Risky Business
Max Silverson
Olympian Kelsey Serwa talks to us about her introduction to ski cross and overcoming injury to perform on the world stage.
Photographer Reuben Krabbe tells us about going to the ends of the earth in pursuit of the perfect photo.

Reuben Krabbe has made quite the name for himself in the world of action sports photography by consistently creating unique and creative images. We wanted to talk to Reuben about the risks that he personally undertakes as a photographer as well as the risks that he bears witness to through the lens. Photographers in this genre are exposed to a myriad of risks, both personally and professionally, which are all in play during a photo shoot. There are a great many variables to consider, not least of all the safety of everyone involved.  Balancing these risks simultaneously could create quite the precarious house of cards for an individual without the ability to appreciate them fully. 

What does risk mean to you?

Krabbe: Risk always entails some sort of uncertainty, which is what is always interesting to me about these sports; you’re always going to end up in a different place, at a different time, shooting a different image, having a different experience. So for me, risk is the outcome of the uncertainty that you have in the mountains. But I’m also conscious of the fact that there’s a lot of risk in everyday life; just driving here, or doing anything else relatively mundane could all of a sudden end up a big issue. So, I’m very happy accepting risk in places that I feel that it’s manageable. When you’re taking a risk, you also have some sort of payoff. You’re getting something for accepting that risk.

Tell us about the most precarious position you’ve physically had to put yourself in while shooting photos. 

Krabbe: Overall I’d say I took probably the most risk when I didn’t understand the risks I was taking. In your early years of ski touring, when you haven’t skied with both conservative and really risky skiers, you don’t know necessarily what a calculated risk is. Some of the first times I went out, I had the perception that I was travelling with skilled athletes and sort of handed over this understanding of avalanche terrain to them. I was trusting that they had been out there in the backcountry for a long time. But in retrospect, I see that they were running a very loose ship and I was taking a ton of risk without knowing it. They either didn’t know it or didn’t care.

In an artistic sense, how important do you think it is to take creative risks? 

Krabbe: I think that if you aren’t taking creative risks, you’re stagnating, and you’re probably not creating something very interesting. Because for something to be interesting, it always has to have some new or different side to it. Reinvention is completely fundamental to being an artist. At the same time, with digital photography, you have the luxury of errors being pretty much free.

When you’re shooting an athlete, how do you conduct the scene?  How much do you think a photographer should push for bigger and badder feats vs. giving control to the skier?

Krabbe: If I’m shooting with someone who’s at the forefront of pushing the sport, then the photographer’s job is more of a documentary approach. You’re looking at what’s happening and you simply need to share it with the world. That athlete will probably be doing whatever they need to progress and take all of the risk out of their own impulses. So, because I try to divide those two things—where the photographer is directing, or the athlete is directing—I think that’s why I haven’t run into the injured athlete scenarios, because I’m not trying to push each athlete to do the largest thing that they can do. I also love giving the athlete the control and sort of congratulating them for stepping away from a feature. I’ll actually say thank you for not risking the biscuit for this hit that they didn’t want to do, because I really don’t want to carry their body off the mountain.

Often your goal as a photographer is to capture a certain element of risk.  How do you make an effort to highlight that aspect? 

Krabbe: I think that ties back to the idea that photography is documentary. Specific angles will portray a stunt in a better way to show its dimensions. You can photograph things to look very small, or very big. So part of a photographer’s technique in action sports is to be able to translate the size and scope of what’s going on. 

When viewing a particularly risky feat through the lens, what’s going through your mind? 

Krabbe: I'm trying to eliminate the need to do it again. With skiing, everything has to be a first shot, first kill—but with mountain biking, if I’m shooting something very gnarly, I’m sometimes using two cameras to be able to capture two angles at the same time. I'm also simplifying the technique that I’m using so there’s no chance of messing up the focus or the exposure, so I know that once they do it, I’ll have completed everything that I need to.  And then there’s also this angle, being the same person you’d be if you’re the friend hanging out nearby. Trying to make sure you think through what’s going on and looking to mitigate risks.

Do you have a support structure when shooting on snow and in areas with avalanche danger? 

Krabbe: I have to make sure that what we’re doing is safe, but also that I can respond to an actual problem. If I’m on an opposing slope and trying to shoot with a long lens and an avalanche happens with only the two of us, I couldn’t get to the deposit zone. So I can’t shoot that angle unless I’m shooting with two athletes. 

Is that something you think about in every shoot? 

Krabbe: It’s simply part of the process of making sure that you’re covering your bases, that there aren’t ways for the problem to escalate wildly out of hand. There are photographs that I can’t take while shooting in a pair. It's not a conscious thought, you just naturally don’t do it. 

What do you see as the biggest risk that you take? 

Krabbe: I’d say just all of the very vague, interesting projects that I want to do end up being very risky and it pisses my mom off a bit every time I tell her about a different plan.  It’s like, “Oh I found this new cool place.”  And she says, “Yeah? That’s another country on the list of places you’re not supposed to go to.”  Visit the Government of Canada website, there’s 8 countries that it says don’t travel here unless you absolutely can’t avoid it.  I’ve picked out 4/8 of those countries in the last year as places I want to go.

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