Photo of climbing couple tossing baby: Real or fake?

Maybe you’ve seen this photo somewhere on the Internet before.

(photo by Greg Epperson)

I came across it the other day, again, when I saw it as someone’s profile photo on a climbing web site. It’s of course not new (note Lycra tights on man, Reebok aerobic cross-trainers on woman.) Plenty of Internet commenters have weighed in on the photo as an example of “bad parenting,” or whatever (worse than high-fructose corn syrup?) — but just as many have tried to assert that the photo is real, or not real.

Many people weighed in on this SuperTopo thread back in early 2011, including user “jordeeeeen,” who said: “This is me. I am now 19 years old. This photo was taken for a famous photographer. Everything is fine in the head.”

and

“Yes, once a climber always a climber. I played every sport you could when I was younger, field hockey in high school, and now I just spend 2 hours at the gym everyday.”

Which elicited the response, “Who’s pulling who’s leg, come on. Get real.” from another SuperTopo user. Would it be too convenient that the baby in the photo was actually a registered SuperTopo user? Who’s “jordeeeeen”?

A few web sites have said: “The original baby-throwing image is taken from the Spring 1995 Patagonia outdoors catalog. The photo is credited to Greg Epperson. The catalog’s caption reads ‘Come to papa. Jordan Leads, lifting off from Sherry Leads, heads for a safe reentry into Jeff Leads’ arms. Turtle Rock, Joshua Tree National Park, California.'”

I don’t have the Spring 1995 Patagonia catalog in front of me, but I sent an e-mail to Patagonia on Tuesday, asking if the photo did indeed appear in the Spring 1995 catalog, and haven’t yet heard back. (I’m sure the folks at Patagonia have better things to do than rifle through their catalog archives to find out if some photo was in some random catalog from 16 years ago.) The photo is apparently in the “Unexpected: 30 Years of Patagonia Catalog Photography” book — regardless, Patagonia could have published a doctored photo without knowing it. (For what it’s worth, the first version of Photoshop shipped in 1990, 5 years before the photo was printed in Patagonia’s catalog.)

Some bloggers have claimed the original photo is of the couple tossing a rope bag, and the baby was later Photoshopped in.

You might notice the space between the shoulder strap and the rope bag itself is white — either a conveniently positioned tiny cloud, or … a lazy Photoshop effort. Either way, the original image, genuine or not, has resulted in some hilarious creations, exhaustive collections of which can be found here and here.

Is there any real evidence to its authenticity? If you believe everything you read on the Internet, it’s Photoshopped. Or, it’s not.

Probably four people really know: Jeff Leads, Sherry Leads, maybe Jordan Leads, and Greg Epperson.

I e-mailed Epperson to ask if the photo was real or not, and he didn’t comment on its authenticity. He is definitely not happy with the theft of his image and where it’s gone on the Internet, since it violates his copyright. Did he manipulate it? Only Epperson really knows: ‘Maybe I did or maybe I didn’t,’ he says.

So basically, if you’re going to steal and alter Epperson’s photo and put it all over the Internet, he’s not going to give you the satisfaction of letting you in on the truth. Which, I have to admit, I understand completely.

But a tiny part of me still wants to know if it’s real or not …

-Brendan

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13 comments

  1. I’ve climbed near turtle rock. I didn’t see any babies flying through the air… fake.

    It would be pretty easy to walk around to the other side of that rock and go up that way, or to not bring your infant climbing with you.

    Most compelling evidence, as someone who is into gear and expecting a baby, I can tell you, I’ve already bought a baby carrying backpack. Every gear snob parent has one, or multiple of these. For this couple, there is no baby carrying apparatus on either parent. How did they get the baby up there? They already have their harnesses on and chalk bags on, along with their approach shoes. Were they just going to leave the baby at the bottom while they climbed, or let it hang out next to the belay? Not likely, a belay has responsibility to the climber, and to have that and tend to a baby is something a serious climber (one that owns ropes) wouldn’t even consider.

    Also, baby too wide at the chest, and weird shadows behind both feet.

    Conclusion, mediocre photoshop job.

    Props to Epperson for keeping it interesting though, I like a little bit of uncertainty in my entertainment.

  2. Was the male lycra thing still going on in 1995? That just seems like 80’s garb to me. I could imagine some still showing up at the crag but not in the fashion-forward Patagonia Spring catalog.

  3. I’m Jordan Leads the one in the picture… The picture is 100% real as me being the flying baby. I was born in 91 so this was taken within a year…I have had this photo hanging in my house all of my life along with other climbing photos. I can verify its me and i do believe i have the original photo as well if you’d like proof…

      1. Yeah, you have no idea! And its on multiple other sites so when i say its me people don’t believe it still. But it is real. That is my father jeff leads and mother sherry leads. It was for the patagonia photo shoot hence why everything is so staged and thats why they have little gear in the photo….They had more just not shown. My five year old older sister was here too… My parents were not bad parents.. just outdoorsy and adventurous. Nothing wrong with that.

          1. So you created a comment with everything you can find in the blog above using a fake name congrats…

            I guess we have to believe you ?

  4. I used to work for Patagonia. Each store would keep a library of old catalogues so that we could reference old products that people would bring in under warranty from decades before. We had catalogues dating back into the eighties and I’ve looked through many of them. I definitely recognize that picture from an original catalogue from the 1990s. It’s not an altered photo. Besides, who would throw a rope bag like that.

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Article by: brendan