The people in world class climbing have always intrigued me. While we don’t (yet) have any prima donnas the likes of Christiano Ronaldo, with the diversity of backgrounds and nationalities the roster of top climbers is a colorful bunch. At the same time, all these people seem to share a couple of traits: they’re professional and at the same time friendly and approachable, and they all share this passion to climb hard.
Starting a couple of years ago, I set out to meet as many of these athletes and shoot an intimate portrait with them. My goal was to portray them as focused, confident and with their eyes on the prize. In that respect, one of my favourite shots from this series is probably Meagan Martin’s. Although Meagan now spends a lot of time training for the Ninja Warrior shows, her intense look in our photo really resonated with me. For some climbers though, I quickly felt that having them pose with a serious face just wouldn’t fit their character, so I let them just be themselves.
The way I went about setting these shoots up was really simple. I try to travel to one or two major international competitions a year, like the Munich World Cup, probably the best venue and comp every year. I’ve also attended the CWIF in Sheffield and the Adidas Rockstars event in Stuttgart. About 2 weeks before the comp, I’d send the climbers I knew would be going there a simple message on Facebook explaining the project. They were all very open to the idea, and this got easier once I had a couple of previous shots to show.
Probably the hardest part was keeping the photos in a consistent style even though they were shot at different locations. In the end I had to settle for a bit of a difference in the background of each shot, but overall with the general style, black and white conversion and the way I posed the climbers I feel the series is as coherent as can be given the circumstances. I’d shot these photos vertically (portrait orientation) but ended up cropping a horizontal frame from them, in order to get in even closer with the climber.
It was a great experience meeting all of these world class climbers and getting to know them a little bit. The project actually led to Adidas Outdoor (now Terrex) picking up on my work and commissioning me to shoot a similar series with all competitors in their Rockstars event.
I do feel there are a few gaps in the line-up of my personal project, most notably the Americans: Alex Honnold, Chris Sharma, Daniel Woods and Ashima Shiraishi are definitely on my list. Alex if you’re reading this, feel free to hit me up next time you’re in Eindhoven - though it may be a bit flat here for your taste.
Photographer based in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, focused on capturing athletes’ lifestyles for brands.