‘I broke off a bunch of teeth and swallowed them after a mountain biking accident; there’s a great picture of that.’
We tried to set up a normal Q&A with adventure photographer Krystle Wright. But we soon learned her personality and lifestyle (as demonstrated in the quote above) are very far from the norm.
An Aussie, Wright is an upcoming shooter, with recent work for the likes of Red Bull, National Geographic, Canon, and KEEN. “Her personality just blew us away,” KEEN told us of selecting Wright as a brand ambassador, “so honest and forthcoming, but with a hint of sarcasm and underlying badass-ness.”
Wright was living out of her 4Runner on a trans-USA trip for our phone interview last week. She gave a glimpse into the wild, wonderful, and sometimes painful life of an adventure photographer.
Interview: Photographer Krystle Wright
Thanks for taking a minute, where are you now?
I am in the car, heading toward Montana. Just left the Hood River, currently in Idaho, on the way to Montana, then to Jackson Hole in Wyoming, down to Boulder, Denver, and Telluride for the Mountain Film Festival.
Then I’ll be going through Moab, on the way to Salt Lake City, before I fly back to Australia. Oh, with a one-day stop in New York City, too.
Aside from a love of travel, what does it take to be an adventure photographer?
Hmm, I mean honestly, I’m a stubborn sonofabitch who won’t take no for an answer. When I first got started, I was taking photographs of sport. At one point, someone told me I would never be a good sport photographer. That only made me want to prove myself even more.
I think it’s important to know that no matter what, it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s true of anything, but you have to be patient and persistent — it’s a different line of work altogether; no one is going to be cracking a whip over your head. It’s on you to get done what you say you’re going to do.
And if you do that, if you keep working at it, and working at it some more, doors will open.
How did you become a brand ambassador for KEEN?
I worked with KEEN on a project kayaking from Mongolia to Russia along the Amur River on the Nobody’s River Project. It was a great experience and I knew I wanted to work more with these guys.
When it was over, I set up a meeting with them in Portland and a 45-minute conversation turned into five hours — I knew that was good!
On the trip, I showed I could be flexible and that I like beer, I think that was it. If you have a really great photographer who is hard to get along with and a decent photographer who is really likable, the personality wins out every time.
A lot of adventure photographers take amazing pictures, what’s unique about your images?
When I’m on an assignment I’m there to tell viewers a story about who the subjects are, so I’m thinking in a very journalistic style. I like to put myself in very complicated situations and then simplify them visually. So I’m often using negative space to make the images simpler.
I also make a point to become close with the subjects I’m shooting. I get to know them, make friends, then I look for the shots that show who they are. Often, it’s not in the action, but in the in-between moments when that happens.
Many of your images show subjects falling, why is that?
Ha! Do they? I have taken so many pictures and many of them aren’t even on my website yet — it’s a $%#@ show. But yeah, I know by far the most popular shot I’ve taken is of a BASE jumper in Moab leaping from Castleton Tower. It’s black and white and really striking. [See top of article.]
Later on, I had a close BASE-jumping friend of mine tell me that the subject in that photo had absolutely awful form, but maybe that’s why people liked it — because he was flawed, we could relate to it.
You’ve got your fair share of battle scars, can you describe some of them?
I broke off a bunch of teeth and swallowed them after a mountain biking accident — there’s a great picture of that.
Probably my most famous wreck happened while paragliding in the Karakoram Range in Pakistan. I was with a group and the winds picked up and started blowing us off course. I was trying to wrap around a steep hillside and glanced down — I thought it was clear, but when I looked up there was a boulder straight in front of me. I smashed into it, needed 10 stitches and had several lacerations in my face, a hematoma in my eye, a fractured foot, and damage throughout my torso.
Oddly, I realize that if things had been just a bit different, I wouldn’t be talking with you now. I don’t hurt myself a lot, but when I do get injured I do it properly.
You work in a lot of extremes, are you ever stressed out?
Oh, I’ve absolutely been shit-scared, but by far the most stress I experience I put on myself. When I’m out there, I’m already stressing about the job, but I just go into my own world and look for the story. The situations don’t stress me out nearly as much as I stress in my own mind.
What’s your basic, critical gear list?
I never travel light. When I’m leaving for a job, I can pack as many as four duffel bags — I figure wherever I go I might need one bag for diving, one bag for climbing, one bag for hiking, one bag for snow — it could be anything.
I mean, if it were up to me, I’d just travel with one body, one lens, and a pair of shoes.
What keeps you going?
I enjoy the challenge. My job is continually evolving and I have to keep getting better to keep up. It’s hard — I’ve been living without a home now for five years, but I’m naturally driven.
Like anybody, I want to become an established, great photographer. But that’s the thing, obviously you can’t ever become the best as photography is such a subjective medium. Some people will love me, some will hate me, you know? For now, I just want to continue pushing myself.
How long can you continue in this line of work? What’s next?
Oh my, who knows where I’ll be in 10 years? I have no idea, Maybe someday I’ll move into more documentary — occasionally I’ll do film. Honestly, I don’t know what I will do other than this. I’m so driven to keep going right now, it’s all I’m really thinking about doing.