Scottish photographer to tell stories from remote Karakoram Mountains of Pakistan

Colin Prior will give a presentation at Edinburgh University.

Wednesday, 20th November 2019, 6:00 am
K2 and Godwin Austen Glacier from the Vigne Glacier. Picture: Colin Prior.

It is the second-highest mountain range in the world, home to four peaks over 8,000m and K2, the ‘savage mountain’ whose steep sides and brutal weather conditions make it a much harder climb than its cousin Mount Everest.

But Scottish photographer Colin Prior is not interested in the Karakoram Mountains for their height.

Instead the 61-year-old, who will give a presentation of his photos of the mountains in a Royal Scottish Geographical Society event hosted at Edinburgh University today, is drawn to them for their steep vertical shape, meaning that ‘spires, minarets and cathedrals’ of rock pierce up through the snowline and create a far more interesting subject than a fully snow-covered range.

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Trango Towers, Baltoro Glacier. Picture: Colin Prior.

“There is so much material here, so much diversity,” he said.

“You don’t get the monotone of white and blue of completely snow-covered mountains, which photographically-speaking is very dull - they’re like icebergs, once you’ve seen one or two you’ve seen them all.”

Mr Prior, from Glasgow, has made six month-long trips to the region in the past 23 years, the most recent of which was in June this year.

While most visitors wait until July to brave the glacial conditions, Mr Prior visits several weeks earlier to catch more snow before it melts away.

K6 and Fathi Brakk Towers, Charakusa Glacier. Picture: Colin Prior.

The area attracts much less tourism than Mount Everest in the neighbouring Himalayas, where there are basic guest houses, and Mr Prior has to pitch camp - in minus 10 degrees Celsius at around 5,000m - along with a team of crew including porters, donkeys, ponies and a cook.

The photographer prefers the 67 km Biafo Glacier to its 63 km neighbour, the much more popular Baltoro, which is part of the route towards K2.

“There’s a real wildness about the Biafo. It’s really hard work compared to the Baltoro, but it’s definitely worth it,” he said.

He thinks it unlikely that any younger photographers will follow his footsteps to the region, the rise of video has left scarce sponsorship opportunities for still photographers.

Colin Prior on the Gondogoro La with K2, Broad Peak and the Gasherbrums beyond.

But video will never be as powerful as still photography, Mr Prior believes.

“The strength of a still image isn’t what’s in it, it’s where it takes you,” he said.

Video is not the only threat to future photographs of this nature, as Mr Prior has noticed the effects of climate change in the years since his first visit.

“The glaciers are receding. In some places you can see where they used to be, but they are no longer there,” he said.

“I can see signs of commercial development, too, and I think there will be changes to the in the next five years.”

The presentation is part of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society’s ‘Inspiring People’ talks.

Chief Executive Mike Robinson said: “Colin’s images have inspired a love of mountains and outdoor spaces for decades, so it is great to have him speak for RSGS.

“He joins a list of world-renowned photographers such as Yann Arthus-Bertrand, Harry Hook and the late Bradford Washburn who have appeared in our Inspiring People line-up.

The presentation, called 'Colin Prior: Photographing Pakistan's Karakoram Mountains,' will be held at 2.15pm on Wednesday November 20 at Edinburgh University's Appleton Tower.