Action sports athletes spend their whole careers provoking the camera. Competition shots. Trophy shots. Sponsor shots. Training shots, on- and off-season. Lifestyle shots. And maybe once in a while, they're part of those dream shoots that really define who they are and why they got so passionate about that sport in the first place. Careers are built upon achievements, epic journeys they managed to fund, and the images that tell their story.
The photographers shooting them are normally their buddies, those who competed too but got injured, those who realized that they maybe had more talent behind the camera. But what's really interesting is when a top athlete gets into the photography game. Red Bull Illume got in contact with a selection of inspiring athletes who went out of the spotlight and into the darkroom. Read on to find out about their careers and see a selection of their portfolios.
Jimmy Chin is an accomplished climber, mountaineer, skier and photographer. He has organized and participated in numerous climbing, ski-mountaineering and exploratory expeditions to Tibet, China, Pakistan, Nepal, Tanzania, Mali, South Africa and Argentina. His achievements include climbing first ascents of big walls and alpine towers in the Karakoram Mountains of Pakistan; crossing the Chang Tang Plateau in north-western Tibet on foot; and attempting the direct North face of Mount Everest, alpine style. Jimmy has been featured in numerous publications, including National Geographic, Outside and Men's Journal, and has been voted as one of the world’s most eligible bachelors by People magazine.
"There’s no way I could have the career I have as a photographer or filmmaker without going to college" says Chin. "People always ask me what they can do to be a successful photographer. I often say that the education I got, and being able to be a critical thinker and being able to write and communicate clearly, and organize thoughts - all of those things are hugely important".
Thomas Ulrich was born in 1967 in Interlaken, Switzerland, where he lives with his wife, Aasta, and their three daughters. Thomas is a carpenter, mountain guide, filmmaker and self-taught professional photographer who is known for his shots of extreme climbing, BASE jumping, paragliding, kitesailing and freeskiing shots as well as his pictures from mountaineering expeditions in Patagonia, Greenland, California and the North Pole. Thomas's photography was published in issues of "Alpinist" and "Lightning Strikes Last". He works on assignment with clients such as Patagonia and Mammut, and his work has appeared in print for Transworld Snowboarding, Life Magazine, National Geographic Magazine and Black Diamond Equipment. One of his shots was awarded a special mention in the 2003 Banff Mountain Photography Competition. In the future Thomas will be pointing his camera on nature, landscapes and the human element more than on extreme sports. He also has been working more as a cameraman and filmmaker. He also reached the Red Bull Illume Top 50 in 2007.
"I am often asked about my main profession. Well, I think I don't need to decide for just one category" explains Ulrich. "But I learned that many people do have a problem with this, because they can hardly pigeon-hole me. My motto to reach the optimum is simple: everything I do, I do with 100 per cent."
Andrew Wilz was on the snowboard world cup circuit for 13 years as a Super-G specialist on the PTSA, also including apperance on the Mountain Dew Pro-In-The-Snow tour, the Grundig Invitational and the U.S. Open.
"Getting into the sport from the ground-up when it was banned at every resort in the country, and then watching it slowly gain acceptance and work its way around the planet was interesting," says Wilz.
Turning to photography was a logical step and he has worked with Outside magazine, ESPN, New Balance and Patagonia and had his work published in the Red Bull Illume 2010 Photobook.
"Photo-wise, I point the camera where i'm asked. I shoot commercial running and associated lifestyle with more serious budgets, and mountain bike and ski and some surf with less-serious budgets. I cast, location-scout, produce and direct with my own group, and live for working with amazing clients. The dream-job is actually shooting F1 though!"
Philipp Schuster was born in 1984 in Vienna, Austria, and has been skating since 1998. He was awarded with "Skateboarder of the Year 2006" and "Rookie of the Year 2006", and has become a successful and regular participant of the X-Games. He is also photographer and editor of the skatemagazine Trottoir.
