“This career is a roller coaster in so many ways,” John Price tells us from his home in Canmore, Alberta. Because he’s away so often, he resides in an affordable basic structure, an unfinished basement in a shared house. His digs consist of plywood, carpet and a sheet that provides a makeshift roof. Under normal global circumstances (i.e. when there’s no global pandemic going on), it’s simply a base to return to when he’s not traveling to shoot commercial and editorial work.
“It’s a financial roller coaster. You win the Banff Film Festival for Best Image (2017) then you go through these natural, quieter periods of the year where income doesn’t come in,” Price continues. “But the hardest thing for me to manage is the emotional roller coaster that comes from being in the limelight, which comes with these super highs, followed by these low periods.”
Price, raised in Canberra, Australia, studied adventure recreation in college in Christchurch, New Zealand, and began climbing in 2009. Fifteen months after touching rock, he picked up a camera and began documenting the sport.
Three years later, he took his first international trip, to Nepal, where he attempted an unclimbed mountain. Poor conditions forced his team down before they reached the summit, but for Price the trip was a success—there, with an ice tool in one hand and a camera in the other in a surrounding of snow-covered peaks, broken ridge lines, and deep crevasses, was just where he wanted to be.
At trip’s end he found himself in Banff, Alberta, half wandering around, half surrounded by some of the best photographers and ice climbers in the biz. He made friends and was soon gleaning shooting tips from industry veterans, including Paul Zizka, who showed him how to capture climbers under the northern lights.
As a budding alpinist, Price had visions of his future: climbing huge routes, shooting magazine covers, attending film festivals and documenting the climbers that inspired him.
From Banff, he moved 25 kilometers down the Trans-Canada Highway to Canmore, where he fell in love and soon married. After moving in with his wife, he found himself living down the street from ice climber and Red Bull athlete Will Gadd. Soon after they met, Gadd, who needed a photographer to travel with him to Japan to shoot a project, recruited Price.
Though heavy snow fell during the trip, making for challenging climbing and shooting conditions, Gadd and his partner Sarah Hueniken still managed to complete a handful of first ascents. Price got the shots he needed. The partnership was set.
A few years passed, during which time Price starred in a short film called “At What Price,” which showed him transitioning from the social media game (making clean, perfect images) to telling the truth—the truth being his ongoing struggles with depression. His truth set his images apart from his peers.
Back on our call, he told us, “I feel my struggles with depression amplified my career; in a sense it motivates me to get that high again, to pitch those jobs, go and put up a route.” Then he shared the flip side of his condition: “Depression breeds stagnancy.”
With a film out on him, gigs coming in from every which way, including a partnership with the outerwear company Arc’teryx, Price thought he had it made. It didn’t hurt that his image of an ice climber in a narrow canyon above him, the red climbing rope bowed toward his camera, earned him “signature image” at the Banff Film and Book Festival. And he was even profiled in a story called “How an Adventure Photographer Captured a Climber Scaling Grand Sentinel Spire.”
Price and Gadd teamed up again this year for a trip to the Henan Province in China to climb a long, demanding ice route they’d seen in a climbing film. A shot from that trip earned him the cover of Rock and Ice magazine.
Though he credits his mentors, including Zizka and Gadd, he says he’s learned the most from his own failings—times when he didn’t get the shot. Times when he didn’t get the gig he wanted and watched his savings dwindle until his bank account statement read zero, forcing him to pick himself up and get back after it.
He also said his depression has grown in intensity over the past few years.
“I never had a game plan,” Price said. “I just had a plan to shoot climbing and it brought me here.”
He adds, “The negative can be a positive catalyst to do good things.”
As our call came to an end, I asked him if he had advice for the next generation of photographers.
“Shoot what you love and are truly passionate about,” Price explains. “Shoot what gets you super fired up when you look through that viewfinder.”
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