Two topographical maps of the Alps adorn the walls of Ben Tibbetts’ home, each measuring more than a meter wide, replete with colour-coded pins denoting past and future objectives. Tibbetts sits at his computer as the afternoon sun breaks through parting storm clouds — a rare work-from-home day for a man who spends as many days in alpine bivouacs as he does in his own bed.
“I wish I could work faster,” Tibbetts says, shaking his head. “I need to get all this information out of here,” he points to his forehead, “And to press before the whole mountain has crumbled.”
Tibbetts is working on a guidebook. He recently completed a film project. His first coffee table book, Alpenglow — hailed as a masterpiece — documents 50 of the finest climbs on the 4 000 metre peaks of the Alps. The Chamonix-based alpine photographer and IFMGA guide like to keep busy. He takes on enough commercial work to live comfortably but isn’t motivated by financial success; he spends the vast majority of his energy on personal passion projects.
Tibbetts’ climbing acumen allows him to move and shoot nimbly in exposed terrain with talented partners. “There are places I’m comfortable getting to that most people aren’t,” Tibbetts explains. “You’ve got to keep up with high-level athletes while carrying another two or three kilos of gear. If you’re 40 meters behind the athlete, you’ll get three images in the day; if you can be 10 meters ahead of them, you’ll get 2 000 shots. Five of those might be good.”
Alpenglow is a testament to Tibbetts’ creative vision, methodical approach, and the standard to which he holds his work. The 40-year-old British mountain guide is a meticulous documentarian with an encyclopedic knowledge of the terrain. His books combine photography, climbing history, first-person narrative accounts, and hand-drawn illustrations. Each book’s 190 images are thoughtfully considered: a particular location on a ridge, at a specific time of day, in certain weather conditions.
“I’m obsessive-compulsive,” laughs Tibbetts. “I think I’ve done some routes three times. I repeated a five-hour hike five times to get one shot.” He shrugs and smiles. “There’s maybe too much content in the world; there’s no point just adding more. If you’re going to do it personally, you might as well go all out.”
During its creation, Alpenglow appeared to be a sort of pièce de rèsistance — the pinnacle of his career — until he finished it.
“I thought that Alpenglow was going to be my only book, so I might as well do it properly,” recalls Tibbetts. “But then it turns out when you’ve finished, you’re like, ‘Oh, what do I do now?’”
The answer lies in those pins on the maps, the research tabs open on his computer, and the boxes of skiing and climbing gear half-packed on the floor.
“I’ve rediscovered some hidden gems that aren’t in any guidebook,” says Tibbetts. “Now I’ve got more projects than I can finish in 15 years, but that’s fine.”