Aaron Huey, author of the highly eccentric guidebook to the limestone of Ten Sleep, Wyoming, is more than a climbing author and photographer. As a photojournalist, he’s shot everywhere from Yemen to the Democratic Republic of Georgia. Huey broke onto the big-time photography scene in 2002 when he walked more than 3,000 miles across America with his dog, Cosmo, and had a photo essay published in Smithsonian. Now he’s regularly published in such preeminent magazines as Harper’s (where he’s a contributing editor), National Geographic, and The New Yorker.
Hailing from Worland, Wyoming, a “bustling metropolis” compared to the sleepy town of Ten Sleep, Huey currently lives in Seattle with his wife, Kristin; son, Hawkeye; and dog, Suki. Photojournalism keeps him busy, but he always makes time for the 16-year-old Ten Sleep Climbing “Non-Fest” every Fourth of July. “I started a festival that’s not really a festival,” he says. “We have no sponsors, no swag, no speakers. Just a hell of a lot of new routes and 18 miles of limestone walls. It fluctuates anywhere from 50 to 200 people hanging out, watching the local rodeo, dancing to cowboy bands, and climbing all day.”
Where’s the strangest place you’ve ever shot photos? I don’t really find anything all that strange anymore. It’s all rad. But favorite places include Yemen, Mali, Iran, Pakistan, and the Georgian Republic.
Have you ever found yourself in a dangerous situation? In 2007, I was almost killed more times than I can count in a four-and-a-half hour rolling ambush in Oruzgan province in Afghanistan. I was living in Kabul and was on assignment for The New Yorker, photographing mercenaries and Afghan forces attempting the first-ever drug eradication in a Taliban-controlled province. The writer and I were separated from the Americans and on the run under heavy fire for three hours. Two of our Afghan army guys were killed, and all my equipment was blown up by a Hellfi re missile when our truck was abandoned toward the end of the ambush. I don’t do combat anymore.
So what’s your favorite subject to shoot? I’m all over the map. I like shooting climbing because I find it easy, and I can control all the variables. It’s the most relaxing thing to shoot. But most of my time goes into serious, long-term human-interest stories. Like my work in Pakistan or on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
You’re a contributing editor for both National Geographic Traveler and Harper’s. What does that entail? I do exotic travel stuff and epic journeys for them, like hitchhiking the trans-Siberian highway, and shooting sharks in French Polynesia and tomb raiders in Mali. I shoot other serious subject matter at Harper’s, things like an upcoming story about a new strain of malaria in Cambodia and other dark shit.
What inspired that walk across America?I wanted a true unknown. No cell phone, no press. Just walking, eating, sleeping, and talking to people. I didn’t know my path—I found it as I went. It was the belly of the whale, and it was perfect.