Jim Herrington is a photographer whose portraits of celebrities including Benny Goodman, Willie Nelson, The Rolling Stones, Cormac McCarthy, Morgan Freeman and Dolly Parton have appeared on the pages of Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, Esquire, GQ, Outside and The New York Times as well as on scores of album covers.
For nearly two decades and while traveling to ten countries, Herrington created a portrait series of early-to-mid 20th Century mountain climbing legends. The result is the book The Climbers, a collection of sixty black-and-white photographs that document these rugged individualists, including the likes of Royal Robbins, Reinhold Messner, Yvon Chouinard and Riccardo Cassin. Between the 1920s and 1970s these determined men and women used primitive gear along with their considerable wits, talent, and fortitude to tackle unscaled peaks around the world.
In words and photographs The Climbers details the stories of the climbers and their era as well as describing Herrington’s unusual efforts to locate and arrive on the doorstep of these aging legends. The travels and travails he undertook to complete this far-flung project are not without anecdotes of despair, humor and adventure.
What is it like to be 98 years old and to look back at an uncompromising life spent in the “useless” quest of first ascents, usually far from home and hearth? The momentum and vigor of youth is not an ideal recipe for introspection, but one’s final years certainly suffice. Herrington learned as much about himself as he did his subjects during the project – the cost and reward of obsession and how to live in the present.
Herrington began this series shooting with black-and-white analog film, yet during the course of the project, and the advent of digital photography, it looked as if film would disappear completely, like hemp rope or hobnail boots. Indeed, at times it was difficult to discern which would vanish first, the climbers he was photographing or the film he was using. Luckily, film got an eleventh hour reprieve and he was able to shoot the entirety of this book on silver halide, which remains his chosen method of taking pictures.
Seemingly time-traveling from the classic mountaineering literature he devoured as a young boy into the living rooms of these aging legends, Herrington’s book recounts what it was like to step into these climber’s homes, their lives, and their history. This is his rogue’s gallery, a sampling of, and an ode to, an era.
The Climbers received both the Grand Prize and the Mountaineering History Award at the 2017 Banff Film & Book Festival.
Herrington’s photography has been exhibited internationally and is in numerous private collections.