An Honest Shot

Patagonia in the ‘70s through the lens of photographer Gary Regester.

An Honest Shot

Kristine McDivitt (later Tompkins) was a teenager when she started as a shipping clerk for Chouinard Equipment between high school classes. By 1979, Yvon Chouinard had founded Patagonia, and Kris, at 29, became its first CEO, a role she held until 1993, when she retired to lead conservation efforts in Chile with her husband, Doug Tompkins. Their organization, Tompkins Conservation, has helped establish 15 national parks in Chile and Argentina, protecting roughly 14.8 million acres of wilderness in the process. Not bad for a teenager who refused to wear shoes to work.

Photos and captions by Gary Regester

In 1974, Gary Regester, then a student at ArtCenter College of Design in Los Angeles, became a fly on the wall at Chouinard Equipment to complete a class assignment. Over the course of a week, he shot this and that and became friends with the earliest employees, returning in future years to capture their progress. Gary and his new friends also unwittingly helped Patagonia arrive at a more journalistic approach to commercial photography—although it took some blunders with “clothes worn falsely with smiling models”—to realize the collaboration had created more of what we needed. It was an approach our founder, Yvon Chouinard, calls “an honest shot: Real people doing real things.”

As we celebrate our 50th year, we’ve been asking ourselves, what are we taking with us, and what are we leaving behind? For the Patagonia photo team, the answer’s clear: We’re keeping our photography principles. The next 50 years aren’t a reframe, but rather a renewed commitment to cultivating an informal guild of visual artists from a wide range of backgrounds and experience—those with an eye for the authentic and what our first art director and photo editor, Jennifer Ridgeway, called a “right attitude of mind, the right spirit.” Future Gary Regesters, you might say. “We like photography that has magic,” Jennifer wrote. “This is hard to articulate, some images have a spirit beyond their composite parts.”

—Heidi Volpe, Patagonia’s director of photography

Hired after his sister, Kris, Roger McDivitt’s first job at Chouinard Equipment was in the blacksmith’s shop, where he peened over the rivets on bong bongs—angled pitons for big cracks. “Roger showed his business acumen at an early age,” wrote Yvon, who transferred Roger from shop work to retail operations, before he ran wholesale and eventually became general manager of Patagonia. In 1979, the general manager/CEO job went to Kris, and Roger managed production. Roger was also roped into modeling gear for catalog product photography. It was his idea to use reclaimed wood as a design element in retail spaces, and we’ve never looked back.

Carol Kasza follows Yvon’s lead during filming of The Edge, a late ’70s extreme-sports film. Photographer Gary Regester joined cinematographers Tom Frost (of Chouinard Equipment) and Charles Groesbeck to get this shot, lounging high above in the safety of stirrups and ascenders. Yosemite National Park, California.

Styling in his Shoenards, Bill Bonebreak takes his Stand Up® Shorts upside down. The Buttermilks, Owens Valley, California.

A tense cash-flow discussion at the weekly staff meeting. Yvon wears the cause of the money problem, and one of our first pieces of apparel, a striped rugby shirt. Yvon’s brother, production manager Jeff Chouinard, holding some dismal paperwork, was in a cast for almost a year after being dragged two blocks by his wife’s horse. With a child at his feet, store manager Tex Bossier wears one of his trademark thrift-store oxford cloth shirts. He donated them back when dirty and then bought more clean ones. Arms crossed, wholesale manager and Yvon’s nephew Vincent Stanley has said meetings weren’t always this grim.

In early Chouinard Equipment and Patagonia catalogs, our employees, friends and family modeled the gear. Here, on Mount Shasta, after a snowstorm trapped them in Horse Camp cabin for days, Gary’s brother David Regester wears the Egge Down Expedition Jacket, Mountain Spectacles and Dachstein Mitts. In the background, Joanie Regester, Gary’s wife, stays warm in the Egge Deluxe Jacket.

No business like snow business. Camp 7 sales rep, and friend of Patagonia, Bruce Frank goes off-piste in Rock Creek. Bishop, California.

Sierra climbers Doug Robinson and Buffalo model an expedition-weight sleeping bag for a catalog photo shoot. Two years before this was taken, Doug penned the well-known essay on chocks and clean climbing for the first Chouinard Equipment catalog. “There’s a word for it,” the ’72 piece famously began, “and the word is clean.” The move away from making and selling pitons was “the first big environmental step we were to take over the years,” according to Yvon. “Pitons were the mainstay of our business, but we were destroying the very rocks we loved.”

A colleagues and friends Thanksgiving feast at the Tuttle Creek Ashram outside Lone Pine, California, in 1974. All the fare was backpacked in, including turkeys and bottles of wine.

Patagonia Wholesale Manager Vincent Stanley, new to snow, clutching his cure for cold feet. The Buttermilks, Owens Valley, California.

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