Jimmy Chin’s ‘There and Back’ Photos Show Life on the Edge

From skiing down Everest to climbing up Shark’s Fin on Mount Meru in the Himalayas, Jimmy Chin is a real-life superhero tackling feats no one has done before. But surprisingly, this extreme mountain sports photographer, Oscar-winning film director, and world-class mountaineer considers the greatest risk he ever took not scaling one of the world’s tallest granite walls. Rather, it was a choice in his early 20s, « committing to the dream I had, moving to Yosemite and living in a car, » Chin tells Newsweek about his decision to follow this dream of climbing mountains.

« As my friend and mentor, Jon Krakauer, once said to me, ‘There are two great risks in life, risking too much, and risking too little.’ There is maybe a perception that climbing was what I always wanted to do and the decision was really clear for me. But it was followed by years of doubt. »

Conquering that doubt, following his dream to Yosemite and living out of the back of his blue Subaru Loyale for six years surely paid off. Chin is now not only one of the greatest climbers in the world, but he’s also captured some of the greatest human physical triumphs in history.

Jimmy Chin on El Capitan, Yosemite National Park
Jimmy Chin

Chin’s life has been about the confluence of high stakes and human potential, and not only his own. He’s hung on the edge of the world’s most famous rock wall, monolith El Capitán with his camera to capture Alex Honnold’s heart-racing 3,000 feet climb of it without a rope or safety equipment of any kind. Free Solo—the second documentary he directed along with his filmmaking partner and wife Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi (Meru in 2015 was the first, and how they fell in love)—won an Oscar in 2019. The Rescue, the latest documentary the two made about the 2018 Thai soccer team cave rescue and its unlikely heroes, a group of cave-diving hobbyists, is capturing Oscar buzz already as well.

The photographer-director-climber goes where few can follow, but his new photography anthology There and Back: Photographs from the Edge takes along for the ride, giving us an exclusive peek into his world as he showcases over 20 years of his death-defying expeditions on all seven continents.

You’ll feel your heart beat a little faster just by looking at these larger-than-life images from icy peaks in Antarctica’s Queen Maud Land to the world’s tallest sandstone towers in the southern Sahara Desert.

Jimmy Chin

Taking in the Sun on Meru
Himalayas, India

Rock climber Renan Ozturk takes in the sun and the view after a −20 degree Fahrenheit night at a portaledge camp. « We only had an hour of direct sun every day. We never took its warmth for granted, » Chin writes in There and Back. The first ascent of the « Shark’s Fin » route on Meru Peak in the Indian Himalaya is chronicled in Meru, the 2015 documentary film directed by Chin and Vasarhelyi.

Jimmy Chin

Filming Free Solo
El Capitán, California

Alex Honnold is the first person to reach the top of Yosemite’s 3,000-foot El Capitán wall without ropes or safety equipment. Chin and his filmmaker wife Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi captured Honnold’s risky attempt to conquer the world’s most famous rock climbing stunt with heart-pounding visceral suspense in Free Solo, their Academy Award-winning documentary.

Jimmy Chin

Climbing the Hand of Fatima

« I wanted to make images that captured the essence of the desert and the people who inhabited it. I also hoped to make pictures no one had ever seen before, » writes Chin in There and Back, about climbing the Hand of Fatima, the tallest free-standing sandstone towers in the world in the southern Sahara.

Jimmy Chin

Defanging the Ulvetanna

« At −30°F, snow squealed under our crampons, and our eyes threatened to freeze shut if we blinked too slowly, » Chin recalls about his epic expedition pioneering a new route up Ulvetanna (translated as wolf’s tooth), a 9600-foot peak in Antarctica’s Queen Maud Land, with mountaineer Conrad Anker (pictured).

Jimmy Chin

Catching Phantom BASE Jumpers
Yosemite Valley, California

« Yosemite Valley has influenced my life and career more than any landscape in the world, » Chin writes in There and Back. Here, he captures BASE jumpers at dusk. Since BASE jumping is illegal in Yosemite National Park, flights are often made at first or last light to avoid detection, he explains.

Jimmy Chin

Skiing Everest with Kit DesLauriers
Tibet and Nepal

Kit DesLauriers is the first person to ski all Seven Summits—the tallest mountain on each continent—and Everest was the last one on her list. Kit, Jimmy, and her husband Rob DesLauriers were the first Americans to ski from the summit of Everest, and the first ever to ski the South Pillar route. « We laughed about spending two months on the mountain to ski the worst run of our lives, » writes Chin.

Jimmy Chin

Dropping into Remote Worlds
Kamchatka Peninsula, Russia

Chin has captured extreme feats on remote stretches across the planet. Here, he photographs snowboarder Travis Rice as he moves through the relentless wind of the Kamchatka Peninsula on the far eastern edge of Russia while filming The Fourth Phase. Chin says Travis has defined the evolution of snowboarding with his grace and technical airs and multiple X Games gold medals.

Jimmy Chin

Defying Gravity in the Ennedi Desert
Republic of Chad

First ascents in remote corners of the world are Chin’s wheelhouse. Here he captures James Pearson and Mark Synnott climbing the first ascents of the dramatic sandstone towers, the Arch of Bashikele in the Ennedi Desert in the Republic of Chad, Africa. « Mark excels at finding new places to contend with gravity, » writes Chin.

Jimmy Chin

Skiing with Heroes
British Columbia, Canada

« The first poster I ever owned as a kid was a shot of Scot Schmidt. I watched all his films and even modeled my ski turn after his, » Chin recalls about his childhood hero, now-friend Schmidt, who he says has the « the most distinctive and beautiful turns on the planet. » Chin captures Schmidt as he drops into a steep slope at Island Lake Lodge.

Jimmy Chin

Knowing When to Retreat
Patagonia, Argentina

In December 2001, Brady Robinson and Chin attempted to climb the Compressor Route on Cerro Torre in Patagonia. Dangerous winds and an impending storm forced them to retreat, but not before spending a night shivering in an icy cave and rappelling down a glacier with the wind swimming them along the face.

Ten Speed Press

Reprinted with permission from There and Back: Photographs from the Edge. Copyright © 2021 by Jimmy Chin. Published by Ten Speed Press/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

Buy There and Back: Photographs from the Edge from IndieBound.org.

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