8 minute read
In the eyes of these daring women, the ruddy Nevadan sandstone makes for excitement and adventure. Here, Irene Yee’s exhilarating imagery unleashes their energy
George Bernard Shaw once wrote: ‘Youth is the most precious thing in life. It is too bad it has to be wasted on young folks’.
For the renowned Irish playwright, fleeting advantages of early life can never be truly understood in the moment. Genuine appreciation of this era, it seems, exists only in hindsight.
In many ways, the adage is a fair-minded assessment, but there’s also a curious omission. There are certainly advantages to this plucky period, and they might well be taken for granted. But what about wisdom, insight, and experience? Are the benefits of age not worth celebrating, or better yet, valuing? With all of life’s wonders to consider, are these preliminary chapters really the pinnacle of our (hopefully) long and varied existence?
It’s a morbid thought, believing our finest days are already behind us. Strange preoccupations form the basis of this idea, reinforced by obsessions in contemporary culture – fixations on fresh-faced twenty-somethings that make up the bulk of media and consumer demographics.
In Irene Yee’s realm, fascinations like these are much the same. Rock climbers are somehow almost always spritely and athletic – young hotshots engaged in remarkable physical stunts that often beggar belief.
Photo 2022 © Irene Yee | FUJIFILM X-H2 and XF50-140mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR, 1/4000 sec at F5.6, ISO 800
Photo 2022 © Irene Yee | FUJIFILM X-H2 and XF8-16mmF2.8 R LM WR, 1/1250 sec at F4.5, ISO 160
Documenting the exploits of these individuals may be part of her job, but after a while, stereotypes become yawn-inducing. A desire to step outside the box and explore something new emerges, and Irene’s more than found her photographic niche.
“I’ve recently been playing with ideas of women over 40 – who they should be, and what they do,” she says. “When I look at what young women are accomplishing, it’s amazing. That said, a lot simply aren’t in a place where they can achieve these mean physical feats anymore. That includes me.
“I’ve met lots of fantastic women through rock climbing, and their lives are so different to the lazy, complacent stereotypes we’re often fed. They’re mothers, but still choose to embark on these journeys. They’re career-driven, but have made exploration of the outdoors their core – figuring out ways where they can still contribute. I never fathomed that for myself. I admired them greatly, and wanted to demonstrate that in these photographs.”
Examining why freewheeling perspectives are so often correlated with youth, I, Too Will be Wise showcases the encounters of three such subjects outlining their own sense of adventure, superbly realized with FUJIFILM X-H2.
Whether we’re observing sprawling images of precipitous cliffs, or gazing into faces transfixed with glee, the fundamental message is clear: these women define what exploration means to them. More than that, they cherish every second of that process.
Photo 2022 © Irene Yee | FUJIFILM X-H2 and XF50-140mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR, 1/5000 sec at F2.8, ISO 250
Photo 2022 © Irene Yee | FUJIFILM X-H2 and XF80mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR Macro, 1/100 sec at F2.8, ISO 1250
“I think images are incredibly powerful. If we can disseminate art that confronts existing notions of what certain identities can be, we have the possibility to dream, change, and think outside the box,” Irene surmises. “I’m all about opening minds to existence beyond those ‘celebrated’ periods. There’s so much more out there.”
Pushing back against predetermined roles and responsibilities, Irene’s embracement of uniqueness is key to understanding her modus operandi. Carving out her own individualistic path has been long and arduous, but in the end, perseverance paid off.
Seven years ago, Irene started a seven-year stint with Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas. Over the years, she found herself gravitating away from work, and towards hobby.
At first, scaling the rocks was mere distraction; a means of meeting new people in a new city. Before long, the venture became an obsessive pursuit – thanks, in part, to the encouragement of her fellow aficionados.
“It was a lot of fun, and that was everything to do with those around me. Generally, people are very positive. It’s a basic human kindness, but it’s often lacking when you’re introduced to things. I was always excited about participating for that reason. I dove straight in, and before I knew it, I was there three to four days a week.”
Irene now runs clinics for other budding mountaineer photographers. As well as perfecting technique and methodology, she’s keen to foster and promote independence in her students, encouraging each and every person to identify their own sense of self.
“As adults, we get shifted into specific positions. We’re constantly told what we can and can’t do. We’ve been assigned these preordained lanes, especially as we age. What I’ve learnt from these women is that you can definitely switch paths. It might not be easy, but the inherent challenges should never hold you back from creating the life you want to have.”
