World Climbing: Images from the Edge. Simon Carter. Blackheath, New South Wales, Australia: Onsight Photography and Publishing. 2005. 192 pages; 230 COLOR PHOTOS. $40.00.
What makes a climbing photo a stunner is not necessarily the climber. Rather, the texture and color of the rock can make for images that transcend the conventional shot. Simon Carter has done a superb job portraying such textures in this lavish coffee-table book of climbing photographs. For example, take a look at the bizarre formations of seaside Thailand. Or the marvelous conglomerates of Riglos, in Spain. Or the sheen emanating from the slate quarries of Wales. Or the gray and gold limestone of the Verdon. Such images make one want to rush to such places on the next flight, to climb or simply to gaze upon such fascinating geology.
Had this book been published thirty years ago we would have been astonished at the lush colors, the pristine reproductions, and, of course, the dramatic climbing. Nowadays, sad to say, the glossies that arrive every month or two are full of almost identical images. I think most of us who look at this book will say: I’ve seen these before. This, of course, is not Carter's fault. It's simply to say that there’s not much new in climbing photography. It appears to have hit a dead end (perhaps it’s the same with surfing, skiing, and skydiving?).
We see overhangs surmounted by the obligatory topless men with Popeye muscles. We see 17 photos of the photographer’s lithe girlfriend (but why not?). We see some world- renowned climbers: Lynn Hill, Chris Sharma, Leo Houlding, and Alex Huber. We see obviously staged shots, many dozens of them, though Carter claims, "I do not ask climbers…to adopt a particular pose." We see the familiar shots taken from rappel, looking down, and slightly off to the side. Perhaps I am jaded. A youth just beginning to climb will be mesmerized by these images; this would be a dream gift for such a person.
Carter has certainly traveled the world in his quest for photos. Australia is represented by the Grampians, Mount Arapiles, the Blue Mountains, and Tasmania (where the photos of Lynn Hill and Nancy Feagin on the fearsome Totem Pole are among the best of the book). Canada is under-represented, as is New Zealand. Croatia, Spain, France, Thailand, and the UK, among other countries, are featured. The United States is allotted 35 pages (about the same number given to Australia), highlighting Yosemite, the desert spires and cracks, Red Rocks, and the Bishop boulders. It's a bit odd that only three states are represented. You would think Carter might have visited the Tetons, Eldorado, the Gunks, the fabulous gorges of the Southeast, or many other places in this varied country of ours. But to feast our eyes on so many worldwide locales is well worth this lapse.
Note: World Climbing received the Mountain Image Award at the Banff Mountain Book Festival 2006.