Life in Focus: Jeff Curtes on Traversing The Globe With Action Sports

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All images owned by Jeff Curtes. Used with permission

Jeff Curtes is no stranger to the action sports world, having lead the pack on the snowboarding industry’s imagery since 1992. He has also been the lead photographer for Burton Snowboards since 1994. With Burton, Jeff has traveled the world and seen some of the most incredible terrain our Planet Earth has to offer. He now finds himself behind the lens capturing the fast paced world of competitive cycling, and we had a chance to catch up with Jeff and talk a little about his career.

Phoblographer: Tell us about how you caught the photo bug.

Jeff: Family. First it was the epic slideshows my uncles would do after our family ski vacations, and then it was the necessity to document the newness of the world that snowboarding brought my brother and I when we dove into that in 1984. Photos gave me the feeling of being there and I loved that. When we first started snowboarding, everything was so new and so fresh, so it was a perfect way to document and record those early days of pioneering and exploring that sport.  As snowboarding really dominated my life back then, the photos really defined a subculture.

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Phoblographer: You’ve been shooting for years and in the video above, you talk about how you’ve never shot from a moving car before. But just looking at it, it looked uber dangerous. What was going through your head? Was a part of you not freaking out at all? I mean at times it almost looked like you could have gotten your head clipped off?

Jeff: Ha, ya know, I also talk about how photography electrifies a person and really takes you into another world of focus and energy…i think that overpowers a lot of reason and concern really…in the zone I guess you’d say.  It was actually pretty mellow compared to alot of the other spots that I’ve shots from..like helicopters in the mountains and cold.

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Phoblographer: What’s in your gear bag?

Jeff: A very minimal setup, and I’m loving that.  A Canon body and three or four lens, a Leica M7 and an M9.

Phoblographer: A lot of outdoor biking photography has to do with the right locations. Where are some of your favorites?

Jeff: My experiences in shooting cycling have been fairly limited as this is new territory for me, which is so exciting.  I love shooting cyclocross.  The mud and shit weather of the NW is great. I shot the World Championships in Louisville, KY last year and that was epic because of all of the incredible Belgians who were there.  For road, I guess my dream location would be somewhere in Europe..shooting a mountain training camp or something with a pro team.

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Phoblographer: You also shoot snowboarders. Do you feel like there is a common interwebbing theme between the two sports that makes feeding your creative juices any easier?

Jeff: I love both of those sports, so that the common tie really…my passion for the sport first and shooting it second.

Phoblographer: Your website also has a section for kids portraits. What got you into that from photographing biking?

Jeff: Becoming a parent for sure.  The rawness and uncontrollability of a 2 year old isn’t too unlike trying to get a teenage snowboarder to hit a jump one more time because my flash didn’t fire or something…they are both un-malleable and real…and I like that.  Seeing the kids photography which is out there for parents and in the mags, I was tired of seeing the wedding photographer approach and aesthetic…it was still and boring. I wanted to shake things up a bit with raw real moments, again, like snowboarding lifestyle work i’ve done for years.

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Phoblographer: I’ve learned personally myself that once you realize and fulfill a dream, another one comes along right now. What’s your current dream gig?

Jeff: I’m loving big production work. I did a Nike Young Athletes shoot in Austin, Texas earlier this year and I think the set was about 75 people, it was awesome.  Same for a big Oakley print campaign that I did over the past six months…lots of preplanning, big production, highly conceptual…it’s been really fun.  I have an amazing crew that’s really allowed me to push beyond what I thought was possible for me and my skill set, so that’s been really inspiring.

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Phoblographer: How did you adapt from the film to digital transition?

Jeff: That was easy…about a season of carrying both cameras around but now digital seems to work best.  I do still love film though, just don’t shoot it enough really.

Phoblographer:  Let’s say someone wants to get into biking photography tomorrow. What tips would you give them on shooting subjects? What tips would you give them on building and running a business?

Jeff: Well, I could use that advice too really, so fire away please!  I guess love what you shoot and know it well, and chase after it will 110%.

Phoblographer: How do you maintain a life/work balance?

Jeff: I play a lot. I ride my bike a lot. I spend a lot of time with my awesome two kids and incredible wife.  Seems to be working.

 

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