A Squamish, B.C. rock & ice climber who's camera is merely a witness to his adventures. With work that speaks for itself, Alex is a prolific climber, adventurer, teacher and photographer. So without further ado....here is the next installment of Cotton's "Interview with a photographer" featuring Alex Ratson!
Cotton Carrier: Where do you call home?
Alex Ratson: I currently live in Squamish, BC
CC: How long have you taken photographs for unprofessionally and professionally?
Alex: I started out originally when I was 14 making short movies. It was the late 90’s and digital video editing was just starting to come into the mainstream which I found quite captivating. I also was quite involved with rock/ice climbing which made it quite natural to try and visually document my adventures. Video cameras were really lacking back then so it was quite natural to ‘compromise’ with a still camera… little did I know this was far from a compromise.
I continued to take photos although I never had an interest in turning Photography into a profession until I submitted some photos on spec to a magazine which in turn ran them on the cover.
CC: How would you define your style as a photographer?
Alex: I like to define my work as journalistic. I try to capture moment with as little to no input from me to my subject. I love it when people see a photo of themselves and say ‘wow, I didn’t even realise you were taking photos then’. When I hear this I know I have done a good job
CC: Have you ever gone to photography school?
Alex:I enlisted in Photography school in 2005 although dropped out in the first couple weeks of classes as I got an opportunity working with a start up by-weekly newspaper in Toronto. Later on, in 2007 I went back to school at Capilano Collage and graduated from there Cinematography program.
CC: Where is your favorite place or thing to shoot?
Alex: Hands down I LOVE shooting mountain adventures, especially those in the vertical world. The mountains are a larger passion for me then photography on its own is. This makes photographing human powered adventures in them quite natural for me.
CC: What Camera(s) / Lenses do you use?
Alex: Currently I have the Olympus OM-D, EM-1 MKii, Olympus 7-14 f/2.8, Olympus 25 f/1.8 and Panasonic 35-100 f/2.8
I made the switch to Olympus from my full frame Nikon’s in the name of both cutting down on size and increasing durability. Especially shooting ice climbing, my gear can get full on drenched and encapsulated in ice. The Olympus has yet to fail me despite putting up with more than just the odd bump along way.
CC: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done to get “The Shot”?
Alex: I am sure many people are expecting me to have some crazy story relating to photographing climb although honestly, that is the last place I try and do crazy things JUST for getting the shot. Generally when the camera is out we try and not induce any more risk then we already naturally have and instead take extra steps to further mitigate risk.
So for me, as a somewhat shy guy I personally feel the craziest thing I did was while covering some breaking news I purposefully double park a Police car outside the Toronto Court house, get out and told the officer who was looking at me dumb founded to send me the bill… if you know me you will know that my heart rate was through the roof pulling this little stunt off although being new to the news business and having a tight deadline to capture and transmit images I was definitely tunnel vison’d on getting my assignment done.
CC: Who has inspired you as a photographer?
Alex: My first BIG Photo influence (and still my top role model today) is the late Gallen Rowell. In my Opinion, he really brought the adventure photo game into the modern world. You look back on his images as far back as the 70’s and they stand up against the biggest names of today both for their technical merits and pure content value. He was as much a visual scientist as he was a story teller.
CC: What advice would you tell an aspiring photographer?
Alex: Photography is unique in that it is part science and part art. Do not pigeon hole yourself in just one of these two aspect of photography.
Content is king and you need to have a progressive vision to continually capture it although without a firm grasp on the science of capturing and controlling light you will always be relying on luck for your results.
Specifically regarding climbing photography, if you want to give it an honest go you really need to focus on becoming as good of a climber as you can. Both physically and technical skill sets (there can be a LOT of rope trickery to get into place). I always tell people that access is 80% of any photo and in the case of climbing many times you got to climb as good or better than your subject to get yourself into position to make a photograph.
CC: Can you share a photographic resource you personally use?
Alex: These days I love watching some of the great photo content being produced on You Tube. There are so many great shooters and groups sharing their knowledge on there.
CC: How has photography shaped your day to day?
Alex: I do not take photos everyday although when I am not shooting and climbing I make a point of posting an image per day to my Instagram. This keeps my brain turned on photographically as I both get to interact with people through my own photos but I also get inspired by other peoples work and the adventures that they share through this platform. It’s amazing how so many people, spanning such great geographical distances can come together both through the art and the adventure.
CC: Where has photography taken you, and made you experience?
Alex: As a photographer you are essentially given a license to be nosy and inquisitive. This has allowed me to tag along on some pretty awesome adventures with others. As rad as these adventures are they can give some dynamic emotions due to success, failure and risk. Being able to witness and share these intimate moments along with being able to capture them on camera is a true privilege.
Generally when I look back on adventures these are the things that stand out most to me- Not the abstract motion of climbing really hard.
CC: Any exciting photographic events in coming up you’d like to share?
Alex: Currently I am working on a couple assignments generating social media content for brands along with generating photos for a couple book projects.
I just got back from what is most likely my last ice climbing trip of the season that had me in the Canadian Rockies. I am not training to get back in the groove for Rock and Alpine climbing which will most likely fill my schedule through the Spring and Summer seasons.
My Instagram @Aratson