"I really don’t know where my passion for photography comes from" says Schuster. "I bought myself a professional camera in 2004, and since then I am trying to improve. Today, I am completely mad about photography."
Joe Curren is the youngest son of legendary 1950’s surfing pioneer Pat Curren, Joe uses his camera to capture profound yet often-overlooked facets of the surfing journey and beyond. Born in 1973 in Santa Barbara and raised surfing the classic California point breaks of Roncon and The Ranch, Joe spent his younger years earning a reptuation of his own as a world class surfer and far-flung traveller. His older brother Tom, three-time world champion in the 1980’s, not only allowed Joe access to the elite of surfing but also instilled in him an irrevocable sense of style, both understated and moving, which he translated from his surfing into his photography.
"At first I documented my travels with little more than a disposable point and shoot camera" says Curren. "However, after a trip to New Zealand in 1999 – when I was especially pleased with the results – I decided to invest in a basic 35mm rig that I packed alongside my surfboards and wetsuits".
Ryan Cardone is a professional longboarder turned photographer. After traveling to many inspirational places, he decided to pursue a degree in photography. He graduated from Brooks Institute of Photography with a degree in Commercial Photography. Now he works as a freelance photographer and co-owner of Tidal Advertising and Tidalstock.com.
"I wanted to start a stock photography company that captures the intense influence the ocean has had in my life", says Cadone. "TidalStock.com makes available to the public the peace and serenity as well as excitement and exhilaration the World's oceans have brought to me. My love for the ocean and photography has enabled me to capture a unique and different approach to shooting commercial photography. I see every photograph as a work of art that expresses emotions".
Sven Martin’s father was a professional photographer on the side, so his first experience with a camera was with his manual high end Canon gear. "I like to trail ride and downhill whenever I can squeeze it in. Often impossible on back to back weekends" says Martin. He still likes to push himself to the limit in the odd race too. Be it in DH or Mega style Enduro DH. Then surfing and skateboarding when times and locations and travel logistics allow. Being on the road for long periods with all the camera gear, multiple bikes, surfboards wetsuits and skateboards is a logistical and excess baggage problem. "I have skate and surf boards, wetsuits and riding and camera gear (helmets, shoes, tripods, etc) stashed on 3 different continents. Half the time I still have a pack on the back with a point and shoot, you never know when that shot will present itself" Martin explains.
"Thanks to all the great riders out there that push themselves and the sport in new directions everyday. We as photographers are blessed to doucument our sports metamorphosis for posterity’s sake. And thanks to all the other photographer and filmer friends on the hill that help pass the time in the dreary wet dark cold mountainous race conditions".
Born 7 January 1990, the Austrian Gregor Schlierenzauer is currently one of the world's top ski jumpers. He began his senior career in 2005-06 with one win and three additional podiums in the Ski Jumping Grand Prix, and made his World Cup debut in 2005-06 World Cup. Despite his young age, Schlierenzauer has 35 World Cup victories, only four people have won more. At the beginning of the 2010-11 World Cup, Schlierenzauer suffered an injury and he missed two of four events at Four Hills Tournament. He was out of form, but he fought back taking two victories at Vikersund ski flying hill and later achieved his career's best result winning three gold medals at FIS Nordic World Ski Championships 2011 at Holmenkollen in Oslo. He is also holder of the Austrian Record of 243.5 meters, which means the second longest flight in the world.
Schlierenzauer recently had his first exhibition "Snapshot" in October 2010 at the Studio Kasulke in Vienna.
"I started with photography in 2008. It's absolutely cool, when you're constantly on the run and able to take snapshots whereever you are. This is a great way how to make great emotions last longer" Schlierenzauer explains. "For me it´s like a diary with which I want to show other people, my family and fans what it’s like to live as a professional athlete."
Check out the gallery for a selection of these athletes-turned-photographers and their work. Red Bull Illume has an exclusive interview with the explorer Jimmy Chin coming soon.