"You need to climb less and shoot more"
When this advice came my way a few months ago, it was big. It came from a well-respected climbing photographer who knows the niche inside and out. The statement came with an understanding that I knew what I was doing on the rock. Shooting this sport well is not a simple task, so if my experience was lacking, there would have been plenty of reason for me to climb more and shoot less. I was past that.
My confidence got a boost when I knew that my portfolio was worthy of their confidence. With a trip coming up that had loads of big wall shooting potential, I started sending out proposals and figuring out shooting plans.
Jump forward a few weeks and I was in a house filled with some friends. We were stacking up our list of planned routes. Some were on there because they were on my shot list. Others were classics that held a lot of excitement. Others were projects that had been sitting in friends' heads during long days on hang boards. It was a motley list, but psych was high and our enthusiasm was matched by our preparation. My brain loved this. I'm a planner, so I was piecing together what photo projects would work best where and just getting excited overall for the good climbing ahead of us.
One route in particular held super high photography expectations. A company had thrown around ideas about this line and I wanted to deliver. Climbing wise, I had no worry. When I mentioned it to the group I was with, my naive view was that I was seen on the same athletic footing as my peers. That thought soon came to a screeching halt. The response I got, instead of support, or psych, or questions, was…
"I bet Jonathan can bring you up that."
Bring me up that?
Bring me up that?!
This was one of my planned shoots. One where I knew how every piece of the puzzle was going to run. I knew what equipment was most efficient to safely climb it and what extra gear I would add on to shoot it how I wanted. I knew every inch of the plan. Not only that, but I also knew every pitch up until the crux would be led by me, saving the athlete so I could ask them to climb the crux repeatedly. I was prepared for that rope-gunning. The athlete was psyched on the plan. We were set. There was no worry. This is why we maintain strength. This is what being a climbing photographer is about.
Yet in that moment, I was a woman, so I clearly needed to be brought up it.
If this doesn't raise hairs on your arms, let me express that unless men have explicitly said they are not capable of leading something, they are not told they'll be brought up anything. With turned heads and a "Dude, what is that? She can lead harder stuff than I can" response, I was reassured my dislike of the comment wasn't just in my head.
So much was explained beforehand to show that I was clearly prepared for this climb. I shouldn't have needed to explain my abilities in the first place. There are plenty of routes that have my ascender along for the ride, because I know my limits. There are plenty of times when the camera isn't with me at all, because know I need to figure out the space more before it can be captured well. I know these things, but shouldn't have to prove them.
I don't know the answers to fight this problem – this unnecessary gap in expectations that starts in judgements in physical abilities, but carries on across countless aspects of the sport. Do I stay quiet and hear the shocked stoked when I do big things? Or try for change in talking about plans beforehand and calling out all of the unnecessary comments that find their way in? We'll see. It's going to take fair amounts of energy to even make a dent in it, so in the meantime I'll keep my strength for sending neat projects and making a career out of capturing them beautifully along the way. If anyone ever needs a lead, I’m sure there’s a lady who can help.