Pillow Lines and Ski Photography with Kari Medig

Mountain Life editor Colin Field travels with award-winning photographer Kari Medig whenever possible. On a recent trip to Switzerland the two sat down and discussed Medig’s recent win of the Coldsmoke Showdown in Nelson and the controversy surrounding the slideshow that won it: Pillow Line.

Pillow Line from Kari Medig on Vimeo.

So you just won the Coldsmoke Festival and your slideshow has gone about as viral as it is possible for a slideshow to go. 19,000 hits and counting. How do you feel about it?

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The positive response for the show has been overwhelming, I never thought it would take off like it did. The initial impetus for the show was simply to entertain the intimate audience at the Coldsmoke festival with something different. Truth be told, we thought we were forfeiting any chance to win with a show like this, but I didn’t care, because I knew it would be entertaining and I wanted to do it. Isn’t that what these events are for? I was inspired by an amazing piece of work several months earlier produced by a Tel Aviv-based photographer called Eyal Landesman, that has since been used absolutely everywhere from Grammy-nominated music videos to TV ads around the world for companies like Target and Amazon with millions of views. If you’re any way involved seriously in the world of photography, you will have seen it. I remember thinking to myself, I’ve got to take a 180 with this concept, take it in a different direction. This is why we created a skiing narrative to capture the dreamlike sequence of a typical ski day here in the Kootenays. You can be as creative as you like as soon as you are able to suspend reality. I built the narrative around the idea of the exploding pillows…other than that one sequence, the entire show was story-boarded and made up as we went. It was a ridiculous amount of work.

So this is the second year in a row you entered the festival and the second year of controversy surrounding your show. What’s so controversial about your work? What was controversial last year? What was the controversy this year?

Ha ha. That’s a funny question. I don’t know if my work is controversial per se, but maybe I can best answer this by saying I’ve never considered myself a pure ski action photographer at all, and frankly I can’t compete with the few guys who do that for a living. I’m a photographer first who happens to shoot some skiing. My background is working several years as a professional photojournalist and I’d say that I look outside the world of ski photography for inspiration. From war photography, to documentary, to advertising, even fashion…I’m blown away by so much out there. I simply love all genres of photography and I could never just focus on skiing. So I guess these influences affect how I look at the world of ‘adventure photography’ that I’m immersed in, and maybe in some small way, inspires me to do something different. Overall, this philosophy has been really positive and was critical in my winning of the 2008 Pro-photo showdown in Whistler.

Why did you go with a stop-motion piece that didn’t have a single shot of a dude hucking himself off a cliff with a sunburst in the background?

A couple of reasons. I had been on the road for 2 months prior to the event and I was burning out; China, Olympics and then Jackson Hole, and I didn’t have a second to line up any skiers to do a more traditional show. The other reason is that I simply wanted to entertain the audience. After a while, these types of images, although really spectacular as standalones in a magazine, and really show off the skier’s amazing athleticism, can get weary when put one after the other without context or story, almost like sensory overload. Normal people are amazed by this, but most of us can’t do it, so I like to bring something forward people can relate to. I say all that, but then I and everyone else was blown away by Grant Gunderson‘s amazing show in the event…man it was cool, and of course every single one of the images will be all over the magazines next year!

How long did it take? How many shots are in it? Who made all the snowflakes?

The entire process took 3 and a half very intensive 12-hour days, with my girlfriend Emily lying there for over 24 hours in total. You need to have a plan for each sequence, so we worked about 1 hour shooting at a time, following a rough storyboard which was also challenging but fun to make. The total number of frames in the show was 1341, with 100 snowflakes. Emily cut out most of the snowflakes, I really don’t like doing crafts!

So, I’ve had the chance to work with you a lot over the last few years, and as I’m standing on the side of a mountain somewhere, watching the tedious task that is ski photography, I always think to myself, ‘you know, Kari, there’s nothing original about taking a shot of a skier jumping off a cliff with a sun burst in the background.’ What are your thoughts on originality in ski photography?

Yikes, that’s a tough question. Well, when you go off and do a story on skiing you’d better get some ski pictures, and as you know I get antsy too when I have to do this, especially in tough light/snow conditions. But, I do love skiing and great ski photography inspires me to ski. For example, I just had a look at Jordan Manley‘s 2009 Pro-photo showdown winning show, and it literally blew my mind, like hairs standing on the back of my neck, it makes me want to reach for my skis…he’s pushing the limits with new angles, perspectives and originality. Guys like him are taking things to the next level, a new paradigm and I think this is just a breath of fresh air.

What are your thoughts on the slideshow as a medium for displaying ski photography?

I think slideshows are awesome. It gets people together and excited about the sport they love. One of my favourites is the Dirtbag Festival in Kimberley, BC. A handful of guys just show their work to such an enthusiastic crowd. No comp, just an intimate setting with a whole bunch of screaming, beer-loaded friends. That’s my type of slideshow.

To see more of Medig’s work head over to karimedigphoto.com.

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