Curtis Jones: Kites on the Gobi Desert

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Curtis Jones is a Canadian professional fine art and commercial photographer. Currently based in Newfoundland and Labrador, Curtis is a talented visual storyteller as he ably combines his love for people, places, and culture through his magnificent and breathtaking photography. His work has been showcased in various esteemed publications such as National Geographic Explorer, Canadian Geographic, and The Globe and Mail. This week Curtis speaks to atlas about his kite expedition on the Gobi Desert, what the main highlight of his trip was, and the new photography project he is working on next.

Your photography series on the Gobi Desert is spectacular. You have a skillful eye for composition and light. What inspired you to travel to the Gobi Desert — for work or travel? What was your experience like photographing there?

Curtis Jones: A year prior to the Gobi trip, I had just completed a kite expedition over the Greenland Icecap with two close friends. While there we started planning the next big adventure. Mongolia seemed to be the likely choice for something new and challenging. We knew we wanted to do a large crossing of the Gobi and that we wanted to use kites. The planning began and we were on our way. The Gobi was certainly an environment none of us had really experienced before. The wind was erratic, the landscape beautiful, and the people incredible. There were obvious language and cultural differences but everyone we met along the way was so curious and supportive. I had envisioned a photo series similar to the Greenland trip, isolated and focused on the team. Mongolia turned out to be more about the people and the place and less about the expedition. It was a wonderful surprise.

Did you face any challenges while making this series in the Gobi?

I guess the obvious answer is sand. Growing up in Newfoundland and living in the Canadian Arctic, I am accustomed to weather proofing gear. Most of my experience lies in the realm of cold, wet and icy conditions, sand was a new kind of torment. I guess the other big challenge, aside from the physical elements, was finding a way to authentically document the trip. It was important to us that it was not just a set of epic action shots in desert landscapes. I really wanted to tell a story.

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What was the highlight of your trip?

The highlight was definitely the people. We had prepared ourselves for beautiful landscapes but the Mongolian people really stole our hearts. To experience their connection with the desert and environment, I can not wait to go back.

If you could go on a photo shoot with any photographer (living or deceased), who would it be?

There are so many photographers whom I admire and respect. I feel like I find new mind-blowing portfolios every week. I would be honored to be able to shoot with any of them. To be honest, I have already been fortunate to get to shoot with the ones that inspire me the most. My small circle of creative friends is unbelievably talented and are just amazing people. I owe them so much. My favorite shooting moments are usually with one or all of these folks.

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How did you first get interested in photography?

I was spending lots of time climbing and exploring with friends. More and more I was drawn to documenting these moments, people finding a connection with adventure and a love for the outdoors. My parents gave me an old Canon film camera and everything just grew from there.

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Are you self-taught or do you have a formal education in photography?

I am self-taught but with the disclaimer that I have had many teachers. Friends, family, and photographers I respect have all helped nurture and support my growth. I feel I am constantly learning, which is one of the things I love most about photography.

Are you working on any new projects? 

I have started a series of black and white images that will document Nunavut, a place very near to my heart. The thread that binds these images will be space. I feel that the space in the arctic is really a character in itself. There’s room to breathe, to be lost, to turn into the wind and feel humbled. I love feeling small in a big environment, it keeps me grounded and I would love to be able to pass that feeling on to others.

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Thanks for being our featured photographer of the week, Curtis!

For more information about Curtis, visit his website. All images © Curtis Jones.

Celin Serbo: A Master of Action and Adventure

Daniel Woods climbing High Deductible 5.12 above the Green River in Labyrinth Canyon, UT.

Daniel Woods climbing High Deductible 5.12 above the Green River in Labyrinth Canyon, UT.

Celin Serbo is the quintessential outdoor adventure photographer. Currently based in Boulder, Colorado, Celin is a founding board member of the Colorado chapter of the American Photographic Artists. He has traveled all over to handle assignments for a wide variety of commercial (i.e., Patagonia, New Balance) and editorial (i.e., Outside Magazine, Runners World Magazine) clients. He has won numerous awards for his spectacular and stunning photography. Celin speaks to atlas about how he got his start and what he likes the most and the least about being an outdoor adventure photographer.

