Twenty Minutes with Climber Robert Jasper
In November last year I was lucky enough to be asked to photograph one of the worlds leading Climbers, German Alpinist Robert Jasper. One of his major sponsors, outdoor clothing manufacturer Marmot, needed a new portrait for promotional purposes and as they were flying him in to the UK for a lecture at the Kendal Mountain Film Festival it seemed a great opportunity for us to hook up.
Robert and I had spent a week together a couple of years ago in North Wales. He ticking his way through the classic routes and me chasing after him trying to get the best angles. If you've never heard of Robert Jasper here is just a small taster.
"Robert Jasper, born in Germany in 1968 and grew up in the Black Forest. From an early age, he started climbing near his home in the Schlüchttal and in the nearby Basle Jura, (Switzerland). Today, Robert Jasper is one of the world’s leading extreme mountaineers and gained fame as an alpine decathlete. Above all, however, it is in the extreme alpine area, mixed terrain and ice that he sets new international benchmarks.
His special passion is for solo climbing – his way of getting to know himself as well as discovering the beauty of the mountains. At barely 20 years old, Robert Jasper had solo-climbed more than 100 of the most difficult routes in the north face of the Alps, some of which had never been climbed before. He caused a public furore in 1991 when he climbed the three largest north faces in the Alps (Eiger, Matterhorn and Grandes Jorasses) in record time in the space of a year. In 2003, Robert Jasper was voted the world’s most successful mixed climber by the German language climbing magazine ‘Klettern’.
Today, his expeditions take him to the most remote mountains in the world, around Everest in the Himalayas and in Patagonia, where he completed the fastest ascent of the famous Cerro Torre mountain. In Alaska, he climbed the Denali (Mt. McKinley) twice, using different routes, in just four days.
The well-known backdrop of the north face of the Eiger was the filming location for the IMAX movie production ‘The Alps’, in which Robert Jasper was involved as one of the leading actors. The film premiere was in spring 2007. Robert Jasper is currently working on a book about his experiences and adventures in the world’s mountains, especially the north face of the Eiger, where he continually sets new standards"
So there you have it, its official he's good.
The day of the shoot arrived and I still wasn’t a 100% sure what type of portrait Marmot were looking for, except that it was to be more “formal” than the type usually associated with action heroes like Robert (thousand yard stare) so I’d packed the Van with a myriad of equipment for both indoor and outdoor scenarios. I liked the idea of shooting a portrait which was a little different, but until I had seen the venue I wasn’t sure how I might achieve that.
Roberts plane was running late by about an hour, this would mean he reached Kendal only a couple of hours before he was due to give his talk. In those two hours he would have to check in to his hotel, meet up with the “tech” guys at the venue to make sure his presentation which he kept on his laptop was compatible with their facilities (you’d be surprised at how often this wasn’t actually the case) speak to his Co-presenter John Horse croft about the running order of the nights entertainment, sit down for a meal with his sponsors, Marmot and find time to have his photograph taken by me!
When he finally arrived I met him at his hotel, I’d decided the best plan of action was attack so I wanted to grab him before anyone else got there. Unfortunately for me, everyone else had exactly the same plan, so both John and Martin Panton from Marmot also turned up. They were very gracious and allowed me to arrange to shoot Robert before they had their respective meetings.
As it turned out the very accommodating Hotel staff allowed me to use a meeting room in the hotel, which had a large white projection background which seemed perfect to utilise as a “makeshift” backdrop and as I would only be able to have 20 mins with Robert it would ultimately speed things up. I headed off to set things up followed by Robert and entourage.
I was planning on using a single flash, fired through a 2ft x 3ft Softbox to Roberts left, simple yet effective so had brought along my trusty Profoto Acute 600, which is small and portable for situations just like these, but also packs enough punch to light a host of situations. I wanted to shoot on Hasselblad with a 150mm lens to get a nice, tight crop.
The meeting room was perfect, or at least it would have been if it hadn’t had a huge boardroom table running down its entire length! But then I realised, this was my opportunity to shoot a slightly “different” portrait. Yes, the table was so highly polished it was like glass and produced a perfect reflection of whatever you put on it, in this case Robert Jasper.
I sat Robert down and asked him to fold his very impressive hands in front of him and with the clock ticking fired off a few “test” frames until we got the desired effect. Just a few minutes later and the shot was in the bag. I did take a few more shots against the aforementioned White board, just so I had a “classic” style portrait as well, in case my boardroom spectacular wasn’t appreciated.
Roberts lecture went down well with the sell out audience and my portrait seemingly went down well with his sponsors.