Cory Richards’ early career is defined by his ability to put his body where others can’t or won’t. A lifelong climber and mountaineer, Richards’ resume are replete with many of the world’s most daunting mountains, some of which he’s summited without supplemental oxygen.
Now, after more than a decade of risk and adventure, Richards is seeking something other than the fact of the feat—a deeper and, if possible, higher goal.
“I’m trying to be more aware of who I am as I move through these places,” Richards says. “I’ve learned a lot about the gentleness that’s required to bring people into intimacy, to invite viewership and participation. That’s how I want to use my body. It is one thing to go to the mountains. It is another thing to go and use empathy and knowledge of geopolitical situations to craft a story.”
In 2012 Richards survived an avalanche. The event provides him with a useful frame to discuss trauma. In speaking engagements, the accident stands as a turning point in the hero’s journey, one from which he can reflect on early childhood struggles with addiction and homelessness, as well as the lasting effects of PTSD. However, Richards notes, “not everybody gets an avalanche. But we all need containers.”
Through his work, Richards aims to create spaces, where through exposing himself, it becomes okay for others to do the same — ”to explore how nonlinear, fragmented, and curious life really is.”
Richards is in search of unexpected confluences, the nexus of subject areas where we might find productive discourse to shift our thinking around important issues of the day. Richards believes we have the power to shift the thinking of entire demographics, entire generations if only we can create the time and space for reflection.
Photography and filmmaking are modalities that allow Richards to make and engage at the same time. Now, having spent years working in the strata of both commercial image-making and National Geographic journalism, he’s trying to reach beyond their entrenched tropes and forge his own path. “The paradigm of ‘shooting’ can become a way of seeing that has limits. It’s time to say what needs to be said and pick projects that actually move the dial.” And beyond his visual contributions, Richards remains committed to his own practice of everyday life: “Work can be a legacy, but what matters is how I relate to the people around me and how I treat them.”
“We all struggle with pain, loss, grief— those are consistent across our experience. We need to create a space for our human family to talk about what’s happening.”
Richards takes ownership of his role in crafting spaces for considered viewing. “How we choose to release work influences the speed and efficacy with which it spreads. We cannot talk about publishing in today’s day and age without recognizing the majority of the work we create is going to come out through the screen of a phone. Understanding that and starting to work towards making more impactful work to be consumed on that platform is the evolution we have to accept. The tremendous power that social platforms have encouraged me to be thoughtful with how I put work into the world.”
Reflecting on his 2016 project #EverestNoFilter, he says “I hate the concept of ‘check out two white guys climbing Everest,’ but accessing two billion through rogue digital publishing is huge.” The public response to the project was overwhelming: people around the world wrote to Richards & his climbing partner with stories of their own struggles with trauma and of overcoming adversity. Still, Richards is disheartened by our collective media viewing habits.
While we are more equipped than ever to make unexpected connections, the space in which to do so is finite, even shrinking. “I want people to invest in pictures emotionally,” he says, “to incite action. That’s the whole point – not the addictive nature of content consumption.