“Only when I was able to relinquish control, to give up, to embrace hopelessness, was I able to start to see some semblance of order.”

Cory Richards’ camera has taken him from the runway to the wild and remote corners of world, from Antarctica’s unclimbed peaks to the Himalayas of Nepal and Pakistan, in an attempt to capture not only the soul of exploration, but also the beauty of modern society.

Cory is a passionate mountain climber on the North Face athletic team, and has carved a niche as one of the world’s leading adventure and expedition photographers.

Cory delivers stunning commercial and editorial images, and his client list includes National Geographic magazine, Outside, The New York Times, Red Bull, and Fossil.

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On community

“Community, above all else, is probably the most impactful thing that we can engage in.”

On growing up

“I wanted to fight everything, and that has been both a blessing and an absolute curse to this day.”

“I always felt very persecuted. I think that comes from a place of privilege, and sort of unknowing privilege. It comes from a place of entitlement. I didn’t know how good I really had it.”

“I couldn’t function as a normal human because I was so enamored with the lifestyle, and not understanding that you had to work for that lifestyle.”

On early success

“There’s a little bit of a curse that comes to getting it young. At the time I got my first [National Geographic] article I was 29. That’s young. I don’t think I was totally prepared for how that was going to push my life. It’s been a real struggle since then.”

“Getting the work a little bit later can be really valuable; you just know how to handle it a little bit more. You’re more prepared, you’re more adept, you have a bigger toolkit.”

“I think we always know when we’re getting blown up, but there’s something deeply addictive about ego.”

On hitting rock bottom

“I remember just laying on this carpet, and the smell of this empty rented house, and the shitty blinds, and just sobbing because I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. It was the absolute most vacuous place I’ve ever been.”

“I got divorced, I left my production company, I left my primary sponsor – and I did all that in a month. I burned my life down.”

On relinquishing control

“What really puts things in perspective for me is how far out of control my life managed to get when I was controlling it.”

“Only when I was able to relinquish control, to give up, to embrace hopelessness, was I able to start to see some semblance of order.”

On the authenticity of being authentic

“Being vulnerable helps. It helps me be honest. It helps me say, ‘Okay, I’m not lying. I’m no longer hiding anything.’ Because I feel like when we hide things, we become unhealthy.”

“I have to put myself in check and say, ‘Okay, am I being honest in this moment out of an authentic place or out of a place of: I want to be vulnerable because I know it works?’ That’s a very thoughtful process. You cannot escape that, and if you try to escape it, that’s not authentic.”

On seeking external validation

“When you’re relying on external validation as your source of value, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Those are very, very, lightweight skinny bowling pins, and you’re using a wrecking ball.”

On photography for a cause

“I think I’m in the process right now of getting out of my own way, getting out of the way of myself in order to actually start using photography to my greatest capacity.'”

“The sooner we can start to understand that we are not separate from the world, but we are very much tied to it, I think we’re going to have a lot more success both with ourselves as a human family, but also with solving the problems that we’re creating.”

“We’re engaging in a space right now where we have to teach the world to love itself a little bit.”

On identity

“There’s a lot of bullshit that comes with identity. In fact identity itself is bullshit.”

“If all this goes away tomorrow the legacy that I choose, the legacy that I want, the legacy that I value, is that I lived with integrity, I was honest, and I was a good person who lived in service.'”

“Only recently am I coming to terms and understanding what Andrew Phelps, my first photography mentor, actually meant when he said to me: ‘Cory, you’re probably going to be good at this and I just want you to remember. Never, ever, ever let what you do become who you are.'”

On the photographic process

“It’s an expression of my most inner space. It is a very meditative act where you do actually connect with a moment completely. It helps work through some of the mud of life and the emotions that we tend to push down. It becomes an expression of those.”

“On a very superficial level, it’s a game. It’s fun. It’s sneaky. It’s a dance. It’s a balance. How do I be delicate? How do I be intimate? How do I engage without invading? How do I maintain sort of this fly on the wall status? All of that is a very, very fun thing to do and I think it’s very valuable. Because, that’s what allows us to create emotive art and any art that creates emotion – elicits an emotional response – is, I think, valuable and good.”

“Composition, light, all of that stuff comes with observation… I actually pity people that it comes naturally to because there’s so much value in learning and seeing and being with light and time.”

On the dangers of feeling entitled

“When we start thinking of ourselves as entitled, that’s like buying a ticket on the Titanic. The old model is going down. We have to figure out how to innovate and be creative with how we move forward, not adhere to an antiquated past.”

On being a specialist

“Being a specialist has its upsides. People who are known for one thing tend to do very, very well. In order to be that one person, the Marco Grob of the world doing the portraits on every cover of Time or every celebrity or the Paul Nicklens or the Jimmy Chins of the adventure world, all of whom I look up to, I don’t want to be that. I have no interest in being that specialized.”

On having the best job in the world

“I would never say that I don’t have the best job in the world. I do. I hear that all the time. It’s too long of a conversation to have, nor would I want to have it with everybody, but at the same time you’re like: ‘it is the best job in the world, but be careful. Be careful what you wish for.'”

burcham-1“Hanging on a rope and shooting a rock climber, there’s a lot going on. You’re usually in pretty spectacular places. But to go meet and greet someone for the first time and bring home a good portrait, to me that’s more nerve-racking.”

John Burcham is most at home climbing new routes up the often fragile and absurd sandstone spires of Sedona, but has been adventuring and photographing since college. From his experiences working at a fish cannery to a decade spent living in Alaska, John has developed qualities that differentiate him from others in the field. His blue-collar work ethic and love for wild places allow him to capture still and moving images in exploration and adventure from otherwise inaccessible perspectives under grueling conditions. All the while, John smiles.

Whether he’s shooting high in the Himalayas, in a hospital operating room, or at a studio in town, John constantly engages with his collaborators, subjects, and environment. He has worked for healthcare and outdoor clients including National Geographic, The New York Times, the History Channel, Kahtoola Snowshoes, and Sherpa Adventure Gear.


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On pushing out of his comfort zone

“Hanging on a rope and shooting a rock climber, there’s a lot going on. You’re usually in pretty spectacular places, but to go meet and greet someone for the first time and bring home a good portrait, to me that’s more nerve-racking.”

On suffering and self doubt

“From my expeditions I learned it’s about being able to suffer. It’s work and it doesn’t stop. You sleep wondering if you got the shot. I don’t come home like, ‘Oh I’ve got it in the bag.'”

On getting THE photograph

 “You give [20 photographers] the same equipment, in the same room, to do a portrait, and you’re going to get 20 different photographs. Are two or three going to be better than the others? Yes. And then why are those better? Design is such a hard thing. How do you teach it? How do you learn from it? Because there isn’t a right answer.”

“Experience, no experience, there’s no right answer other than the photo. We all know when we see that. That photograph.”

On the importance of finding your own inspiration

“Like musicians try not to listen to too much, just get out and start creating. I’m trying to do more of that.”

On mentors

“I’d say going back I would definitely have wanted to learn more. Even back then, I should have learned lighting techniques, studied some of the other [photographers]. One of the big influencers was Galen Rowell back in the day. I’d read his book Mountain Light and that blew me away – it was a turning point… he was a huge mentor I think to all adventure photographers. He’s the man.”

“Video crews, they work together, and photographers have always been the lone artists. It’s fun when you can work with someone. You’re 2 people that can speak the same language, and I find that’s a good way to learn.”

On the importance of never stopping learning 

“that’s why I’ll never tire of it, because the learning curve never stops. It’s like an exploration.”