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Friday, August 1, 2008

What Moves You

Finding your own photo style is a journey, not a destination

For example, portrait work by photographer Martin Schoeller, who assisted Annie Leibovitz for several years, at first was very similar to Annie’s photography, but now Martin has his own distinctive style. Man Ray, a master of camera and photo manipulation, said, “Of course, there will always be those who look only at technique, who ask ‘how,’ while others of a more curious nature will ask ‘why.’ Personally, I have always preferred inspiration to information.”

One aspect of my personality—my curiosity—has inspired me to photograph a wide range of subjects. I don’t accept that adventure photography has to fit a prescripted genre. I think what keeps photographers inspired is to cross boundaries and apply their stylistic eye to completely new subjects. This means not taking your photographic style so literally that it prevents you from trying something new.

The willingness to explore is what led me to shoot unicyclists in Utah. This fun photo shoot came about following a conversation with a bike mechanic in Colorado. That was when I first heard about the Moab MUni (stands for mountain unicycle) Fest. My motivation to go shoot the uni riders was a personal decision to capture a mode of transportation that’s more familiar under a circus big top than in the surreal sandstone landscape of southwestern Utah. The Moab MUni Fest celebrated its ninth year in the spring of 2008 and attracted more than 200 participants from all over the U.S. What motivated me during the festival was the possibility of capturing a photo of a familiar landscape with an unusual twist. The unicyclists would offer a dash of the exotic to the desert landscape.

I spent only one afternoon with the unicyclists on the first day of the three-day festival. I brought my two-wheeled mountain bike, but knew I’d probably leave the bike at my car. Instead, I chose to be on foot, running along with the unicyclists as they made their way on marked trails across the sandstone landscape known as the Slickrock Trail just outside of Moab. The few hours I spent with the unicyclists was no different than if I was photographing rock climbers in Yosemite. I carried a hydration pack, energy bars and plenty of sunscreen, and my camera was in a camera hip bag with room for a single camera body, a few lenses and a flash. I carried my camera out of the bag the whole time. Keeping up with the various groups of unicyclists who I followed wasn’t a problem since I could easily run to intersect their trails in the petrified sand dunes.

Going into this shoot, I had no idea what kind of shot I’d be able to get. I didn’t research unicycling photography to see what had been done already; I just approached the photography like any of my adventure shoots. The look I was going for would be a spontaneous moment. The result, despite the unusual subject matter, is my own photo stylistically. Next year, I plan to stay a few more days in Moab, since you never know where the next photo might take you.

Visit Bill Hatcher’s website at www.billhatcher.com.


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