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Jimmy Chin speaks about his versatile career at the Tate Lecture

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Amara Asrawi
Chin talks about his Academy Award-winning film, Free Solo.

The purest form of artistry is embracing the process without any expectations, a professional mountain athlete said on Dec. 5.

Jimmy Chin is also an Academy Award-winning film director, New York Times bestselling author and National Geographic photographer. He spoke about his expeditions and achievements at the last Tate Lecture of the semester.

Chin opened with a quote that still guides his work.

“A friend of mine once told me that there are two great risks in life: risking too much and risking too little,” he said. “I think about it because it prompts the questions, what do I want to do with my life and why?”

Chin believed he would become either a doctor or a lawyer as a boy. His career choice changed in college when he started climbing.

Chin said the sport consumed his thoughts and time.

“Climbing filled this void for me,” he said. “I found that it wasn’t just the climbing, but it was this community and it was this lifestyle that gave me some meaning and purpose.”

Chin signed with The North Face in 2001 as a sponsored athlete. He began photographing his sites while mastering difficult climbs and chasing first ascents.

“I’d never taken a photo class in my life, but there was this creative side of me that needed to be fed,” he said. “It became a vehicle to explore the world.”

Chin traveled across the continents and started taking pictures for National Geographic in the early 2000s.

Chin discovered ski mountaineering after settling in Jackson, Wyoming, and he decided to use these skills to climb Mount Everest. After falling short in his first expedition, he returned a few years later and reached the top of Everest’s southeast ridge.

“What you learn from climbing is leveraging those failures,” he said. “The most important part is to come back so you can try again.”

Chin took his creativity to the next level. He filmed his climb on Mount Meru and released the documentary Meru in 2015.

“I thought, what can I shoot that people have never seen before,” he said. “[The story] is about mountain climbing, but it’s also about friendship, loyalty, risk, and sacrifice.”

For his next project, Chin and his team, composed of highly skilled cinematographers and climbers, filmed Alex Honnold free soloing El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.

Free Solo won the Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature, and National Geographic put Chin’s photo of Honnold on the cover.

Chin said the hard work paid off.

“The outcome can sometimes go beyond what you have even dreamed of,” he said.

Chin said he doesn’t climb, film and take photos for fame.

“It’s about the craft,” he said. “It’s about the purity of that passion– it moves you.”

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About the Contributor
Amara Asrawi
Amara Asrawi, Arts & Life Editor
As our second arts & life editor, Amara shared the duties with Ellen Rogers, covered cultural events on campus, plus every Tate Lecture guest at SMU. She helps recruit and train new contributors to the newsroom as well as coordinate coverage for campus news and events. She was recently selected for the Dallas Morning News fellowship in spring 2024.  You can reach her at [email protected].