Whistler-based photographer Blake Jorgenson is one of the ski industry's most celebrated shooters, his iconic imagery as artistic as it is action-oriented. He made a name for himself in 2001, when he entered Whistler's World Ski and Snowboard Festival's pro photographer search, only to win a wild card into the prestigious Pro Photographer Showdown and take down a slew of photographic heavyweights for the win. Since then, he's been photographing editorial assignments and advertising campaigns for the likes of Powder Magazine, Rossignol and Oakley. In 2008, he opened the Blake Jorgenson Gallery in the Whistler Westin Resort. In October, Jorgenson conducted his first two photo workshops, two-day seminars that took place in Whistler. We talked to 35-year-old Jorgenson about death-defying moments, his photographic inspirations and the challenges of opening his own gallery.
Everyone knows the cliché skier story of moving west to ski in the big mountains. You moved from Hamilton, Ontario, to Whistler in 1993. What got you started in photography?
I was really interested in art and photography in high school. I was into large mural and airbrush painting and had my own studio space at my mom's place in downtown Toronto. When I moved out to Whistler I was living out of a backpack and painting was a bit out of the question. Photography took over right away and I was so into it -- I wanted to document everything I did. I had a cheap Canon T1 camera that I bought for $60 in high school. The first time I bought film in Whistler, the girl in the photo shop told me I should buy Fuji Velvia ("all the pros use it"), and it changed my focus from art to photography.
If you had to shoot one location with one athlete for the rest of your life, where and who would you choose?
If I had to pick one I would say Dan Treadway. He is a good friend and one of the last of the pro skiers my age. Our careers grew together and all the other guys I shoot with are of a younger generation. Bralorne, BC, would be the location.
Other than a camera and lenses, what is the most important piece of equipment in a ski photographer's pack?
I always say the most important piece of photo equipment is your brain. And to always have a plan. If you don't use either of these it doesn't matter how much equipment you have.
What's changed in ski media since you got started?
We used to be at the mercy of only seeing photos in print, and that was somebody else's choice. Now you can create online slideshows, self publish in social media, create multimedia with video and audio and basically be in control of how you want your photos to be displayed. This opens up so many new doors in the media world.
You've been successful in both editorial and advertising work. Do you take a different approach to shooting catalogue work than your average day out?
Editorial is a good way to start getting your name out there with shots you produce. But it's very hard to make money in editorial because the amount paid does not equate to the amount of time and money it takes to produce the shots. Plus, it's ever harder to get published because of so much available material and not much page space to print them. The approach I take with catalogue work is to always remember that you're working for somebody else and that you're taking photos the way they want them. If you're a marketing guy, you want to put your budget into somebody that can guarantee results even if conditions are bad. If you can learn how to do this, then you can make money.
Name your photographic influences.
I am most influenced by style-based photojournalists of this century -- especially Richard Avedon and Helmut Newton. I believe what I do is basically a similar form of photojournalism. It's designed to sell a product but is still very much based on real things happening in real time. I love looking at the work of all the guys my age and watching the work progress over the years: Mattias Fredrikkson, Adam Clark, Dano Pendygrasse, Scott Serfas, Grant Gunderson. I like seeing the influence of digital technology in younger guys like Jordan Manley and Erik Seo's work. My mentors have always been Scott Markewitz, Paul Morrison, Eric Berger and Mark Gallup.
What motivated you to open your gallery in Whistler? And what have been the biggest challenges and successes in doing so?
It was always one of my dreams to have a gallery. I am sure most photographers have the same dream. The opportunity to do so with a smaller-than-normal amount of risk came up and I decided to give it a go. The biggest challenges have been learning how to run a small business in a physical space. Running a gallery business and trying to keep up with doing the best I can with my shooting career has been very hard. It's been awesome to create something separate from shooting but compliments it as well.
Have you ever been frightened for your life or your subject's lives?
I would say that all of the people I have photographed over the years know what they are doing. There have been a few helicopter-related moments, near-crashes in small planes and cars and some scary mountaineering expeditions when I was younger.
What's better, the ski life or the photography career?
They both go hand in hand. My love for the outdoors fuels my desire to take photos, and taking photos makes me want to be in the outdoors. Taking photos has always given me a reason to pursue these sports on a much higher level than if I was just doing it for fun only. Plus, to have the reward of it being documented makes all these moments of enjoyment extra special, frozen in time.