had become professional grade. While that
might be cause for celebration for most,
Rich took it as a wake-up call that he had to
reevaluate his path.
“I realized that somewhere along the
line, I got lost,” he says. “I didn’t pick up a
camera to become a photojournalist. I did it
because I loved rock climbing and I wanted
to document that.”
WHO ARE YOU?
With this rediscovered direction at
hand, Rich sat down with his editor at the
Bee, who helped him devise a plan to save
enough money from his photography to
take a semester off from college and document rock climbing in the Western United
States. His parents were skeptical. His father, a schoolteacher, could see the writing
on the wall—if Rich left college, he wasn’t
going back. Nonetheless, they agreed, after
making Rich sign a written contract promising to finish college after the trip.
With $3,000 and six months to play
with, Rich set off down Interstate 15 in
his Honda Civic, minus seats so he could
fit his climbing gear, camera equipment
and 100 rolls of slide film. Traveling from
one campground to the next, Rich would
befriend the climbers and ask to tag along
with his camera.
“There was no equation for how this was
going to make sense or make money back.
I had to go out and photograph rock climb-
ing,” he explains.
When Rich finished a roll of film, he
would mail it to the Bee and ask his editors
for critiques. Because he was a rookie, occasionally, the editors would prank him,
saying the film had gotten lost or come out
black. For a 19-year-old kid holed up in a
phone booth in the American Southwest,
bleary-eyed and back aching, such moments could be devastating. It was all about
learning not to be self-conscious about
criticism. He now calls his rapport with
the Bee’s photo editors some of the best
feedback he has ever received.
At the end of the six months, Rich
returned to college, as promised. After editing the images, he took a shot in the dark.
He mailed the 40 best lifestyle photographs
to Patagonia and the 40 best action shots
to Climbing magazine. A day later, he got a
call from an official-sounding voice, “Is this
Corey Rich? Who are you?” It was Jennifer
Ridgeway, Patagonia’s founding photo edi-
tor. The company wanted to use the images
in an upcoming catalog.
A day later, the photo editor of Climb-
ing called. He was gruff, in the hard-nosed
way of an editor, but he told Rich that they
wanted to use his photo of bikini-clad Swiss
climber Rikki Ishoy for an upcoming cover.
It ended up being Climbing’s best-selling
cover of all time. Rich knew then that he
was onto something big.
It wasn’t long before Rich was getting
so much work from magazines and ad
agencies that the head of the photography
department at San Jose State sat him down
and asked, “What are you still doing here?”
Rich counts his decision to take time off
from college as one of two turning points
in his career. The other was when he happened upon a Time magazine review of the
Nikon D90, the first video-capable DSLR.
Rich was flying home from a shoot at the
time, and the first thing he did after land-ing was buy the camera.
When it comes to photography, Rich’s
philosophy is that you can’t wait for the
work to come to you. Instead of spending
time pitching to editors, he has always
found it better to go out and shoot incredible content to shop. That’s what put him
on the map with Patagonia and Climbing
magazine, so it’s only natural that he applied the same tactic to motion.
While Rich was fully entrenched in the
LEFT: Garry Turner looks out over the ocean while boating
off of Key West, Florida.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: Danielle Taylor runs above Caples
Lake near Lake Tahoe, California; Alison Cross running at
dusk in San Francisco; Mountain biker Rebecca Rusch was
filmed for the launch of the Nikon D4 camera. Corey Rich
and crew traveled to Mexico, Utah, and California to capture
three atheletes and answer the question, “Why?”