While researching images to use for the “Oregon Field Guide” special Mount Hood: Climbing Oregon’s Highest Peak, producer Jule Gilfillan went to the Mazama headquarters to meet with archivist Jeff Thomas.
After climbing through the archives searching for photos, Thomas suggested she look at an image taken by a relatively new Mazama. The image, captured by outdoor photographer Andrew Holman, was of a lone climber in the shadow of Mount Hood in the early morning light. Gilfillan was intrigued.
In 2012, OPB talked with Holman about his interesting, but sometimes competing passions of climbing and photography.
Q&A with photographer Andrew Holman
When did you start taking photos?
Holman: I started taking photography more seriously in 2009, when I bought my first Digital SLR (single-lens reflex) camera. I had been saying I was going to buy a DSLR forever and kept putting if off and/or not having the money. I took a second job at a bar in Oklahoma City. After graduating college in 2006, I moved to Oklahoma City where I worked for two years as an industrial engineer and used the extra income to finally take the plunge. Shortly after purchasing my first DSLR I moved to Spokane for a job opportunity.
What came first for you, climbing or photography?
Holman: Spokane was my playground. When I first moved there I had to Google things like ‘how to choose hiking boots.’ I literally knew nothing, but I was intrigued. I wanted to get to more out-of-the-way places, places you couldn’t just pull over on the side of the road and snap. I ended up doing a lot of hiking and photographing in northern Idaho.
Hiking led to an interest in even more out-of-the-way spots and locales. I would go to summitpost.org and look at pictures people took trudging up Mount Rainier or Mount Hood at sunrise and think, “I want to be able to do that someday.” I started looking into climbing classes and found the Spokane Mountaineers website. I planned to take their intro course.
Many of the people I climb with seem to have gotten into photography in order to document their climbs. I am the exact opposite. I started out climbing almost exclusively for photographic opportunities, but as I’ve gotten up more and more peaks and my climbing skills have grown, climbing is probably now neck-and-neck with photography for my favorite hobby. In the summer, I climb every weekend and my non-climbing friends rarely see me.
What made you choose Portland?
Holman: Before climbing and photography, my main hobby was homebrewing. While researching beer and homebrewing, I kept hearing about Portland and how it had the most breweries per capita of any city in the world. I decided to visit Portland on Labor Day weekend while I was living in Oklahoma City. My intent was to rent a bike and tour the breweries, which I did, but what ended up happening is the same thing that happens to so many others: I fell in love with the Northwest. Flying into Portland and seeing Mount Hood for the first time ever, I couldn’t help but have a ridiculous smile on my face. I loved everything about Portland and decided I had to try and move there.
Do you have any training in photography? Is this what you’ve always wanted to do career-wise?
Holman: My formal degree is in industrial and systems engineering from the University of Florida. I switched majors many times. I started college as a digital arts and sciences major and took one class in photography. It was called Visual Literacy and was a black-and-white film class. It was a lot of work (more than some of my engineering classes) developing and printing photos the old-fashioned way, but taught me the basics of handling an SLR camera in manual mode. I wasn’t the best photographer then; I’m mainly self-taught. I’ve had some good mentors and I’ve done a ton of research on the internet. I always tell people, though, the best way to get good at photography is to take a lot of photos and I think that has really helped me. I feel awkward if my DSLR is not slung over my shoulder; I take it with me everywhere, much like a wallet, keys or a phone. Photography started out as just a hobby to document my life and my other hobbies, but it’s really taken on a life of its own now. Few things make me more happy than taking photos, be it of a climb, some good food, a friend or a wedding.
Of your photos of Mount Hood, which is your favorite?
Holman: My favorite photo of Mount Hood was taken in December of 2010. It was one of my first winter climbs.
No one else was on the mountain that day and there was a heaping of fresh snow everywhere. The whole summit crater area was pristine and untouched. In the photo we were nearing the Hogsback, and the morning light was soft and gorgeous on all the fresh snow. The light is just starting to hit the ice pinnacles near the summit.
I remember the first time I climbed Hood I was shocked to see those ornate structures; they reminded me of the sandcastles I used to build growing up in Florida. Thanks to little details like that, I still consider Hood one of the most aesthetically gorgeous peaks I’ve ever climbed.
It was in that magical time when the light was of excellent quality and quantity. Often the light is of good quality early in the morning up on Hood, but the problem is that there is just not much of it. So you either have to haul a tripod up with you, or max out your camera settings, hand-hold and hope for the best. Only a couple minutes later the sun was high enough in the sky that the light was harsh and uninteresting; the moment was over.
That good early-morning alpenglow is so fleeting and brief and you have to be ready for it. I think that’s one of my favorite things about climbing Hood; the midnight-to-1 a.m. start times ensure that you’re always going to be nearing the summit as the sun is nearing the horizon.
The flip side of this photo is that we did not summit that day. We were a bit inexperienced and the conditions were not very good (fresh powder may be nice for skiers in groomed areas, but it is exhausting at best and downright scary at worst, for climbers). It was also very cold (near zero with wind chill) even for Hood in December.
Since meeting Holman back in 2012, he has moved on to new adventures in Alaska where he continues to explore his photography.