How did you first get started in outdoor adventure photography?

Celin Serbo: Photography started out for me as a hobby. Early on I was interested in the landscape masters like Ansel Adams. In the early 90s, my step-father gave me a fully manual medium format film camera. This is what I used to poorly imitate the masters that inspired me. I would go out and shoot a roll of black and white film, record my camera setting on a note pad, and then develop prints in a dark room and try to learn from my failures. Several years later I had a career as a mountain guide in Estes Park, CO. At this point my friends and I were climbing a lot so I would drag my Nikon F100 along on our adventures. I started submitting my slides to various outdoor companies and slowly started getting published. This is what started the ball rolling. 

What do you like the most about shooting outdoor adventure? What do you like the least?

What I like the most are the places you get to go to are often really special and the experiences on the shoots go beyond photography. I really value that. I feel very lucky not to have the traditional Monday thru Friday work schedule. What I like the least is that this is a tough business. It’s a challenge to have a sustainable long-term career. Client budgets are under constant downward pressure. A large portion of the outdoor photography industry is based in “lifestyle” rather than “profession.” This isn’t inherently a bad thing but it makes it very challenging to run a profitable business. It’s certainly not all about money but as we mature both personally and professionally our priorities have a tendency of shifting.

Keith Garvey boot packing for turns during a six day ski tour in the Berner Oberland area of the Swiss Alps.

Keith Garvey boot packing for turns during a six day ski tour in the Berner Oberland area of the Swiss Alps.

Your “office” is probably shooting from a cliff in high elevations or shooting in some gorgeous back country somewhere. What is a typical day like for you at the “office”?

“The Office” isn’t always as glamorous as you might think. Digital photography requires a lot of computer time. I’ve converted the basement of my house into my “office” and I spend more time there than I’d like to admit. The time spent is not only for editing but also for marketing and planning/pitching for upcoming projects. This profession is equal parts business and art.  

Laura Shultz trail running at Davidson Mesa on a Spring evening near Boulder, CO.

Laura Shultz trail running at Davidson Mesa on a Spring evening near Boulder, CO.

As an outdoor adventure photographer, what is the craziest thing you have had to do for a shoot?

Not that it’s “crazy” but in the adventure realm there always seems to be a lot of pre-dawn starts and humping your gear a long way. One of the craziest things I have witnessed was the famed Fang ice pillar near Vail, CO detach and crash to the ground while hanging from a fixed line about 10 ft away.  It resembled a super slow motion shot from an action movie and the impact was so powerful. It is something I will never forget. 

What are you looking for in terms of composition when you are shooting an image?

I am usually drawn to graphic compositions. I love shooting with back light and having enough room in the frame to give a sense of place.

Dj Nechrony mountain biking on the Colorado Trail near Kenosha Pass on a colorful Fall day in Colorado.

Dj Nechrony mountain biking on the Colorado Trail near Kenosha Pass on a colorful Fall day in Colorado.

Are there any photographers whose work you admire? If so, who?

Sebastiao Salgado is my all-time favorite. He is just absolutely incredible. In terms of contemporary adventure shooters, I’ve always liked Keith Ladzinski, Dan Patitucci, and Tyler Stableford. They all do great work in their respective genres.

Will Mayo on the First Ascent of Super Fortress M13 in Vail, CO. Will Mayo on the First Ascent of Super Fortress M13 in Vail, CO.

Will Mayo on the First Ascent of Super Fortress M13 in Vail, CO.

You have been shooting outdoor adventure photography for so long and are considered one of the most experienced photographers in the industry. Do you have any words of advice for someone who wants to break into outdoor adventure photography?

There are many that have been at this a lot longer than I have. I have been shooting semi-professionally since 1997 and as a full-time pro since 2007. That said, I’m hesitant to give too much advice but this is my two cents. Work hard (get up early and stay out late). Develop relationships with athletes. Educate yourself on the business side of photography. Don’t go into huge debt for the latest and greatest gear. Get a part-time job and have patience. 

For more information about Celin, visit his website. All images © Celin Serbo.