There are plenty of aspects to life. My wonderful family is one of my very favorite aspects. If I could just shoot our domestic life I’d be toats OK with it.
Alaska is astonishing. I have been many places. Zion, Indian Creek, Yosemite, Rocky Mountain National Park, Joshua Tree, Telluride, numerous beaches in numerous countries, the Tetons, the Absaroka, Glacier, Olympic, Tuscolo outside of Rome, Zermatt, Interlaken, Gstaad, Barcelona, Munich, and the list goes on.
Alaska is hands down the most incredible place I have been and It isn’t because it’s the most recent place I’ve been. The mountains are bigger than anything I’ve ever seen. You stand at the top of some peak that, on our budget, it took 4-8 hours to get to the top of and look around and realize that you are a speck of dust and nothing more in the grand scheme of things. It’s utterly humbling. Looking at mountains in Alaska is a little bit like looking at and counting the stars: You stop counting and eventually look away because it’s too big and you would never finish counting and it’s a little scary to think about. You could spend 10 years in one cirque and ski a different line every day.
So I spent 11 days there (which is about 1/30th of the amount of time one should be spending in Alaska per year) and shot 1/2 of my present portfolio. I want to put everything on Facebook and Twitter but I would be doing that for the next year if I did so I think a photo essay is more fitting.
While there are some skiing photos in here I backed off of posting too many of those because I want to protect them for the moment. I have them spread out all over for companies and publications to look at presently and I want them to have first viewing rights. But that doesn’t stop me from posting a slew of outtakes and secondary skiing moments. So here we go.
OWNERSHIP NOTICE: If you are with a company or a publication it would be really professional and respectful of you not to “steal” any of these. I will be pretty grumpy if I find these anywhere but this blog. ”Stealing” is mean and I like, you know, paying my rent and eating food and exorbitant stuff like that. This is my only job so it kind of makes me feel like you don’t particularly care abut me not starving to death in the cold when you just rip a photo from this site and use it. If you’d like to use anything here please email me and we can talk at email@example.com. Thanks :-) I know you understand. Xoxo.
Thanks to Icelantic Skis and First Degree Boots for sending me skiers and asking me to come along and shoot, the Mountain Rider’s Alliance and Ski Manitoba Mountain for the amazing project that is Manitoba, and Cavan Images and my dad for funding.
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When I landed in Anchorage it was cloudy. I pretty much expected it to be cloudy the entire trip so I wasn’t super concerned. If I got one bluebird day I’d be happy. Joe Turner and I met up in the airport and stayed in the local Icelantic rep’s house while he was off at a job for a few days. Our first day found us scrambling to see if Alyeska would give us the hookup. They were unresponsive so we went to Alyeska to ride around a bit. It was still cloudy so we didn’t figure on getting much done. Thankfully, those clouds meant that it had snowed. A lot. This was literally the first frame I took in Alaska.
We took a few more shots like this but we’d been shooting a resort all year. I really wasn’t in Alaska to spend my time on a lift fighting to keep other people’s tracks out of my photos.
So we got tired of Alyeska after a couple hours and got in the car to go to the baby of the Mountain Rider’s Alliance: Manitoba Mountain about 15 miles from the Hope Junction on the Kenai Peninsula. Joe forgot his touring bindings so we just skinned up a ways from the road once we got there and farmed a few shots. Then the skies cleared, the sun came out, and I had bluebird.
I was PSYCHED on Manitoba. We went back the next day with Dayla Robinson and another friend. It was bluebird. An afternoon of bluebird and another day felt like a miracle. Joe decided he was going to send the fattest line on the Block Headwall. It was insane to watch.
