Read below on a very thought provoking excerpt written by Corey Rich, a mainstay of our Multimedia Workshop and Adventure Workshop. He dissects one of his images as it was re-created to tell a story.
Story Behind the Image: What Details Matter
What do you think when you see this photograph, aside from the obvious My god, what is that guy doing up there without a rope?
Does anything change for you in knowing that this photo of Alex Honnold, free-soloing a section of the Nose of El Capitan, was taken during an arranged photo shoot? Do you have a drastically different emotional response to seeing this figure 2,500 feet up a sheer cliff without a rope, by knowing that this picture is “staged”—even though the risk Alex faces, with or without my presence, is frighteningly real?
What details matter?
In my life as a professional photographer and filmmaker, the most enduring identity crisis I face is whether I am an artist or a journalist. To what degree am I beholden to the absolute truth, and how much can I bend certain details in order to create or capture something that wouldn’t, and really, couldn’t, exist otherwise?
These are the questions I wrestle with.
Incredibly, I have found the greatest synthesis as a “journalartist” through this realm of adventure storytelling.
In 2010, Alex Honnold, climbing alone, mostly free-solo, enchained Half Dome and El Cap in under 11 hours—an incredibly fast time. The enchainment was big climbing news back then, the far-more-dangerous equivalent of hitting a record number of home runs in a single baseball game, or destroying the record for running a mile.
Yet Alex’s achievement took place without a stadium-sized audience or even a single camera in tow. One of the most incredible athletic feats of all time happened and, for all purposes, no one saw it.
Literally. Alex climbed through the night in order to have the best (coolest) conditions, to stay out of other climbers’ ways, and ultimately to set himself up to achieve the fastest time possible.
So, a few days after Alex did what he did, I teamed up with the DP and renowned climber, and also my friend, Renan Ozturk. Together, we collaborated with Alex to recreate his record-setting achievement.
Alex, Renan and I hiked up the backside of El Cap, jugged up the East Ledges, rapped down the Nose, and got into position during a time of day when the light was best. Then, we worked to capture Alex re-soloing certain sections of the iconic granite big wall—Renan shot video and I shot stills. Together, we all joined forces and carefully, thoughtfully, captured the essence of what Alex had accomplished.
Renan’s and my role in this situation was simple. We were there to help Alex share his immense achievement with the world. If we were successful, we would be providing people with something they’d never before seen. If we were lucky, people would find it inspiring.
I’m not really sure if many people really realize the degree to which most outdoor-adventure media is entirely re-created in the aftermath of the actual event by a production team working with the athlete.
For the full excerpt, visit and like Corey Rich Productions on Facebook.