At age nineteen, Gabe Rogel bought his first SLR camera. He took a gap year from college and set out on a three-month solo odyssey to the infamous Himalayas. As a connoisseur of rocky ascents and some of Washington’s highest peaks, a trip to the other side of the planet would shape the next twenty years of his career, a career built on incredible adventures.
Rogel was one of the fortunate to find what he loved to do in his youth and transmute his passion for rock climbing into a portfolio of work both impressive in scope and geographical intrigue. Rogel Media captures images of unbelievable vistas and the athletes who do the unimaginable- defy gravity, while at the same time challenging any degree of the mundane.
Originally from Spokane, Rogel pursued a photography degree in Colorado only to return to Bellingham to take a summer job mountain guiding at the American Alpine Institute. After two summers guiding trips to Mount Baker, Alaska and South America Rogel found himself at a crossroads between two loves – mountains and cameras.
“I was guiding up at Mt. Baker, shooting slide film and shooting around Bellingham and I remember this major moment of selling my first climbing photo to a climbing magazine,” Rogel recalled. “That photo I sold was taken on the Mount Baker summit crater while I was guiding. It was three guys on a rope team silhouetted with Mount Baker steaming behind them.”
Later that year Rogel would attend the Outdoor Retailer Show, opening his eyes to an entire industry. After selling a photo for $300 for a rock-climbing calendar, he realized he could combine his passions, make a real living and turn an outdoor lifestyle into an alpine dream vocation. Patagonia would be the first major company to buy one of Rogel’s photographs- a fly fishing shot used as an ad in a fly fishing magazine. When the crème de la crème of the outdoor industry comes knocking and says they’ll pay $1000 for a single photo, Rogel said, “That’s when the light really went on.”
After a ton of knocking on major outdoor industry doors and finding a niche, fast-forward to today and Rogel Media has made in-roads with companies like Patagonia, North Face, Marmot, Bombardier and Outside Magazine. A few years ago, Rogel began working with Sony as one of their Artisans of Imagery. “It’s funny to be sitting here talking about the early days because I remember being in Bellingham that first summer and saying, ‘I can’t believe this is happing.’ I was twenty-two. That’s when my career began,” he acknowledged.
When people feel this eager passion, they can forgive awkward first impressions. Rogel recalled, “I used to lug around this thick, heavy light table for slide viewing. My first time working with Marmot, twenty years ago, Tom Fritz was the VP of marketing, whom I didn’t even know. He was expecting me to pull out a book of my photos and instead I pull out this light table. I asked, ‘Hey, do you have anywhere for me to plug this in?’” That encounter led to a contract and a retainer with Marmot. Rogel fondly remembers brokering the deal from a payphone in Yosemite just before climbing El Capitan.
As a teenager working as a ski tech at Mountain Gear in Spokane, Rogel couldn’t have dreamed the path his climbing feet would soon traverse. Mountain Gear would be the first company to use his photos for their comprehensive catalog. It was a $20 gear trade per photo and at the time he thought, “Sweet, that’s more cams and carabiners or another road trip to the desert.” The yearly catalog was enough to give Rogel the early recognition for his images that would circulate his name throughout the vast sea of outdoor industry vendors.
Segue to the countless photo expeditions Rogel has coordinated since then. He’s worked for major companies who’ve contracted with him to film or photograph unique lifestyle perspectives, allowing him to capture many corners of the world from unique vantage points. One film project had him profiling high altitude, high- profile, climber Adrian Ballinger.
“I shot up on the mountain most days but on the last day, I got to take a bunch of heli rides with the door off, hanging out the side shooting two climbers down on the ridge of the mountain we’d been climbing on previously. Seeing Everest and Makalu as we were coming up over those ridges of Ama Deblam, from that perspective, I’ll never forget that,” he said.
Shoots for Rogel are still usually trip based and sometimes photojournalistic – capturing the essence of a place, or highlighting athletes, or photographing the crazy things people do for a challenge, or the gear that takes them there. From guiding in the Alaska Range, to the highlight of all trips – an 8,000-meter peak he skied (without oxygen) in 2005.
Over an eight-week expedition for Marmot on Shishapangma in Tibet, there was never a dull moment. “It was two months of my life, looking back, that were the most dreamy and surreal,” Rogel said. And even though those extended adventures abroad aren’t the mainstay of Rogel’s work today, his next footage or photograph will surely be as epic as those early days he spent discovering his passion wherever he decided to climb.