Talent is a bit like intelligence: We all think we have it in abundance.
It’s only when you meet someone like 42-year-old Jimmy Chin that you’re forced to reconsider. The Minnesota native is one of the world’s most gifted outdoor photographers and film directors.
He’s also a professional climber, having made numerous first ascents and conquered all the Eight Thousanders—Earth’s 14 mountains that exceed 8,000 meters (26 thousand feet) in height—without supplementary oxygen.
Chin is also a pretty good skier and was one of the first Americans to ski from the summit of Everest back down into the valley. And yet he remains quite modest.
Photo (above): TOUGH NUTS IN OMAN
“In 2012, I joined veteran American climbers Alex Honnold and Mark Synnott in circumnavigating the Musandam peninsula in Oman on a sailboat. We made many first ascents on the pristine islands there. This picture shows Alex on one of the superb rocks—he’d give us no peace until we climbed them.”
A DAY OFF IN THE HIMALAYAS
“I took this photograph while on an expedition with fellow American Stephen Koch, the first man to snowboard on all Seven Summits. We were the only team on Everest in the monsoon season and we wanted to descend the North Face on skis and snowboards. We spent one of our days off on the Rongbuk Glacier and did some climbing around its edges.”
A NATURAL WONDER IN CHAD
“This photo was taken when I was on the Ennedi Plateau in Chad with James Pearson and Mark Synnott, climbers from the U.K. and the U.S. respectively. After five days of driving our Jeep along unpaved roads, we came across this stone arch. It was one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, and I’m happy that I managed to document its first ascent by James and Mark.”
NORTHERN LIGHTS AT LAKE LOUISE
“My good friend Chris Jerard is a writer and photographer for ‘Freeskier magazine’. We’d been part of the same long shoot in Alberta and really just wanted to get into our tents and sleep. Then, suddenly, the sky above Lake Louise was gleaming with the Northern Lights. We just sat and took photo after photo until it got light.”
“What’s my greatest talent? Bringing talented people together,” Jimmy Chin says. “That ability is just as important when making films as it is when climbing mountains, because a team is stronger than the sum of its parts.”
So that’s the way he works, but what about his thought process? “Always think outside the box,” he says. Chin looks for inspiration from other sports to become a better climber, and by keeping an eye on the work of artists and other photographers—whether on war-torn battlefields or high-fashion runways—he constantly strives to reinvent himself behind the lens.
Is there anything this man can’t do? “I’m not as good a surfer as I’d like to be,” he says. Somehow it’s hard to imagine Chin being clumsy. There’s that modesty again.
FREECLIMBING IN YOSEMITE
“Freeclimbers Kevin Jorgeson (left) and Tommy Caldwell have practiced for years on the Dawn Wall of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. I had the opportunity to spend a couple of days with them on the wall and take photos. I took this shot early one morning as they were getting ready to practice.”
A SKI TRIP ON EVEREST
“I’d been dreaming for years of skiing down Everest. Unlike everyone else, we only made our ascent after the monsoon rains, so there would be more snow. Mentally, it was one of the toughest experiences in my life, because I’d already failed on Everest once before and had almost died in an avalanche. But I conquered my fears and, on October 18, 2006, there I was at the summit with American extreme-skiing pioneers Rob and Kit DesLauriers. Here, we see them about 65 feet from the peak, looking forward to the descent.”
SLOWING DOWN IN THE BUGABOOS
“This is when I was with American extreme mountaineer Conrad Anker in Bugaboos Provincial Park in British Columbia. I photographed him freeclimbing Pigeon Spire solo on a day off. Yes, this is what a day off looks like for Conrad.”