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Jun 12, 2024 by Marc Peruzzi

Meet a Creative: Karen Lane


Home Base / Fayetteville, West Virginia.

Activities / Climbing, Whitewater, Outdoors.

Why Karen:

We’d label the climbing photographer Karen Lane as an up and coming creative—with endless ups in her immediate future.

She got into rock climbing as a kid, and was on the competition circuit from elementary school through her senior year of high school. But competition was never really her thing—she was consumed by guilt if she won. So to unwind after climbing in and around her adopted home of Appalachia, she would take shots of her friends with her phone and share them on Instagram, which has been part of her life since she was 12. (As a photographer, she’s still trying to process how growing up with that medium has influenced her work.) Eventually she stole her father’s camera and taught herself how to use it, which is a familiar path for photographers.

“The cost of good equipment is a huge barrier to entry for photography,” says Karen. 

College for product design—and more climbing photography for fun—followed. It was there that she learned the difference between art and design. An instructor asked her that specific question. She says she initially had no idea, but in the intervening years she’s developed a working theory. “To me, art is what you do for yourself and design is what you do for others. It’s not that design work lacks artistry, the distinction is that with design, the art needs to communicate.”

Karen is largely self taught—but she's had a mentor or two. Photo: Drew Mercer
She used to compete. Now Karen climbs for fun and work. Photo: Drew Mercer

Karen was uninspired by the 3D drawing and CAD of product design, but she loved photographing products and the post production work that followed. That came in handy when small companies in the climbing space started pitching her assignments over Instagram.

For her first real gig, an apparel maker sent her the next season’s kits. Suddenly she found herself scouting locations and talent, styling the athletes, and researching the brand’s look and trying to build on that. The experience was overwhelming and exciting. In part because she was gear challenged. On the rock, she had to use her dynamic sport climbing ropes instead of static lines. The viewfinder on her camera was broken from a fall. But she was able to self direct as she went and executed beyond expectations. 

That small success has led to more work—small jobs that let her pay her athlete friends a few dollars and buy plane tickets to climbing destinations. But Karen has bigger ambitions.

Karen shoots a lot of women climbers because she has a lot of women climber friends. Photo: Karen Lane

When I met Karen a couple of years ago she liked to say I was her mentor. But within a few shoots it was clear to me she had more talent and psyche for photography and directing than I ever had. Beyond her unique vision, work ethic, and contagious high energy, Karen has a style and love for creative work you rarely come across.

Colette McInerney Climber | Photographer | Videographer

Specialized Skills:

Like many top photographers in the verticals, Karen was an athlete first, and those rope and rock skills have not failed her. She’s also a high level whitewater boater, which was advantageous on a recent outing with her partner. There’s a bouldering problem in the Meadow River not far from Fayetteville. The shores on either side are on private property, so the only way to get to the boulder is via Class IV whitewater full of undercut rocks and strainers. They paddleboarded to the island boulder and climbed it, but Karen being Karen, she’s unsure if she should publish the images because the risk of getting to the rock are so high.   

Golden hour cliff jumping
Because natural light is free, Karen became a natural light photographer. Photo: Karen Lane
Orange kayak going over raging waterfall
Karen is also a Class IV/V boater (raft, paddleboard, and formerly a kayaker). Photo: Karen Lane

What's Next:

Karen is at a crossroads. She loves small town life in Fayetteville, West Virginia, but she knows that to pursue photography and climbing she needs to expand her geography. At press time she and her partner were in Squamish, British Columbia taking advantage of the granite slabs and photographing climbers that they met. But her next goal is to work on a larger team with photographers she can learn from.

Climbers and whitewater boaters make good photographers—on account of access. Photo: Drew Mercer