"I love climbing, and I love women — so this was a dream assignment for me!"
Aurora Photos photographer Chris Noble was commissioned by Falcon Guides to shoot their 2011 calendar featuring some of the top professional and amateur female climbers around. He had just over three months to shoot all twelve climbers in multiple locations throughout the western United States. With winter approaching, the weather and lighting conditions were challenging. We sent photographer Don Mason along to document this demanding project.
Chris has spent his entire career participating in and documenting adventure sports. He knows climbing — and that knowledge was critical to the success of this shoot. While some of the women featured in this calendar are professional climbers, none of them are models. Building a rapport and sense of trust with his subjects had to be done quickly.
The original concept called for posed shots, but it wasn't ringing true. So Chris lobbied for a blend of posed and in-action images so he could better express the essence of climbing — and the accomplishments of these amazing women.
Fighting the clock against cold weather and shorter days, waiting for optimal light was out of the question. Chris developed a style and look that he could carry through in all the different locations and lighting variations. His goal was to put the viewer into the frame to maximize the feeling that they were actually there. In most previous assignments, the landscape was the hero and the human component was just a complement to the shot. In this case, he needed to showcase how strong and beautiful the climbers were and keep the landscape in the background.
The last shoot of the series was the ultimate challenge. It was in Utah, in December, and the temperatures had plummeted. His subject was Jacinda (JC) Hunter, a mother of four, who had been working on an extremely difficult climb since the previous summer. With Chris and JC's belayer both wearing down jackets to keep them warm, JC tackled the wall with just her tank top and pants. Her focus was so keen, she didn't seem to even be aware of the cold until pausing between takes. To keep her from getting hypothermia while waiting for the next set of shots, they would toss a parka up to where she perched. And with just two hours to complete the entire shoot, it was probably the most intense of the entire project.
Despite that, JC almost made it to the top — and when she does, she will have mastered the hardest climb done by a woman in all of Utah!
Don Mason was on site in Las Vegas to document Chris' project for us. We asked Chris what it was like to be both model and photographer.
"It was fascinating. I think every photographer should have to be a model — at least for a day. I learned a lot, but it really turned the tables on me. It was a creative challenge for Don to get his shoot without derailing mine. This kind of photography is a performance art — it's about the relationship between photographer and model. Photographers have a vision, but it takes a stretch of the imagination bordering on disbelief for the model to follow. It requires a bond of trust and rapport — and that's one of the biggest challenges — the bond has to develop quickly most of the time."
Chris brings a unique sense of style and composition to his work — almost like that of a graphic designer. He likens his approach to a tuning fork. Sometimes he can put all the elements together, but the tuning fork is still flat. Occasionally, everything hits just right and the tuning fork hums. "You never know until you put it together — but when you get it, it's really exciting."
Chris used both his Pro Trekker 400 AW and his Outback 300 AW on this project. The Pro Trekker let him get everything he needed to and from locations, while the Outback 300 AW gave him the flexibility and freedom of movement he needed while actually shooting.
"My friends at Lowepro sent me this pack to test. It has two key features that have made it my instant new favorite traveling companion: it doesn't look like a camera bag, more like an old fashioned rucksack, and it has a removable waist belt which allows it to fit into overhead compartments of planes, even with 40 pounds of equipment."
CHRIS NOBLE is a photographer, writer, lecturer, and social activist whose work seeks to re-connect people and nature, and aid the transition to a more sustainable world. He is a veteran of over thirty expeditions to the most remote corners of the globe, including Everest, McKinley, Pumori, Ama Dablam, the jungles of Borneo, the Arctic, and remote regions of Bhutan and Burma.
Noble's writing and photography have appeared in hundreds of publications including National Geographic, Outside, Life, Rolling Stone, and Newsweek. His photographs have been included in books such as Exposure: The Best Photographs of Outside Magazine, Malaysia: Heart of Southeast Asia, and To the Summit. A book of his black and white landscape photographs, Escalante: The Best Kind of Nothing, with text by Brooke Williams, published by the University of Arizona Press, won honorable mention in the 2006 Utah book awards.
Noble served for more than a decade as the primary advertising photographer for The North Face, Inc. He has been a contributing editor at Powder and Outdoor Photographer Magazines as well as a featured speaker at the National Geographic Society in Washington DC and the Banff Mountain Book Festival in Alberta Canada, where his photographs are on permanent display at the Banff Centre for Mountain Culture. Recently Noble was the first additional photographer to be invited to join Mountain Light, the prestigious photo agency founded by the late Galen Rowell.
American Photo Magazine has written, "the secret of Noble's success is that there is no dividing line between adventure and his photography."
Noble welcomes collaboration with art, environmental, and conservation organizations worldwide who are committed to creating a new relationship with the earth.