Yeah. Huge. The day after this was a dark day. Both Joe and I were pretty tired but we only had 11 days so we made the poor choice to go get it on Manitoba again anyway even though we were exhausted and I woke up with a raging migraine. We skinned up Manitoba in driving winds but wouldn’t be told otherwise: we were going skiing. Screw everything else. Joe dropped a chute and I didn’t see him come out the bottom. Not good. One panicked radio call to tell me he was OK but I needed to get to him FAST and a cautious run later I got down and found Joe waiting for me. ”I screwed up my knee.” Great. Joe had gone to huck a cliff, caught a shark on the run in, fallen off the cliff and had been fine. But then he got “Chugached” by his slough from above and the resulting tumble caused the damage. Blessedly, he skinned away from the event and back to the car. His ACL is gone though. See you next season, buddy :-(
While I wondered what would happen to my trip with the guy spearheading it going home, Scotty VerMerris, the team manager for Icelantic skis, was debating coming up at all since our plan to eventually go to Valdez was shot without Joe (and a wind event had apparently RUINED Valdez a couple of days before). He eventually decided to come up and make the best of it. I am so happy he did. Scotty VerMerris is one of the coolest people I have ever met in my life. He is also one of the funniest. Shenanigans ensued. They started with three of us crammed into the front of a rickety old Toyota with Joe driving us to Manitoba, Scotty shifting gears and talking on the phone, and me hoping and praying that I didn’t die.
Despite nasty blisters on his feet I rapidly found out that not only was Scotty hilarious and fun to be around, he was also a CRUSHER…which the following photo doesn’t particularly show. Suffice it to say that the photos from this session were money.
The next day we took a rest day and waited for Alex Taran to show up. When I picked Alex up I knew immediately we were going to get along. I got so lucky on this trip to end up with people who have an almost identical sense of humor to mine. We proceeded to have a blast.
After my first day up Crow Creek with Alex we decided to head to Manitoba…again. It was niiiice…again. I was starting to think it was never going to get cloudy again. Spoiler Alert: It didn’t. I also found out that in order to get Alex to feel OK with having her photo taken non-skiing she needed to be particularly rude to the camera. Whatever makes you smile in front of my camera works for me :-)
The skiing was amazing. I was worked. We decided to take a day to breathe, bid Joe farewell, and reevaluate what the trip was going to look like since our entire original plan was off the table.
Through various phone calls, Facebook messages, and many other things we realized we didn’t really have the funding to do much more than skin. We decided we were going to go get a tent and some sleeping bags and skin up into some glacier and make the best of it. At the very last moment we got a phone call that some dude named Brett was going to show us around Hatcher Pass (you will now forget that location name forever…these aren’t the droids you’re looking for…move along) on skins. We had heard that the snow was pretty nice over there so why not? At least we could find someplace to camp. As it turned out, Brett was a sick snowboarder, an insanely nice guy, and had a really hospitable friend who was going to let us sleep on his floor in Palmer (or Wasilla…I can’t really remember). THANK YOU BRETT. YOUR DIRTBAG REDNECK WAYS SAVED THE END OF OUR TRIP.
So our first day up in that area was insane. These are outtakes. I’m not adjusted to shoots that are 100% quality from the second you get out of the car. Also, a quick word on those boots up there. They’re sick. Perhaps more oriented for the sidecountry, they’re a tad heavy, but I skinned miles on them every day comfortably. Personally, I appreciate the orientation to the downhill and not the uphill and I really liked the airy toe box. I’ll look forward to when they have Vibram on them. First Degree really has something good here.
The last day finally came. I wasn’t particularly happy. Who wants a trip like this to end? In their extreme generosity Brett and his friend offered to give us sled rides in one of their “secret” areas. I really didn’t know what to expect. For some reason I made the same mistake that I made with dirtbiking and had it in my head that snowmobiling was mellow. It is not mellow. The stuff that these people do on a sled is downright terrifying. However, the access that the sled gave us was absolutely ridiculous. We proceeded to have by far our most productive day shooting and one of the more unique experiences of my life.
I also got introduced to “getting iced.” Alex picked up her pack and opened it up at one point and suddenly a stream of profanities ensued directed at Scotty. She pulled out a Smirnoff Ice. ”What is this devilry?” I wondered. It turns out that if someone hides an Ice in your path and you see it you have to slam it on the spot. It also turns out that I’ve been living under a rock because it’s an old game.
And then I went home and slept for a month. It was lovely. I can’t wait to go back.
I found this quote during the course of reading. The gradual end of ski season and lots of flying opened reading back up to me and I’ve knocked out around 1300 pages in the last few weeks.
