There is something special about climbing photography. It shows us perspectives and vantage points that few, if any of us, are brave enough to reach. It calls on us to admire not only the climber and the physical strength and poise required to move in this vertical terrain – but the photographer too. Not only have they shared the suffering to get into position, they’ve also held their nerve to frame, compose and get the shot – often with few options to move around, or change a battery. That takes something. To celebrate this unique art form, we went through submissions to bring you the best climbing photography from Red Bull Illume 2021. Sit back and enjoy.
Don't think too much in advance, just see where it goes
Previous Red Bull Illume category finalist, Jeremy Bernard, follows his passions and tells us how doing this lets him do photography his own way, like with his newest project: ANDREA.
Where did your passion for photography and extreme sports come from?
I grew up alpine skiing. Living in a ski resort allowed me to go skiing every day and so this was my lifestyle. After competing until age 16, I thought I would look more into free skiing, and so it began. I slowly became familiar with free skiing, as well as all kinds of alternative sports. Internet wasn’t huge at that time, but videos were made, on VHS first, then on DVD. So, at the time my friends and I were just able to watch and re-watch our favorite riders, favorite movies, and favorite sport a thousand times. Skiing during winter; skate and bike during summer. Beautiful youth touching a bit of everything.
Is there one sport you love capturing the most?
As mentioned, skiing is part of my life. That’s how I was introduced to extreme sports, but also into photography. This is still what I like the most, being out there, up high in the snowy mountains. Capturing ski is quite intense, snow is one of the hardest things I’ve worked with but also the most beautiful. It needs lot of patience and lot of luck to get the perfect shot, snow isn’t predictable and its aspects are changing every minute. This is what makes it magical to me, cause when it works, when the magic happens, it is a beautiful moment of elements moving together and aligning. It’s ephemeral and can’t be reproduced. I love it.
Currently you’re working with Nina Caprez on a new project called ANDREA, which aims to share your passion with the world. Could you tell us more?
Of course photography is now part of my DNA, but above all else, my partner and I want to share our love for sports and the outdoors. We strongly believe that sports bring happiness and help improve personal development. We’re not trying to save the world, but we thought about how we could use our passion and energy to help to people in need. So, ANDREA was born.
Founded in 2020 with my partner, world-class Swiss climber, Nina Caprez, ANDREA is a Swiss non-profit organization whose goal is to explore, meet, and share through sports, often of the extreme kind. ANDREA is also an expedition truck, in which we’ll travel through to remote regions to meet and learn from the communities that live there.
Our card tricks? A removable climbing wall and a multimedia platform that will allow us to engage with communities through sport, particularly in climbing. A platform for life, a moving basecamp for exchange, a common spring of momentum.
How did you come up with the idea for ANDREA?
ANDREA was born during lockdown in Switzerland. First, the idea was to get a bigger van so we could live in it properly. We love being outdoors and it’s where we feel the happiest. After lots of online research looking for the perfect van, our minds started wandering. My longtime dream was to get an off-road vehicle so that we could drive in remote places. The idea of pushing the project a little bit further to give a special meaning to our lives. And here we are, with a project 10 times bigger than the original one but more fired up and excited than ever for what’s to come.
What is the main goal of this project?
We want to offer a bubble of escape for locals whose paths we cross, who often live in precarious and marginalized conditions. Between the two of us, Nina and I have traveled a good chunk of the planet, had hundreds of sporting adventures, and met many people. We want to stop on the side of the road, listen to stories, exchange views on small things and universes. And who knows, maybe it will change the course of a life? ANDREA will use sport to promote positive social connections and relationships.
When you started your career, did you have a plan to head in this direction?
I’m not a big career guy. I do not have many expectations regarding this and I didn’t think about the where and how I would see my career going too much. At first, I just followed a passion for skiing. It brought me to photography and traveling, always with sports. Then, it took me more into photojournalism, always with a sport aspect but more focusing on socializing and people - which I prefer more than just photographing sports now. Today, different experiences in my life brought me where I am now and I couldn’t feel more happy, grateful and accomplished than I do today.
How do you want to combine your main profession – photography – with this project?
Nina and I have chosen climbing and photography (mainly) to share and exchange with the communities. On top of this, sharing it with people on the way is also a great opportunity for me to talk and share my love for photography. I plan to do some workshops on the way, the goal is to share a maximum with everybody.
ANDREA also has a professional aspect because we plan on having projects along the way where video and photography will be the main way of telling stories.
I do not leave photography behind. I just organize things the way I want them, as opposed to being a classic photographer, like what I’ve been doing with commercial shoots. I’m now making my own path.
What are certain challenges you face when working together with athletes and capturing extreme sports?
There are many challenging aspects when shooting. If I take skiing for example; the cold, the snow, the altitude and the humidity are things I have to be very careful with. But again, it all depends what exactly you’re shooting. It is a totally different job to work on a groomer for a client than it is to be on an expedition in Pakistan, like the last one I did with Jeremie Heitz & Samuel Anthamatten. We had set a camp at 5000m high, it was -20° at night for ten days; plus, on top of managing your body, energy and physical ability, you also have to manage your equipment and safety. All these aspects are challenging.