For someone who has scaled some of the highest summits on earth, been named National Geographic Adventurer of the Year and travels around in the latest Rolls Royce Cullinan, explorer and photographer Cory Richards comes across as someone who is unexpectedly down to earth.
But this humble demeanour could largely be attributed to the experiences Richards has faced in his lifetime. In 2011, Richards and two other climbers were on their way down after summiting the 13th tallest mountain in the world, the Gasherbrum II in Pakistan when they were hit with a deadly avalanche. Miraculously, they all survived.
On landing the cover of National Geographic magazine
Soon after his near-death experience, Richards took a photo of himself, a selfie that would land on the cover of National Geographic magazine and forever changed the course of his professional career. But that memory would haunt him for many years to come when he developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from the incident. However, the Cory Richards that sat down for a video call interview with UNRESERVED, seems very much at peace with himself.
Richards’ passion for visual arts began when he was very young, but it was only in his late teens when photography started to take hold of his life, “When I was about 18 years old, I picked up my first camera and that was the beginning and it was off to the races from there,” he says.
Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, the spirit of exploration was nurtured in him by his parents. “I feel like that adventurous spirit, desire and curiosity that spurs exploration was in some ways bred into me,” he says. “I don’t remember a life without it. Certainly there were times in my adolescence when I sort of wandered away from it, but it was galvanised as my initial means of storytelling in my late teens and my early twenties.”
A picture is worth a thousand words
When asked what makes a great picture, Richards believes that a great photo has the ability to transcend, breaking all the technical rules of photography to capture a real, emotive moment that connects the viewer to a deeper sense of understanding and emotion. “Oftentimes, they are the blurry, messy moments or they’re in imperfect light or composition. They’re the ones that throw all those rules out the door in exchange for something that instantly makes us connect and that is great photography,” he adds.
When asked whether the selfie of his near-death experience on Gasherbrum II is one of those great transcendental photos, he says he finds it difficult to judge his own handiwork, “I am my own harshest critic. I feel as though I am very very unforgiving with my own work and much more (forgiving) with other people’s work. But some people would say that that photo has some of those elements in it and I would take that.”
On his partnership with Rolls Royce
Clearly, Richards is somewhat of a perfectionist in his craft, which brings us to the topic of his latest ride, the Rolls Royce Cullinan and his latest partnership with the marque in the “Inspiring Greatness” series. In 2018, Richards took part in The Final Challenge, where he was tasked to push the luxury SUV into territories where you wouldn’t normally dream of taking a high-end set of wheels to. What are his thoughts on the Cullinan? “I think sometimes people see (the partnership) and they will think it all seems paradoxical. To me, it felt very natural in that the Cullinan was designed to uphold the standards and to further the standards of the Rolls Royce brand through luxury automobiles, but also to be capable of actual exploration,” he explains.
Richards admits to not having a lot of experience with the Rolls Royce brand before, but he was surprised to uncover the practicalities of the vehicle, “I was literally shocked by the design and the engineering. It is so complete and yet so refined, it’s not overdone, but it’s done just enough. It’s everything you want and nothing else where it becomes sort of emblematic of the idea that ultimate design is everything that you strip away and what you’re left with is perfection.”
“In that regard, how I view photography and how I view art is in very much the same way. I think the juxtaposition came in the realisation that now I am capable of accessing places that are really rugged terrain while being in the lap of luxury and I love that play. I love that unexpected nature of the partnership,” he says.
On climate change and the world pandemic
Speaking of accessing remote locations, for someone who has been to some of the farthest reaches of the globe, it’s only natural for our conversation to turn to climate change and the pandemic. What does he think of the topic? “What’s interesting with the pandemic and climate change, is that one is not necessarily a piece of the other. But they come from the same (source), which is a rampant overextension of the human need for things,” he says.
His hope, he says, is that the pandemic would have laid bare our vulnerabilities to the reactions and the machinations of the past. “We see how fragile we are and we see how fragile our economies are. This is just one little bug that has upended the world, imagine more of these happening over time.
“If we act in unison as we have all done globally to combat the pandemic, then we can combat climate change. It doesn’t need to be a political thing, but it needs to be about the goodness of humanity coming together to fight something that affects all of us. If we can choose each other over ourselves, I think that would move us in a direction that is positive and I hope we can continue in this example of the pandemic and mirror that.”