THE CLIMBERS JIM HERRINGTON
The Mountaineers Books/Cordee
In some respects this is a strange book. Rock star photographer (as in musicians) Jim Herrington, famous for striking images of Johnny Cash, The Rolling Stones and Dolly Parton, chooses as the subject of his first book what he calls “his tawdry secret... an even more individualistic and at times unsavory sort” whom he has been shooting between glitzier gigs for 20 years. The ‘sort’ are rock stars (as in climbers) entering, shall we say, the autumn of their life. If we’re being honest most are very much into the winter of their lives; several have died.
So skin deep, the book is a set of photos of people with faces that read like a map of their lives. In a way it’s sort of a grotesque idea: now frail people once famous for their strength. Herrington quotes an amusing letter from would-be subject Voytek Kurtyka – a spry 70 – who declined, citing it ‘too difficult to take part in this spectacle which is, whatever the noble intention, a display of the ‘decay of heroes’. I’m not ready yet.’
But there is way more to Herrington’s book than that. The author is clearly fascinated by these characters. Many are or were troubled, hard-drinking, nihilistic types, and the single-mindedness with which many pursued their dreams you can still see in their steely bearing. This is laid out in a lengthy Foreword and an essay by American climber Greg Child, while the pictures stand alone. This is an arty but frustrating format, purely as you need to flick from photo to the Foreword, and some images are so enigmatic in staging and context (only one photo shows anyone climbing) you’re itching to know why.
Many are American, but the British contingent is robust: Doug Scott, Chris Bonington, Gwen Moffatt, Joe Brown and a magnificent image of the great Hamish MacInnes. Most touching are 100-year-old Riccardo Cassin – shot five days before his death – and ailing Jeff Lowe. It’s not for everyone, but as a record – a last photographic testament of a generation never to be seen again – it’s terrific. Mountaineers have never looked so cinematic. Review by Simon Ingram
Above: Chuck Pratt, big wall hero of Yosemite, pictured at home in Wyoming a year before his death.