‘When the business man rebukes the idealism of his office-boy, it is commonly in some such speech as this: “Ah, yes, when one is young one has the ideals in the abstract and these castles in the air; but in middle age they all break up like clouds, and one comes to a belief in practical politics, to using the machinery one has and getting on with the world as it is.” Thus, at least, venerable and philanthropic old men now in their honored graves used to talk to me when I was a boy. But since then I have grown up and have discovered that these philanthropic old men were telling lies. What has really happened is exactly the opposite of what they said would happen.’ - G.K. Chesterton
I’ve always been a bit disgusted when “adults” say this kind of thing to me, as if core principles or major decisions established by thinking about them at a young age were something to be ashamed of. I’ve certainly found that I often become more convinced of something the older I get. Things like: ”It really is OK to starve for the sake of art,” or, “I’m moving to a ski town to take photos now, k bye,” or, “I believe that Jesus is the Christ.” It is absolutely coloring how I parent my boy.
Have at it, Cedric :-) Live life, pursue things, be convinced of things, be not convinced of things, change your mind, don’t change your mind, be an idealist, or don’t be an idealist, go skiing, or reading, or trucking, or dirtbagging, or whatever!
Our world is slowly starting to thaw. While 1000 feet above us everything is still fairly socked in everything around our little apartment is rushing water and chirping birds. I’ve honestly never lived somewhere where summer was not more or less beginning to set in by this point. Our first truly warm days began last week. Meh. I love rock climbing and summer activity, and I enjoy the pace of summer life (it doesn’t feel like I’m fighting a war every day just to keep up with work), but I already miss the feeling of glancing out the window to see how much it snowed the night before and which aspect the snow piled into. I kind of hope deep down that we get a 2 foot dump next week. There is one significant positive to the warmth: My 3 year old can go outside again. He pretty much hates the inside. Inside is for eating and sleeping. Outside is for running, yelling, getting dirty, throwing rocks, and jumping in puddles. So, basically, outside is for 3 year olds. Inside is for mentally and physically exhausted 28 year olds who just want to take a nap now, please.
So, we’ve been going outside quite a bit more. Cedric has enjoyed his first trips to the crag and is back to form in throwing everything within his reach into creeks or puddles (including himself).
One discovery I’ve made is that the resounding silence of a vacated ski town is even more accentuated in spring than it is in fall. There were crowds of people and DJ’s thumping music in parking lots and bars a month ago. What was once populated by hundreds and sometimes thousands of people is a desolate wasteland of silence broken only by the occasional passing maintenance truck. At least I don’t have to worry about Cedric screeching his little heart out about at the joys of childhood.
Peace, Love, and Light,
Even though we probably have two more shreddable months here, winter is rapidly coming to an end (as exemplified by my sitting around in a T-Shirt eating pizza outside in the meadow village earlier this afternoon) and as it does I’ve been thinking through my favorite non-shredding photos from the season. This blog has been more of a meditation than it has anything else and I’ve left my commercial endeavors to Twitter and Facebook. As my commercial efforts have exploded over the last few months I haven’t had time for concentrated meditative photographic practice. However, there are moments, especially while toiling through some backcountry hike in 50 mph driving winds and sideways snow or sitting around drinking coffee with my wife, that I have time to reflect. I have tried to isolate a few of those moments in the following photos.
As walking season (otherwise known as “the off-season” when I have absolutely nothing else to do) commences I’ll begin posting here a bit more and thinking and writing and reading again.
Grace, Peace, Love, and Light!
Ryan Day Thompson
Wynn Bullock is one of my all time faves. He was definitely more winsome than Stieglitz.
I picked up a few books at the library on a trip to Bozeman on Thursday to hang out with my friend Becca. Among them are Steichen’s autobiography (a thrilling piece) and various books on Stieglitz and O’Keefe. I’m pretty excited about the books on Stieglitz and O’Keefe, two of my favorite artists in the history of ever, but I’m finding some very interesting bits in Steichen’s biography. First, Steichen was a painter, a high class hob-nobber, and had a knack for getting people to buy his photos. Maybe there’s something to his celebrity photography thing. Second, he appears to be stand-offish in talking about Stieglitz. Not that I blame him. Stieglitz was a user. A genius on a level with Michaelangelo but a hard-nosed, tactless, user. A lot of his closest friends, like Strand and Steichen, ended up not really liking the dude.