Photo 2022 © Irene Yee | FUJIFILM X-H2 and XF50-140mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR, 1/2500 sec at F3.2, ISO 800
Photo 2022 © Irene Yee | FUJIFILM X-H2 and XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR, 1/2000 sec at F4, ISO 125
It may require a level of bespoke practice, but Irene’s method highlights the importance of personalized solutions. For a lot of the women she deals with, yoga has proven particularly useful in this way – making muscles supple, allowing for more flexibility and greater coordination.
“Everybody’s different. The women in my project all agreed that stretching was a big help, as was breath control,” she confirms. “The older I get, the more I realize how important it is. Anything that gets your body moving is good. The more you can be mobile, the better.”
Predisposed to the balance and bravery of the world’s most infamous circus outfit, Irene’s showbiz background makes for theatrically captivating photography – her images performative renditions of an activity that’s often regimented and by-the-books. Using X-H2 to convey this sensibility was a tremendous addition to her set-up.
“Your situation can change so much out here. You have to be an opportunist. Sometimes you’ll need to be wide and expansive, other times close and detailed. Having a good range is ideal for that, and with 40MP, X-H2 does everything I need it to do.
“When you’re harnessed up, you also have to pay very close attention to the direction of light. It’s frustrating because it often gets in the way. Pose accordingly, that’s the key. Stabilizing images during moments of action – that was another huge consideration. It’s all very tricky, but X-H2 was really practical in every context, particularly with the IBIS.
“When you’re hanging on one point, you can’t walk around to alter your perspective. Having the camera away from my face, I used the pop-out LCD screen as the viewfinder. That was so important in this space. After all, I’m not a contortionist. I can only go so far!”
Photo 2022 © Irene Yee | FUJIFILM X-H2 and XF80mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR Macro, 1/1000 sec at F3.2, ISO 250
Photo 2022 © Irene Yee | FUJIFILM X-H2 and XF80mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR Macro, 1/800 sec at F3.2, ISO 1250
Down on the ground, Irene’s attending portraits are a complementary delight. Focus on the eyes and you’ll notice astonishing details – technical achievements, and wonderfully symbolic reflections of her intentions. Shimmering deep in the pupils of each person sits a mirror-image: each woman’s idea of a personal nirvana.
“It’s about inspiration, but it’s also about portraiture we don’t normally see in these spaces. The happiness is reflected in their expressions, and deeper than that, in their eyes too.
“I wanted to convey joy and excitement. Being able to showcase what those women do, but also what they look up to. For Mardi, it was swimming. Selena finds her peace in outdoor yoga. Tracy’s like me – she loves being on the rocks.
“I don’t think you can ever truly depict that feeling of reverence, but as photographers, we can definitely try to approximate.”
Photo 2022 © Irene Yee | FUJIFILM X-H2 and XF8-16mmF2.8 R LM WR, 1/8000 sec at F2.8, ISO 800
Photo 2022 © Irene Yee | FUJIFILM X-H2 and XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR, 1/1000 sec at F4.5, ISO 500
Photo 2022 © Irene Yee | FUJIFILM X-H2 and XF8-16mmF2.8 R LM WR, 1/400 sec at F4.5, ISO 500
Thinking conceptually for these magnified segments, Irene paired X-H2 with XF80mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR Macro for outstanding results. Detaching her subjects in the creamy bokeh of low aperture, detail and intimacy were crucial factors in a shallow depth-of-field. Focusing on the eye itself required OIS, and a steady hand to boot.
“I’d never tried this before. Focusing on an eyeball is incredibly hard,” she laughs. “It’s smooth and watery, and AF usually has a very difficult time trying to center on it. Instead, it’ll gravitate towards something nearby – like the skin between your eyelashes, or underneath your eyebrow. Thankfully, X-H2 was super helpful in alleviating those problems.
“Everything you see here was done wholly in-camera. No edits, no multiple exposures. That’s testament to how remarkable this kit is.”
A fascinating portrait, I, Too Will be Wise matches Irene Yee’s distinctiveness with robust support for overlooked identities. Above all else, her praise and support magnify these voices with an unselfish commitment to care.
“The best work you create is what’s most personal. That can be challenging, because you have to be vulnerable, but that’s the best thing you can be a part of – something you’re close to, that you understand innately.
“Of course, the larger message is everybody, but this one was about motivating people who’ve ever been left out. Get out there and show them what you’re made of.”
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