expedition. Once he is gone, everybody is gone”. As he started taking photographs of the mountaineers, “it became interesting and I was liking the photographs that I was getting. So, whenever I got money, I would fly. Before long it was a real series going on,” Herrington expressed about his project. This project will include 61 climbers from countries like Nepal, Wales, England, Argentina, Japan and USA among 55/56 other countries. Known for shooting celebrities and musicians like Rolling Stones, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Carl Perkins among others which he has done his whole life, it is going to be Herrington’s first photography book. Herrington likes stories and people, be it from music or climbers. An avid climber himself, Herrington stated, “I have always been interested in climbing history. You start learning and that is why you start a project like this. It has been exciting for me to learn.” The 52-year-old has had varied exciting experiences during this journey. “Travelling through Europe and going up to some Italian villages where nobody speaks English (I don’t speak Italian!), finding an old man who is 95 years old and communicating how to photograph, the process of meeting these people has been crazy,” he recounted. As per him, mountaineer Cassin was 100 years old when Herrington photographed him. He was “dying when I met him and he was surrounded by his family. He died a week after”. “These people are the ones I had read about when I was a little boy, and I found them at advanced ages, some of them were very close to death and some of them died right after I photographed them. So I guess the whole thing starts being less about climbing,” he shared. In this book, he is trying to find what happens to people after their glory days have passed. He elaborated, “They were the strongest people physically that ever existed, going out into the world, going to Alaska, Antarctica and Himalayas. But now I am finding them… so you wonder what the little bit of fame they got means, what life means after you have done your big thing.” Stories behind mountain legends, passionate climbers, and climbers who devoted their life when it was strange to climb mountains, inspire him to take pictures. And such interesting stories also include American writer Cormac McCarthy or the fake Cheeta of Tarzan. “He (McCarthy) has written dark books that are amazing. He hadn’t been photographed for like 20 years and I was interested about this guy,” he spoke of the story he had been interested to take pictures of. Then he heard that the chimpanzee Cheeta, who was in the early Tarzan movies — was alive — last surviving team member of the film. “So, I went to California to photograph the chimpanzee, that had been living in a house eating ice-cream and smoking cigars. And his owner played Tarzan movies on the TV and the chimpanzee watched the whole movie starring himself. That was fantastic to me. So I went there and this is completely Jim Herrington.” He took the pictures, but he was disappointed later when it turned out that it wasn’t the Cheetah after all. This photographer, whose works have been published in GQ, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair to name a few, was always “into the history of things and behind the scenes. And I think the camera has allowed me to get access to the things that I wanted to do”. His weapon of choice is analogue photography — he still uses analogue camera and films to take his pictures in this digital world. “It is always what I have done. It is like a paint brush — if someone is a painter, that is what they are going to use and are not going to switch to other medium because everybody else is doing.” Of the use of such photography, he divulged, “I like the chemical reactions, I like the simplicity of the camera, I am very familiar with the process and like the process. It just looks better to me, the way I wanted to look. I like holding negatives and films. I like the mystery of it — you really don’t know what you have until you process the film.” Photography is the best thing that has happened to him. It happened as a child as Herrington was inspired by the photographs by famous photographers in the magazines collected by his father. He would look at the black and white photos and “it would be from Germany or South Pole or of famous people…it was crazy. It was educational for me as a child to see the world, history and people doing exciting things”. And he realised that “somebody is taking these pictures, somebody is travelling. What a job! Someone is getting paid to go to Paris and to photograph these things. It was a slow process…I liked that you can do a creative interpretation of real events. So it was kind of factual journalist’s documentary but you can also do it in a creative way. I always thought that the real world is as exciting as anything you can make up.” From a cool thing to do to, it formulated to “be able to immerse yourself to meet these people and to go to these places... to be somewhat truthful and creative in the way you interpret it, and make some money”.
Painting climbing legends With his lens
Published: 04:02 am Jun 12, 2016