life work. Also: survival work. However, it may not be over yet. However, Jimmy Chin’s remarkable volume “Images from a World of Extremism” stands alone spectacularly, yes: complete.
The 49-year-old American Chen, the son of Chinese immigrants, is a photographer, filmmaker, and mountaineer. He should be best known to most as the director of the movie “Free Solo,” which documents free climber Alex Honnold’s ascent of the nearly 1,000-meter-high granite boulders of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park without a rope or other technical aid. “Free Solo” won the 2019 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, among others.
Chen’s photos are not exceptional only because he photographs from locations inaccessible to most people. Above all, they are remarkable because of their composition, lighting conditions and views as well as the details chosen. Some of Chen’s recordings have been on covers National Geographic And the The New York Times Magazine to see others The New Yorker and in Vanity Fair released.
Six years before Jimmy Chin and his wife, Elizabeth Chai Vasarheli, filmed Free Solo, Chin was already touring Yosemite Valley with Alex Honnold. One of the pictures – I became a National Geographic-Cover – Honnold is shown standing in Half Dome with his back to the rock, on a ledge thankfully, a ledge only a foot wide, unsecured of course, and looking off into the distance. How he got there, over the smooth rock, and how he was going to climb to the top is not really clear to you.
Of course talent, ability, courage, hard training and careful preparation lead to scaling these walls at best. You can see it and yet you can’t believe it. Jimmy Chin brings these achievements closer to you, makes them more understandable – through his brief texts, but above all through his images.
Conrad Anker wrote in his introduction: “The best pictures can capture feelings or transport us to a place that opens our minds and our eyes, and is thus a stimulus to our creativity and equanimity.” An excellent mountaineer and climber, Anker found the body of George Mallory on the north face of Mount Everest in 1999, who died in 1924 trying to become the first person to climb the highest mountain in the world.
Anker and Chen have embarked on many tours together, the first in 2001 slated to climb K7, the 23,000-foot “alpine fortress”, according to Chen, in Pakistan’s Karakorum. After sixteen days on the mountain—ten days were planned, so supplies were very tight—the two of them and Brady Robinson had to give up, the storms were so fierce, and the avalanches so violent.
Jimmy Chin has always been at risk, and that’s unavoidable in this profession, with this profession. He was certainly lucky too, not always one’s fate is in one’s hands in such extreme situations. However, not being a gambler, this book doesn’t brag enough for that. Instead, humility speaks of texts and images: before the forces of nature, the deep feelings in this misanthropic solitude, the privilege of being able to realize and experience all of this.
He tries, writes Jimmy Chin, “to fill each image with a sense of place that we hope conveys a sense of a whole.” In fact, there is a whole series of images that do just that: whether it is in the Charakusa region of Pakistan with its bizarre rock formations Fethiye Brak and Barat Brak, whether it is in Mali’s Kaga Tondo, a 760-meter sandstone rock tower, Be it on a shark fin at Mount Meru in India. At best, Jimmy Chin draws you into his images, and you not only view them from reader’s distance, but feel as if you’re positioning yourself on the edge of Mount Everest, or halfway there Ulvetanna Trail in Antarctica.
Sometimes people, extreme climbers like himself, are the focus of Chen’s photos. Most of the time, however, they become peripheral characters, and it is the mountains that define the character of the images. It is about them and their beauty and magic that they radiate. And it’s not about anyone who, in Alex Honnold’s words, crawls inside them a little bit.
Jimmy ChinPictures from an extreme world. Translated from English by Maria Menil. Prestel-Verlag, Munich/London/New York 2022. 320 pages, €50.