Updated: Aug 27, 2020
Sigh, this post is long overdue. I have no defense - this was purely procrastination at its finest. As many people know, 2019 was an epic year for me solely because I had the opportunity to assist one of my heroes, Krystle Wright, on the sequel to her short film "Where the Wild Things Play," a series featuring incredible female adventure athletes.
I came across some old photos of the trip today, which reminded me how truly special and impactful my time with her was. In a way I am glad I'm writing this now, a year later, because I can say with some perspective that it was a defining moment for me.
Krystle Wright is an outstanding photographer, director, artist, documentarian, and downright bad-ass. I learned all these things when Netflix led me to a series called
"Tales By Light" and I scrolled to the first, and only, episode that featured a female photographer (Season 1, Episode 3). The way Krystle talked about her work and fearlessly chased after seemingly impossible shots resonated with me. There were so many things about her that I aspired to be (and still do).
After watching her episode, I drafted up an email sharing my work and offering myself as a photo assistant should she ever need one. I was very aware of how insignificant I would be to someone with Krystle's level of expertise, but that almost made it less scary to reach out. I had nothing to lose. This email was similar to the numerous letters I'd sent many photographers spanning several different industries, and seldom heard back. I definitely was not expecting Krystle to read it, let alone respond to me, as she was the highest-caliber photographer I had ever reached out to. Regardless, I wanted her to know how much I looked up to her.
A month later, on a particularly drab day for Los Angeles, I was walking into CVS thinking about how much I was not looking forward to returning to my corporate desk job the next day. As I was waiting to check-out, I pulled up my email expecting the usual discount deals at Old Navy that I never click on. Instead, Krystle Wright's name was at the top of my screen. She essentially apologized for her delay in response (it's okay Krystle, I would have waited longer), asked for my resume, and encouraged me to continue following up. At this point it's not even worth me trying to explain how utterly floored and excited I was.
Over the next year (yes, year) I followed up as much as I could without being weird. Every couple months I would check in, send her new work, or update her on career things. After New Year's passed and it was well into January, I was close to letting it go. But I thought to myself, "Just send one more email and if things don't work out, you know you did everything you could." So I did, and another month went by. Then, one day, an email from Krystle. It read: "Ok, let's see what we can do!" Followed by her schedule and logistics on where I could join her in the passenger seat.
A photo from Krystle's passenger seat. I learned that she has a bit of a sweet tooth.
There's a saying about how you shouldn't meet your heroes because they might disappoint you. While I was less concerned about that, I definitely had my own insecurities. What if she didn't like me? What if we didn't get along? What if I disappointed her? I've never been stuck one-on-one in a car for two weeks with someone I had just met, especially that someone being a major creative influence and inspiration to me. Rather than spending too much time on my worries, I forced myself to focus on how to actively be helpful to her.
Luckily for both of us, we got along great. We shared stories and music, discussed photographers we like, ins and outs of the business, and so much more. My tasks consisted of capturing BTS and product shots for Keen (one of her sponsors) and driving. Lots of driving. We traveled by car from Portland, Oregon to Moab, Utah, and slept on the couches and floors of Krystle's friends along the way. I met professional adventure athletes from kayakers to climbers and trail runners. I sat in on Krystle's brand meetings. I stepped foot into Tim Kemple's photo studio where he showed us a preview of his, at the time, upcoming short film. Oh, and I slipped off a boulder and almost cut my eye out. But it's fine, the scar went away.
Over the past year, in addition to being busy procrastinating on writing about my experience, I've been looking for ways to incorporate the knowledge gained from this trip into my own photography. Much of my work is different from Krystle's, but the same skills and lessons apply. My biggest takeaway was that in order to be successful I had to get used to being out of my comfort zone - physically, mentally, and creatively. We hear this all the time but it's so much easier to say than it is to experience, internalize, and actually put into practice on a regular basis.
As a photographer, you have to be comfortable with putting yourself in unfamiliar (and even uncomfortable) environments whether it be the side of a mountain in a hot desert, a social circle where you know absolutely no one, or the inbox of someone you believe to be creatively "out of your league." By repeatedly taking those steps, you start to grow a thicker skin and a can-do attitude. And sometimes, those uncomfortable environments reward you.
Check out more BTS shots and the final cut of the short film, "Where the Wild Things Keep Playing" below.
(Left) Krystle getting work done on the road while I drive. (Right) Me making the best of slipping off a boulder and cutting my eye on a tree branch while Krystle regrets hiring a clumsy photo assistant.
Scouting locations in Utah.
Krystle taking product photos with ice climber and skier, Angela Van Wiemeersch.
Krystle's trusty Toyota hatchback getting us through many different landscapes.
Krystle captures kayaker Darby McAdams as she makes a run down White Salmon River.
BTS for Krystle's film "Where the Wild Things Keep Playing."
The glamorous life of an adventure photographer consists of a lot of waiting. In this instance, we waited for over an hour while kayakers make their way down the river, eventually leading to an 80-foot drop at Toketee Falls.
The shot was worth the wait. Kayaker Sam Swanson captured above.
Krystle responding to emails while we wait on our food before heading down to the river to meet a group of Kayakers.
(Left) Our trip comes to an end. Krystle doubling up on hats, making a fashion statement while saving room in her suitcase before the plane ride home.
(Right) Making up for all the chocolate we ate by getting smoothies (And using metal straws while we're at it - one of the many ways Krystle tries to reduce her carbon footprint on the road).
The final product.