May 29th marked the 60th anniversary of Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay’s historic ascent of Everest in 1953. The expedition’s physical achievements are well-known and well documented, no more so than in a beautiful new book The Conquest of Everest : Original Photographs From The Legendary First Ascent by expedition photographer George Lowe, capturing every stage of the attempt on the summit in detail, and notably in colour. In fashion and design terms these photographs are an amazing archive that still serves to inspire in a remarkably contemporary way. The army surplus, Norwegian knit patterns, Sherpa’s traditional garb, and the revolutionary, at the time, new technology of the cotton/nylon windproof suits and oxygen equipment, in sharp contrast with the primitive tweeds worn on the doomed earlier 1924 expedition led by George Mallory and Andrew Irvine.

The colour plates, in tone, and their silvery grey paleness are reminiscent of the technicolour cinematography of Jack Cardiff on the 1947 Powell & Pressburger film Black Narcissus, set in the high Himalaya’s.

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Scan from ‘The Ascent of Everest’ by John Hunt. University of London Press, 1952.
Words Simon.

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