PDN: How did you start this project?
Jim Herrington: Everything I’m into,
I tend to be into the history and the legends.
I’m a climber, and the Sierra Nevada
[mountains] are my home range for climbing,
so I ventured into the Sierra to find and meet
and photograph the oldest [climbers].
PDN: What’s your process?
JH: The entirety of the book is on location.
I’m not showing up with a bunch of
assistants, and a bunch of gear. You walk into
an ugly apartment and you have to draw from
your experience, your creativity, and all the
pictures you’ve looked at in your life, and
somehow put together the person with
PDN: What look and feel were you going for?
JH: I’m not trying to glamorize [the climbers],
nor am I trying to make them look old and
ugly, which I’ve been accused of. They’ve
had time to introspect about why it mattered
to put so much into something. [Young people]
are doing great things, which is wonderful,
but I find people near the end of their
life, after they’ve done great things and
the footlights have gone out, to be a lot
PDN: Are there particular images
you’re most proud of?
JH: Fred Beckey, who just died, is one of the
major climbers. He showed up in the brightly
lit lobby of this hotel, and lay down on this
big leather couch. I got this photo of him
in repose, like he was finally taking a rest.
By chance, the shadow of his shoulder had
created what looks like two mountains right
behind him. You can never plan this stuff.
PDN: Was editing difficult?
JH: It was a massive process. This project
took 19 years. There were a lot of photographs
early on that I was convinced were the
best ones. But I grow as a person and
photographer, and the project grows, and
the things [have to] fit together in context.
I parked myself in a ranch house and
deliberated for months. And some of the
early decisions I made were changed.
PDN: Like what?
JH: One image of [Patagonia founder]
Yvon Chouinard I was convinced for years
was the shot. [Later] I thought he looked a
bit too heroic. I wanted to show a little more
hunger in the eyes, the way he might have
looked back in the day.
After 19 YeArs, Jim Herrington
PuBlisHes THE CLIMBERS
The veteran celebrity portrait photographer explains how he finally
turned a two-decade personal project making portraits of the world’s
most legendary climbers into a photo book.
BY DAVID WALKER