The Adventurers: Climbing photographer Irene Yee

Yee, hanging out in her self-built seat.
Photo: Mikayla Whitmore

Sure, Las Vegas is home to some of the most stunning interior spaces in the world. But we’re not just a city of indoor folk who commute between desk, couch and casino. We’re also a city of outdoor adventurers. Meet six Southern Nevadans who explore the wild places beyond the edges of suburbia. They climb to mountainous heights, paddle down the Colorado River, overcome their fears and push physical limits. Each confronts the sublime in a unique way—and hopefully compels the rest of us to discover our own adventures.

Irene Yee is not a documentary photographer. She doesn’t hold herself aloof in an effort to get the shot. On the contrary, Yee is in the mix and part of the party. “I’m a very vocal person, especially if I know the climber,” she says. “I love to encourage and have a blast with them while we’re on the wall.”

The self-taught photographer discovered rock climbing through a couple of friends. Her art grew from her desire to document her climbing trips. “I started just by shooting the people I was climbing with, mostly ground shots.” Eventually, she learned how to use a rope or jumar to capture scenes from above. She will lean, hang and wait to get the right shot. She even built a seat so that she’d be more comfortable in her harness.

Yee’s photos tell a story of normal people in extraordinary places. Facial expressions are honest and unguarded. She doesn’t hide the ropes or equipment or the humanity of the sport. This unique perspective has garnered her 40,000 followers on Instagram as @LadyLockoff, the name referring to a climbing move that requires tremendous upper body strength. Yes, she can do it.

“I thought you had to climb at this elite level, because the [mainstream] media only shows the elite parts of climbing,” Yee says. “I didn’t know it could be just so fun. That’s the great thing about social media—you have such a plethora of normal people climbing. ... One image just changes your mind about something you thought you previously couldn’t do.”

Yee took a unique route to photography and climbing: technical theater. She’s a carpenter for Zumanity, and the creativity and problem solving required by her “day job” has translated well to rock climbing photography. Anytime she feels frustrated, she gives herself a pep talk: “Irene, you are nothing but creative. Figure it out, okay. This is what we have today; what can we do with it? If you’re on the ground and you’re getting nothing but a butt shot, get the coolest butt shot.”

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