Two new books destined for Aspen coffee tables
Two new books will start appearing on Aspen coffee tables this winter, alongside local favorites such as Mary Eshbaugh Hayes’ “Aspen Potpurri,” Gaylord Guenin and Kathleen Krieger Daily’s “The Quiet Years,” Chris Davenport’s “50 Classic Ski Descents” and Daniel Joseph Watkins’ “Freak Power.”
Each of these new titles doubles as an art object. Both are filled with gorgeously printed large format photographs. But the similarities between “The Climbers” and “Aspen Style” pretty much end there.
Photographer Jim Herrington spent two decades working on what would become “The Climbers,” a stunning collection of stark black-and-white portraits of 60 climbing legends who defined the sport from the 1920s to the 1970s in what many call its “golden age.” A long-form essay by Greg Child accompanies the photos and grapples with the question of what the era meant and how “golden” it was while sketching the history of climbing in the 20th century and the achievement of each of Herrington’s subjects in “The Climbers.”
Released in October, the book already has won the 2017 Banff Book Award for Mountaineering History as well as the 2017 Banff Book Award Grand Prize.
Herrington is best known for his magazine work, shooting portraits for rock stars and movie stars for Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair and their glossy ilk. But, as he writes in his introduction to “The Climbers,” he’s long counted himself among the ranks of blister-fingered, chalk-dusted climbers in the Sierra Nevada. Over the past two decades, he’s traveled the world to meet his heroes and shoot their photos. This book is Herrington’s effort to combine his skill as a portraitist with his passion and reverence for climbing.
As Alex Honnold puts it in a foreword, “His experience as a climber allows him access to their world, but his talent as a photographer is what brings them back to ours.”
We see Bradford Washburn on the cover, looking directly at us with his 1,000-yard stare. We see Robert Gabriel in his underwear, drinking coffee at his kitchen table in France. Jeff Lowe, battling MLS, is shot in extreme close-up with oxygen tubes in his nostrils.
Herrington found Jules Eichorn at age 86 and nearing death in Redwood City, California, unable to lift himself from bed. He met Riccardo Cassin in Como, Italy, just a week before he passed. Voytek Kurtyka declined to have Herrington take his portrait, writing that he did not want to take part in what the Polish great dubbed “a display of the decay of heroes or with a bit of imagination ‘the march of death.’”
The men (and some women, like Junko Taibei) are seen here in old age. Many of them are clearly frail. But there’s something in their eyes that Herrington is able to capture — an intensity, a sense of calm, a surprising sensitivity — that underscores their humanity and their indomitable spirits.
How do you define Aspen style? How do you sum up the aesthetic and the philosophy of a place where duct tape is as common an accouterment as diamonds or fur? Where global wealth and power and celebrity mixes daily with the simple mountain living of adrenaline junkies and ski bums.
Aerin Lauder attempts to sum it up by collecting a few hundred photographs and placing them elegantly between two hard covers in “Aspen Style.” She is the granddaughter of Estee Lauder and niece of Leonard Lauder, to whom she has dedicated the book. She writes in her introduction of first visiting her Uncle Leonard here as a child in the 1980s, skiing first tracks on Aspen Mountain and falling in love with the town with his guidance. Lauder’s perspective is a second-homeowner’s. She has a deep allegiance to and reverence for Aspen, though her perspective of Aspen is as a place you go, not a place where you live.
“For me, the balance of family, friends, beautiful scenery, great skiing, delicious food, and old-school charm make it the perfect escape,” Lauder writes in her introduction.
But the images are the thing here. Lauder’s book is a scattershot visual tour of Aspen past and present — a sort of design board that incorporates everything from party shots at Cloud 9 to ski area maps, street scenes, palatial home interiors and a gear-cluttered mud room, familiar historical photos, après-ski crowd shots, elk in the snow, paragliders in the air. And there are many celebrity portraits. We see John Denver with his plane on the snowy tarmac at Sardy Field and Jack Nicholson smoking a cigarette in ski gear and Hunter S. Thompson with a wolverine in his Woody Creek driveway.
The images are often complemented by quotes, mostly from Aspen’s glitzier residents and visitors, about what makes it special: We hear from John Oates and Robert McNamara, Kate Hudson and Kevin Costner, Ralph Lauren and Domenico De Sole, from John Denver and Jack Nicholson and Anjelica Huston. Each of them tries to sum up Aspen and each seems to touch on a different aspect of the place.
“There is a community of open mindedness and tolerance,” big mountain skier Chris Davenport says in the book. “People are very much encouraged to be themselves. That old Hunter S. Thompson Gonzo mantra about ‘Be who you want to be’ still encourages the intellectual and the athletic side of the community.”
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Perhaps it’s because we are in the abbreviated days of winter and I instinctively know that the sun is shining down-under. But every January I go through a nostalgic period where Australian wine dominates my mind.