‘Stories Behind the Images’ proves that a picture is truly worth a thousand words

Book of the Week: Feb. 24

Connor Lawless, Creative Director

Everybody has a story to tell, but photographer Corey Rich has more than most, and he’s got pictures, too.

Connor Lawless

Rich is an accomplished and widely-recognized photographer of adventure sports, which include activities such as rock climbing, surfing and snow sports. Primarily known for capturing iconic rock climbing photos for decades, Rich’s career has brought him across the globe taking pictures of some of the most prestigious athletes in the world.

His book,“Stories Behind the Images,” is a novel with something for everyone. It’s part photo book, part memoir and part short story collection. The book has 53 non-chronological chapters that can be read in whatever order the reader wants. Each section leads with a stunning picture from Rich’s career and is followed up with the backstory of the picture and a lesson to be learned from it. These segments vary from funny stories about the hectic start of Rich’s career to touching stories about the special people he met on his journey as a photographer.

An example of what you can expect from the book comes in the fifth chapter “Story behind the Image that Launched My Career.” At the time, Rich was in college and a self-proclaimed “dirtbag,” which is rock climbing slang for someone dedicating their life to living a broke, nomadic lifestyle and climbing the best walls around. After traveling to take pictures of other climbers and the lifestyle he was living, Rich returned to college and developed the film to unsolicitedly send his pictures to Patagonia, an outdoor clothing brand.

He hoped that his pictures would have a chance of making it into Patagonia’s clothing catalog. Because of Rich’s focus on telling stories through his pictures and his distinctive photography of the sport, Patagonia accepted the submissions, used his pictures and sent him a check.

After this taste of success, Rich arrived at a crossroads of whether to leave school to pursue a career in his passion or stay to continue his studies, but he wasn’t established in the field … yet.

By chance in his next year of college, Rich lived with a surfer who prioritized adventure over education just like him. Although the pair’s GPAs did not benefit from the lifestyle, Rich adopted his friend’s philosophy, and they took a trip down together to a tiny village in Mexico to surf. On the way down, they were held at gunpoint by officials and were forced to bribe them to continue and upon arriving found only one dingy motel in the town with one restaurant to feed them for the whole trip. This didn’t dissuade them, however, as “the beer was cheap, the food was delicious and the surfing was all time.” Soon they were catching waves and shooting Patagonia’s latest surfing line.

While surfing, Rich’s friend was stung by a school of jellyfish and went into shock, so Rich ran for help. Because of the town’s minimal infrastructure, the only person in town able to administer epinephrine was the cantina’s waitress, so they hauled his friend up to the restaurant and laid him out on a table to treat him. In this hectic moment, Rich decided to pull out his camera and capture his now infamous image of his friend grimacing on the wooden table in the poorly lit room with the waitress injecting the syringe into his butt.

This image would land on the cover of one of Patagonia’s catalogues with the headline reading “grin and bare it.” It conjured a lot of attention around Rich and his work and led him to shoot for major outdoor companies and his own projects to this day.

I loved reading through the processes and adventures behind each of Rich’s pictures and found the life and career advice in this book excellent for readers about to step into their careers. Rich’s photography always amazes, but it is the life of the man behind the camera that makes this book special.

As a follower of Rich’s work, both as a photographer and someone who has participated in a variety of the sports he has covered, it felt like this book was written just for me. Yet, it still holds universal appeal for anyone interested in living life to the fullest.

If you are interested in a taste of the book without having to buy it, Rich did a series on his instagram @coreyrichproductions called “Quaranstories with Corey” in which he reads chapters aloud with his daughter and shows the pictures from the book.