Imagine mountain climbing and photographing your way around the world and you have some idea how US climber Jimmy Chin has spent the last twenty or more years. I first heard of Jimmy Chin last year when he published There and Back, a photographic book which also shares his life story. Photographs and documentary films like his open to me, and to many others, terrain I or we are unlikely ever to experience for ourselves. They allow me a glimpse of a very different way of living and being. They draw the extreme into the everyday.
Many of us like to experience nature at first jand, maybe to explore wilder or remote landscapes or just to get outside to the park. Many of us also enjoy being active in nature, maybe running, walking, cycling or wild swimming. And many of us like to photographor video what we see. All these experiences can draw us out of ourselves. Some people take them further than others, pushing boundaries, undertaking extreme or adventure sports, going higher, further, deeper.
Jimmy Chin has climbed on all seven of the world’s continents, on rock, ice and snow, narrowly escaping death on different mountain ranges. Initially a “dirtbag climber”, living in his car for several years, a life he now misses, Chin came to others’ notice as his climbing progressed. Inspired by the wildernesses he inhabited, he began photographing his own and others’ climbs as well. He has gone on to shoot some of the world’s most extreme terrain and scenery, and some of the daring and skill of the people who climb that terrain. Looking at his images, nature stands out, but so too do human experiences of nature: in the vastness of the mountains, the climbers stand out, small in scale but drawing the eye in their colourful gear, bold against the monochrome landscape of snow and rock.
To me photography is all about the moment, being so focused on that moment that you want to preserve and hold the moment so it stands outside time. But Jimmy Chin writes how he has struggled with the way photograph took him out of the moment, when it was living in the moment which was a spur to his climbing. Maybe it’s all how you understand being in the moment. Maybe wondering when and where to shoot, what to leave out, you are thinking and assessing instead of simply being there. But in another way I feel that you are all the more in the moment as you observe more closely.
Jimmy Chin makes documentary films for National Geographic and co-directs cinema and streaming films with his wife. Extreme skiing is another of his pursuits, skiing down no less than Mount Everest some years ago.
Few of us will climb mountains let alone on every continent. Few of us will spend time in such wild terrain. Few of us will photograph such landscapes. But images and films like these can inspire with their power and otherness and scale. Simply looking at these photographs can become in itself an encounter with wilderness and adventure. They might also inspire us to seek out our own experiences of nature, maybe closer to home, but still an encounter with the wildness of all nature.
You may have thoughts on these, or other ideas – It would be great to hear any responses in Medley’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002