The Moun­taineers Books/Cordee

Trail (UK) - - BASE CAMP -

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.

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