Con­fes­sions of a Poseur

Climbing - - ED NOTE - BY MATT SAMET

In 1990, I shak­ily crimped my way up the mi­cro-pock­ets on Touch Mon­key (5.13a) at Co­chiti Mesa, New Mex­ico. My climb­ing part­ner Ran­dall Jett and I had cob­bled to­gether a guide­book for north­ern New Mex­ico and needed cover im­agery, which the Al­bu­querque pho­tog­ra­pher Dave Benyak would snap. As Dave shot from the rim

be­hind me, I led up in a tight pair of Asolo Ru­nouts, a novice red­pointer on my hard­est lead yet. I made it to the crux, and with strength to spare just needed to make one last snatch. In­stead, I yelled “Ten­sion!”; I was scared of fall­ing, of fail­ing, of some­thing. Still, Dave clicked away.

“That was great, Matt!” he said while I dan­gled there, feel­ing like the world’s biggest loser. “I think we nailed it.” We nailed it? Re­ally? But I’d punted!

Be­fore that day, I had lit­tle idea how climb­ing pho­tog­ra­phy worked. I sup­posed it in­volved hang­ing over the cliff edge on a rope with a cam­era, but I didn’t know much be­yond that. Also, I was sure that the climbers pic­tured had to have done the climb. I mean, with some­thing like skate­board­ing, you couldn’t pre­tend to do a McTwist for the cam­era—you just had to do it. So why should climb­ing be any dif­fer­ent?

When Dave shouted at me, I sud­denly got it—it didn’t mat­ter whether I climbed the route. Just that it looked like I had. The im­age would thence­forth have a life of its own based on its artis­tic mer­its, while it was up to me whether I re­turned to red­point Touch Mon­key.

Which leads to a dilemma: Is it eth­i­cal to pose or shoot climbers on routes they have not yet com­pleted? ( See page 7 for more dis­cus­sion.) Orig­i­nally, climbers shot them­selves in the moment, climb­ing a wall or moun­tain. But then tech­nol­ogy im­proved, cam­eras got lighter, gear com­pa­nies needed bet­ter pho­tos, and pros needed slideshow im­ages. The de­mand for pol­ished climb­ing im­agery cre­ated the métier of climb­ing pho­tog­ra­pher. Along with this came pos­ing—of­ten the quick­est way to cre­ate a dy­namic, well-com­posed shot. Com­pare an iPhone butt shot of your buddy Ru­fus Rough­neck thrash­ing on Lo­cals Only

Roof to the im­ages on these pages, and you’ll see what I mean. As mag­a­zine ed­i­tors, it’s our job to pub­lish high-qual­ity, evoca­tive pho­tos. And so, yes, that some­times means us­ing posed im­ages: re-cre­ations of red­points, climbers on routes at odd times of the day (the golden hour), and so on. Still, we’re selec­tive—the best pho­tos are those that look the most nat­u­ral, even if they have been posed. And when a shot goes over­board (dra­matic chalk­ing, the ex­ag­ger­ated shake­out, hammy fa­cial ex­pres­sions), it’s usu­ally pretty ob­vi­ous.

Which leads me back to my first-ever pose­down, on Touch Mon­key. I still haven’t re­turned to send. How­ever, since then I’ve com­pleted most of the hand­ful of routes I was shot on—maybe not that ex­act time, but later. Still, you’d never know from the pho­tos; you’d have to ask me, and I’d have to tell you. Such is both the art and ar­ti­fice of climb­ing pho­tog­ra­phy, a moral dilemma as old as the lens it­self.


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