Coming up in the December issue, Digital Photo Pro interviews photographer Jim Herrington, who has spent the last two decades photographing the pioneers of mountain climbing and the giants of the music world.
As one might expect of any photographer with 40 years of experience, Jim Herrington has a masterful grasp on the medium. At a glance, his work appears simple, maybe even stark. A deeper dive into his portfolio—made of mostly black-and-white images, all of them portraits—reveals his sublime eye, a keen attention to decisive moments and an affinity for subtlety. Never flashy, his photographs are deceptively simple, with an effortless, less-is-more vibe. In short, he’s one of the finest portrait photographers working today.
Known largely for the pictures of musicians he’s made throughout the last few decades for high-profile American magazines and virtually every major record label, his latest collection comes from another inspiration that’s equally close to his heart.
Here’s an excerpt from the interview:
“I’ve got three great passions in my life,” Herrington says, “which are music, photography and climbing. And for all of them, I seem to have an inordinate amount of interest in their history and the early practitioners. I’ve been like this since I was 5 years old. I’ve just got a deep interest in old stuff: history, people, things. My father had a collection of 1940s LIFE magazines laying around when I was very young, and I feel like those sparked my interest in not only photography but also faces and travel. I’ve never been super-concerned with the current state of things; whatever I get into, I get into the history and the greats that came before.”
For 19 years, what Herrington has been into is photographing the pioneers of the mountaineering world, the legends of climbing who blazed trails in the early and middle 20th century. The body of work—all black-and-white, all shot on film—is collected in his new book, The Climbers (Mountaineers Books, October 2017). The book recently earned the Mountaineering History prize at the 2017 BANFF Mountain Book Competition.
“More than photography,” Herrington says, “I think maybe my talent is finding these stories and people that I find really interesting. I’ve heard a lot of people say, ‘Oh, those old faces are so fun to photograph, aren’t they?’ And that’s not really…I’m not into the typical craggy-face-old-man cute picture. They happen to look that way because of the lives they’ve led, and that’s the part that’s more interesting to me.”
In many ways, Herrington approaches his subjects as a documentarian. Even when meticulously posed, his images have a spontaneous quality, and his book includes each climber’s remarkable stories alongside their portraits. There’s Doug Scott, who broke both legs on a treacherous descent of a Pakistani peak known as The Ogre, forcing him to crawl on his hands and knees for eight days to reach base camp, only to discover the camp was abandoned and his colleagues had left him for dead. Or Riccardo Cassin, an Italian legend who started climbing in the 1920s and continued through the 1970s. A man of many legacies, he died just a few days after Herrington traveled to northern Italy in 2009 to photograph him at his family home.
For more information or to purchase The Climbers (Mountaineer Books, October 2017), visit mountaineersbooks.org