On Saturday, October 24, from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m., photographer, adventurer, and director Jimmy Chin will deliver a keynote address at PDN PhotoPlus Expo titled “At the Summit,” in which he will discuss his award-winning documentary, Meru. To register to attend, go here. Below, an interview with Jimmy about the movie and his keynote address, written by PDN‘s Jacqui Palumbo.
The trailer for Meru, a 2015 documentary film about the formidable ascent up the Himalayan mountain peak, begins in a hanging tent suspended on a cliff face. “I always wondered how I was going to die,” director and climber Jimmy Chin voices-over. “And now I know.”
Scaling Meru Peak was an enormous undertaking for Chin, who is known as both a leader in adventure photography and as an adventurer. He’s spent more than 15 years shooting commercial and editorial assignments, and nearly as many on The North Face Athlete team, taking on expeditions around the globe. The two worlds often overlap, sending Chin to famous peaks with his camera gear on his back. Chin has the distinction of being one of the few people to ski Mount Everest from the summit, a 2006 trip that he photographed on both the way up and the way down. “It was one of the most challenging shoots I’ve ever done,” he says, “because I was fairly focused on the skiing.”
More arduous, however, was climbing Shark’s Fin of Meru Peak, a 1,500-foot smooth granite rock face that required a 4,000-foot ascent of technical, snow, mixed-ice and rock climbing to even reach. The 21,000-foot summit, according to the documentary, “has seen more failed attempts by elite climbing teams over the past 30 years than any other ascent in the Himalayas.”
Chin and fellow climbers Conrad Anker and Renan Ozturk felt that failure acutely in 2008, attempting the ascent during a massive storm over a 20-day period (the climb should have only taken seven) that left them a little more than 300 feet below the summit. After swearing off Meru Peak for good, the alpinists found themselves back in 2011, drawn to the mountain’s “siren song.”
Meru documents their climb and the extraordinary odds that Chin, Anker and Ozturk go up against. It was awarded the U.S. Documentary Audience Choice Award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and is still playing in theaters at print time. Chin will talk about the trip and the documentary, which he filmed, produced and directed, in his Saturday keynote at PhotoPlus Expo, showing clips and discussing production and post-production. He’ll also cover his background as both a photographer and filmmaker, and, he says, some of the decisions that led him to where he is today.
Despite the remarkable settings that are the focus of Chin’s work, he encounters the same challenges that many photographers and filmmakers do. “The biggest challenge of my creative life is getting stuck shooting, seeing or thinking one way,” he says. “It’s always about pushing yourself to evolve, taking risks, following an unlikely thread.” He adds that he’s still trying to expand his horizons in both mediums, explaining, “It’s a life-long journey [that] I am still so excited about.”