Photographer Desré Pickers won the lifestyle category of Red Bull Illume 2007, plus the athletes' choice and peoples' choice awards. We asked her what it takes to be successful in action and adventure sports photography.
Desré, you won the lifestyle category of Red Bull Illume 2007. What was it like to be part of this contest and winning a category?
D: It was an absolute privilege to be part of a project that not only recognizes the top action sport photographers in the world, but brings them together in such an awe-inspiring way. To walk away with one of the category's top spots was surreal: there I was standing in a crowd with people who I’ve drawn inspiration from and admired for years, to receive top honors for my catagory.
You also won the athletes’ choice and the peoples’ choice award. What did it mean to you to have your image chosen by the athletes and the general public?
D: To me the two greatest honors are the athletes’ choice and the peoples’ choice, after all that’s essentially who you are taking the photos for. It isn’t always easy to capture the essence of what athletes experience in a still photo but when you do and you get to share those moments with the public, it makes all the grueling work of getting it so worth while. But the most rewarding achievement is getting the nod of approval from the very people who have trained so hard, who put their lives on the line for that single shot. To have their approval is one of the highlights of my life.
Why do you think there are very few women in action and adventure sports photography?
D: I think because of what it takes to be involved in the industry and what you have to do to get the shot. You’ve got to get to places that not many people can get to and do things that most people wouldn’t dream of doing. Not only do you need to "suck it up" and get out there and do it, but you have to have the respect of the athletes you are dealing with.
What are your experiences? Do you face a lot of prejudices or obstacles?
If an athlete has to choose between a photographer who they have to help carry all the gear and help set them up and assist getting them to the shooting vantage points, and someone who can get there on their own, its obvious who they are going to choose. And an unfortunate fact about shooting action sports and adventure is that it is outdoors in some pretty hostile environments and the camera gear is heavy. It’s tough, no doubt about it. However saying this, I’ve been fortunate enough to be dealing with a sport where there are very few photographers in general so am granted a little leniency. I don’t pull the "I’m a girl" card, but I always accept any help that is offered.
Was it special for you, as a female photographer, to win those awards ?
As for being female and winning a category, in general I’m not about "girl power" so I didn’t really notice the huge difference in gender until it was pointed out to me. But somewhere deep down I do think I did the "yeah baby – show ´em how its done" air punch!
What have you been up to since the last Red Bull Illume? Did the competition and your success in it change your work?
D: It definitely gave me more confidence in my ability and when times were tough made me pull it together a lot faster than before. My style of photography hasn’t changed, or my attitude towards it. However being mentally and physically very challenging, I actually took a year off shooting to recoup. I’m just about ready to get back in the saddle and shoot again – can’t wait to get my new gear.
What are your expectations for Red Bull illume 2010?
D: I’m hoping that it will become more of an international event. Although the photographers were from around the world, I would like to see the actual exhibition get out of the USA. I think that the power and full impact of a competition like this is harder hitting when shown to a culturally diverse audience.
Are you planning to submit? If yes: Do you already have some pictures in mind or will you work on a special concept for a winning shot?
D: I’m not sure yet. At present I don’t think I have a photograph that I think 'has what it takes', but I’m working on it and if I do, I’ll definitely submit.
What do you believe is the value of such a contest for the whole adventure and freesports photography scene?
D: I believe a contest like this that brings together such diverse categories in sport and photography style, creates creative competitiveness that can result in the photographers pushing limits in their own creative styles and push them to experiment in areas outside of their comfort zone. Not just for self-satisfaction but for the recognition an event like this can bring.
Personally I found this competition opened up portals that normally would have been closed to an action sports photo. Using the name 'Red Bull Illume Photography Competition' as a guise, kayaking, mountain biking, base jumping, climbing and other fringe-sports found themselves published in magazines and newspapers they normally would never have been given the recognition for. And the response was overwhelmingly positive.
Traditionally there isn’t a lot of money in action or adventure sports, maybe getting it out there and more in demand will change that, and that in turn will attract more photographers and increase the creative pool.
You and your partner in life, Red Bull athlete and kayaking professional Steve Fisher seem to be the perfect couple: An extreme sports photographer and an extreme sports athlete. Do you work together a lot? Do you inspire each other?
D: Ah yes, the "power couple" as we have been dubbed. I don’t think it would be possible to be in a relationship with each other if we didn’t do what we do. Unlike golfers, kayakers don’t make absurd amounts of cash and in order for us to both travel on the budget that we are on, we both have to be on the same page and working towards the same goals. It’s no accident that we do what we do as a couple. It was an active decision to focus my photography on kayaking, to help Steve achieve his goals, and to allow me to be with him on his travels. Steve has been tenacious in getting me to the best shooting places (I don’t paddle) and running and re-running waterfalls and rapids in order for me to get the perfect shot. In return, he has a selection of photos second to none that he can promote himself with. The epitome of a symbiotic relationship.
If witnessing some of the worlds best athletes do what they love most, doesn’t inspire you, then nothing will, which is what I give credit for helping me go from never holding a camera in 2001 to winning two categories in 2007.
What equipment are you currently working with?
D: I’d probably surprise most people with the equipment I use. With kayaking as my main focus most of my gear gets smashed around and wet constantly. I have to be prepared to send my camera down rivers, tie them onto boats and stand in very wet environments. Because of this, I use a Canon 30D because its cheap enough to not break the bank when it breaks.... and they do, often. My next camera is going to be a Canon 7D as I’d like to start moving into the filming side of things and this is the perfect tool to do just this.
I have a range of canon lenses from the 10mm range to the 400mm range. However, my favorite piece of equipment is a canon timer remote control which I shoot time lapses with.
Visit www.photosbydes.com for more information and images from Desré.