This Isn’t Your Average Photo Book

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Stories Behind the Images, a new book release from renowned outdoor photographer Corey Rich, is as captivating to read as it is to look at.

Corey Rich got into rock climbing and photography around the same time in his life. He was 13, growing up in Antelope Valley, California, when a teacher took him rock climbing for the first time near the Needles, a popular granite-spire climbing zone in Sequoia National Forest, not far from his home.

“I fell in love with climbing immediately,” Rich said. “It was a physical, mental and emotional experience—challenging in every meaningful way.”

A week later, he picked up a camera to capture his next climbing adventure. He’s been doing both things pretty much nonstop ever since. 

Rich’s new book, Stories Behind the Images: Lessons From a Life in Adventure Photography, published by Mountaineers Books in September and now sold at REI stores and online, is a photo book, certainly—it contains dozens of beautiful images of legendary climbers and explorers in far-flung locations—but it’s also way more than that. It’s storytelling at its finest. Woven between the imagery is Rich’s personal history and the detailed, humorous backstories behind his captivating images. Included here are a few select photos from his new book, as well as behind-the-scenes stories in Rich’s words.

“As a classically trained photojournalist, I’ve always learned that I should make myself as inconspicuous as possible—that is, simply document the story without judging, influencing or participating in the outcome of the events. But when you tie in to a rope with two other climbers, you aren’t just the photographer; you’re a member of the team. This can create complex, sometimes logistically conflicted situations, in which you are focused on making pictures, but you also don’t want to slow the climbers down. For this picture of David Lama and Daniel Steuerer approaching the slender turret of granite and ice that is Cerro Torre [in Patagonia], lit by the rising sun, I made the decision to fall behind and move to the left. I was happy to have made this image, but I quickly realized that I had fallen so far behind that I would need to double-time it to catch up with my partners.” —Corey Rich

“It was never my intention to make a book,” Rich said. “One of my favorite things in the world is sitting around the campfire and telling and listening to stories. We live in the day and age when you can do that online now, so I started telling these stories on my blog. It was always fun and people seemed to respond to them.”

Rich’s photography career has spanned three decades, and along the way he’s shot nearly 100 magazine covers and worked on global photo and video campaigns for some of the biggest brands in the world. When he started telling stories on his blog about some of his favorite images, he’d record a voice memo on his phone, the backstory of how he captured that shot. He typically recorded them while he was on the go—on planes, at hotel bars, while pedaling his mountain bike. He would transcribe the voice recording, and then work with climber, writer and friend Andrew Bisharat to spin that into a well-crafted piece for his website. Eventually, Rich realized he had enough stories to write a book. The result? A 285-page glossy photo book you’ll keep on your coffee table or bedside table and read voraciously in one sitting.

He’s been on tour with the book all fall, including speaking at many REI stores around the country.

“On April 27, 2013, Rebecca Rusch shattered the record on the Kokopelli Trail—a 142-mile stretch of rugged desert wilderness between Moab, Utah, and Fruita, Colorado. Most people take five or six days to complete the ride. Rebecca did it in less than 14 hours. When we met Rebecca at the finish line, she collapsed. We captured joy and relief, which poured from her face like the sweat on her brow, and the pain of having endured her harrowing thirteen-and-a-half-hour effort.” —Corey Rich

The goal of the book, Rich said, is to entertain, educate and pay it forward. “I had a lot of mentors growing up—teachers, older photographers,” he said. “I wanted to help pass what I’ve learned along to others.” He said the book is not a portfolio of his best images. It’s more like a collection of the images with the best stories behind them.

Recently, renowned rock climber Tommy Caldwell and his family visited Rich and his 6-year-old daughter at home in South Lake Tahoe, California. The two dads and their kids got into the hot tub at Rich’s house one night under the stars. “Tommy and I start telling stories. Then our kids wanted in on the storytelling, too. They’re finishing our stories, telling their own. It was the most beautiful thing. That’s what this book is about: The tradition of storytelling and passing it forward.”

Rich said his advice is to read the book and enjoy it. “Then put the book down and go out and make pictures as often and frequently as you can,” he said. “I hope this book inspires people to go outside and make pictures. Because at the end of the day, the experience of taking photos and telling stories has been the most enjoyable part of my career.”

“I had just finished my freshman year of college when I landed a coveted summer internship at the Modesto Bee newspaper. ‘Get the safe shot first, Corey,’ the photo editor always said. ‘Then, and only then, start taking risks.’ These were important words for a young, ambitious photographer to hear. Years later, during a trip to the island of Malta, these lessons came back into play. This image of Tommy Caldwell trad-climbing the side of an ancient quarry isn’t the greatest image I’ve ever taken, but it found its way into numerous catalogs, magazines and ad campaigns. It was this first shot I took—the ‘safe’ shot—of Tommy scaling this unique stone wall that ended up being my favorite.” —Corey Rich

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