Photo Realism

This morning, as I was hoisting my garbage can over the mound of snow outside my door, I pulled a muscle in my neck. All cricked to the side in pain, I raced to answer the phone. It was my landlord, calling to tell me that I had to shovel the 8 feet of snow on the upstairs deck. I went to take a hot shower to sooth my neck and the hot water ran out after four minutes. You know what? Country life is getting to me.

I used to think that moving to Lake Tahoe to write a book on snowboarding would be all sunny days and fresh powder, but now I find myself yearning for the city and my apartment and the old days when all I had to do was show up for work, generate a few small ideas, write a few little reviews and leave at six. I can’t believe I’m actually saying this, but right now, I miss my office job. Fulfilling your own vision is pretty great, but it comes with a price: stress 24/7. I’ve been checking out a lot of different carreers in snowboarding over the past few months: reps, PR types, board makers, graphic designers, team managers, riders, journalists, designers, and finally the photographers.

After weighing the pros and cons of all snowboard jobs, I’m here to tell you that photogs have by far the best gig. First of all, they’re treated as well as the riders, without having to risk their lives all the time. They jet around all season, not to trade shows or demos, but to the most exciting spots: the best contests, the most private powder stashes, the most exotic peaks. Now I realize that when I say this, I’m talking about the most fortunate photographers, the most talented if you will. Not everyone lives this way. Just as there are rock stars in the ranks of the riders who set the large living stereotype, certain photographers command unwaivering respect from everyone in the industry and basically write their own ticket. Yeah so what. I’m talking about the top dogs.

Photographers are the real image makers of snowboarding. In most other sports, this might not mean so much but in snowboarding, image is everything and the pics that photogs make are more than fantasy fodder for thousands of frustrated and not so frustrated snowboarders. They are research for all those thousands of people who are trying to figure out what the kids dig. In other words, snowboard photographers are shaping the course of American culture. That’s pretty funny for a bunch of guys (and a few gals) who spend all their time on desolate powdery slopes, far from the urban corridors of our fair land.

A few weekends ago. I was up at Mt. Baker for the Legendary Banked Slalom Race. It was rock star heaven, both rider and photographer-wise, and the photogs were in heaven because for the first time in a million years, it was a bluebird day for the race. Not quite knowing what to do with myself at a race (a state of confusion that I’m getting quite used to), I ended up spending over two hours with a few photographers in the trees next to the race course. Through the amateurs and masters rounds we hung out, chatting and sunning ourselves. I was asking them as a group about their lives as photographers and they were all cagey the way people are when they sense their being interviewed and aren’t used to it. “I don’t go anywhere anymore unless someone is paying for everything,” said one photographer with macho aplomb. They were all talking the talk. None really meant it, but they were getting it out there: what rock star riders they were best friends with, what big snowboard companies had them on payroll, how they never send any photos to Trransworld anymore. Bragging rights are everything to photographers, and I found myself in the middle of a real live sewing circle.

Different riders slid by from time to time, laughing at our “hiding” from everyone else. These were some pretty heavy hitting photographers, so the riders who stopped by were likewise, the best. From time to time, another photographer would stop nearby, look at the course from our vantage point, and then slide away as though not satisfied with the angle. I felt sure though, that the guys I was with stared them down until they left. At one point, some photog set up down about 100 ft from us. It was right around the girls pros, so it was getting spicier on the course. “Hey you’re gonna have to move back like 15 feet,” said one of my companions matter of factly. The guy looked up, stunned, and then picked up his pack and moved back. When I looked down there ten minutes later, he was gone all together. “I don’t care,” said the photographer when I mentioned that he had chased the guy off. “My days of being polite are over. I’ve sucked it up too many times when certiain famous photographers have set up right in front of me ten minutes before fucking Terje goes by. We’ve been here since 11am.”

As the day wore on, the course was getting faster and the riders more illustrious. Likewise, the photographers started to get all hot under the collar:

“Who the fuck was that? Temple? I have to start getting serious here.”

“My fucking patch of sun has moved away. I don’t even have a goddam shot here. Oh wait, yeah. I have the money shot right here, my friends.”

“Who are these people? Who was that kid going fakie?”

I strapped in and started to say goodbye, but they were in the zone. No one heard me. After traveling to Baker, coming up the mountain, and hanging out all morning, the photographers were finally getting busy. Motor drives were whirring along and I was off down the hill.