During his tenure as a National Geographic Explorer, Cory Richards has dived with Bajo fishermen in Indonesia, hiked to remote villages in Uganda, and witnessed ancient burial rites in Tibet. In 2017, a selfie he took immediately after a near fatal avalanche in the Himalayas made the cover of National Geographic. Two years later, he attempted to summit Everest without supplemental oxygen — and to celebrate, he teamed up with Vacheron Constantin for a one-of-one edition of its Overseas watch, complete with a photo of the peak etched on the winding rotor.
To inaugurate the brand’s new Manhattan flagship store, Vacheron Constantin is collaborating with Richards once again, presenting an exhibition of his photos, along with two new editions of the Overseas Everest. We sat down with Richards to chat about the exhibition, the watch, and his next big challenge.
What can you tell me about the new exhibition with Vacheron Constantin?
It’s a retrospective of my body of work linked to exploration, so we tried to use images that were representative of every geographic region. It’s meant to celebrate what’s at the heart of exploration, both externally and internally, which ties it to the Vacheron Constantin Overseas. It’s a comprehensive exploration of all things on the planet, and all the walks and variances of life and culture that we observe.
What’s special about the new Overseas models?
The new pieces are modelled on the Everest watch that we created together two years ago on the Overseas template. There’s the Dual Time and the Chronograph, but my big love is the Dual Time. When I’m climbing, I want to look down and I want to see the time, the date, and the second time zone, because it acts as a constant reminder that I have another life, loved ones, and a home. It comes with two bands, one in a textile fabric that still feels very refined with the orange stitching, and the other is a rubber strap. But you can class it up and throw an alligator strap on, which I like to do occasionally, just to match my belt or my shoes.
Are there any photos from the new exhibition that stand out for you?
There’s one that I think is really important, of a Peruvian girl that I took about 16 years ago on a climbing expedition. We were walking through a small village — it was really just one household — and this young girl was gathering water. I stopped and briefly chatted with her in as much broken Spanish as I could manage, and I asked if I could take a photograph. She said yes and I took it, and it’s a photograph that changed how I wanted to visually represent the world. I saw it as a transitional point where I was moving towards investment in people versus accomplishment, and that, to me, was a deeper, more meaningful expression of exploration.
You’ve been very upfront about your struggle with PTSD and mental health. How has that conversation changed in the past few years?
We’re seeing more and more recognition of the impacts of mental health, like with [U.S. Olympic gymnast] Simone Biles, and we’re seeing people starting to speak out about their experiences. But in mountain climbing, I think there’s still a strong aversion. Because the whole premise of climbing is overcoming adversity, it creates a revisionist history of all the things that went into [an expedition] and all the things that happen — and it isn’t honest. I’ve seen that conversation start to evolve, but I don’t know how much it’s changed.
What’s next for you?
Right now, I’m working on a book: a comprehensive memoir about mental health, addiction, and exploration. I’m also working on a coffee table book of the work that I created during my career with National Geographic. And I’m also working on developing some narrative film stuff, taking what I’ve learned over a 20-year career in storytelling. It’s something that I’m very interested in, and it’s the place that I feel like I can have the greatest impact moving forward. I moved to L.A. about three months ago and it’s been a big transition, but I’m carving it out slowly. I feel like Tim Robbins in The Shawshank Redemption, where I’m carving my way out with a spoon. It’s gonna go a little slow, but it’s going to work out in time.