Anyway, I found a couple of really beautiful quotes from Steichen. (Interspersed photos are from the above mentioned trip to Bozeman and around my home in Big Sky.)
“During [my] teen-age years, I knew, of course, that trees and plants had roots, stems, bark, branches, and foliage that reached up toward the light. But I was coming to realize that the real magician was light itself — mysterious and ever-changing light with its accompanying shadows rich and full of mystery. The haunting, elusive quality of twilight excited in me an emotion that I felt compelled to evoke in the images I was making. Emotional reaction to the qualities of places, things, and people became the principal goal of my photography.”
Allow me to chorus this sentiment roundly. I have written elsewhere that my primary pursuit in photography is communication of split seconds that speak to what I call “The Otherworld.” It is light that illumines this place, mythical or real, and it is deeply, wonderfully, seriously, soulfully, mysterious. Thank you, Edward Steichen.
Steichen also speaks of a fellow named Maeterlinck that was involved in the art community during the early Photo-Secession. Maeterlinck had an incredible thing to say about this amazing early 20th Century shift in the world of art.
“I believe that here are observable the first steps, still somewhat hesitating but already significant, toward an important evolution. Art has held itself aloof from the great movement, which for half a century has engrossed all forms of human activity in profitably exploiting the natural forces that fill heaven and earth. Instead of calling to his aid the enormous forces ever ready to serve the wants of the world, as an assistance in those mechanical and unnecessarily fatiguing portions of his labor, the artist has remained true to processes which are primitive, traditional, narrow, small, egotistical, and overscrupulous, and thus has lost the better part of his time and energy…It is already many years since the sun revealed to us its power to portray objects and beings more quickly and more accurately than can pencil or crayon…But today it seems that thought has found a fissure through which to penetrate the mystery of this anonymous force, invade it, subjugate it, animate it, and compel it to say such things as have not yet been said in all the realm of chiaroscuro, of grace, of beauty, and of truth.”
Quite possibly the most powerful statement of photography’s potential then, and potential now, that I have ever read.
Life, Love, Light, and Peace,
I bought Robert Werling’s “Beyond Light: American Landscapes.” To date it is one of my favorite photography books. The dude still shoots 8x10 view camera. Cole Weston wrote the highly favorable foreward to the book. In and of itself, that should tip one off that Robert Werling is worth looking at and reading. Words seem to have graced the Photo-Secessionists and their heirs because both Cole Weston’s foreward and Bob Werling’s single paragraph in the book are powerful. (I really appreciate some of what Weston says, but I’ll leave that for a different post.)
Anyway, I found a couple really perfect quotes in Werling’s lone paragraph in the book.
First, Werling says,
“Whenever we encounter a beautiful scene we seem to want to record it and share our sense of wonder. What we feel deeply is often difficult to put into words, and many photographs are just records of a time or experience. This leads us to the question of photography and reality. Is a photograph real or does it merely inform? Usually, the more information there is and, above all, the more tones there are, the closer we approach reality. Since the objects we photograph exist in the real world, we need to make some sort of departure in order to present subjects in a more poetic way. One doesn’t look at something for what it is, but rather for what it could become.”
Werling’s struggle to properly enunciate something he feels so vividly, so powerfully, mirrors what I am presently going through. I increasingly am coming to see that what I have to say about photography, the world I live in, and my connection to it, can only really be communicated through the images themselves.
Another really fantastic quote from Werling was this one,
“The landscape, perhaps more than any other subject for photography, requires patience and a sensitivity that goes beyond light. To be constantly observing, to be there, to experience and record and later present to a viewer that which, in some mysterious way, connects to our lives…to me, that’s photography.”
I hope this guy wrote a ton more. I doubt it but I sure hope so.
Also, I took a short skin up into the mountains today. It was glorious. Skinning is the only way to get anywhere in the snow.
Peace and Love,