Photographer: Jay Kolsch
Heidi: Tell us the backstory of that shoot.
Jay: I had just wrapped up a string of jobs that really sapped the spirit out of me. I was rinsed and needed a change, personal work has always been a safe place to throw myself when I felt creatively stunted. I was talking with a good buddy over some beers when he started recalling some pretty gnarly trips sledding through Canada, that was the initial spark. I love jumping head first into a world I don’t know much about and dog sledding was exactly that. Christine Walsh, a fantastic photo editor I work closely with steered me toward Kristy and Anna Berington. January in Knik, Alaska is no joke. For several days we photographed the sisters in sub zero temps using only the SUV as shelter.
How has the outdoors informed your work?
I received some really great advice early on in my career “make sure you’re passionate about what you choose to spend your time photographing”. At the time, that directly translated into “stop shooting those beauty tests you clearly hate”. We’re always told to find a way to monetize our hobbies but I was very hesitant to bring my camera with me on long weekends hiking or on climbing trips, I didn’t want to mix work and pleasure and possibly infect my love for outdoor recreation. I was wrong though, the outdoors became such an incredible frame to hold the stories of people living amazing lives and accomplishing wildly difficult goals. That has become the core of my work.
You have work in and out of the studio, do you find it hard to transition?
Actually, I’m truly at home in the studio. Before I started photographing for myself I spent several years as a first assistant running crews, assisting and lighting for other photographers. I’d spend every day making gear lists, loading trucks, creating light, problem solving… This comfort level with the space and the equipment allows me to have a smoother transition between the spontaneous work I do on location and the more planned execution of ideas in the studio. I do hope to do more work in the studio though. After spending so many years trapped on white cycs it was necessary to put some distance between me and c-stands but I have recently started to feel the pull towards designed light again.
What are you working on these days?
I didn’t do much in 2020, January through March where whirlwind months spent traveling the country and working but by mid March all of my holds had dissolved. I spent much of the year grieving the loss of my ego and realizing just how much of my self worth I had tied to jobs and photography. Mostly I felt stupid. When work finally came knocking, I made sure I spoke up when clients asked me to put myself or others in danger and I bent over backwards for the clients who treated me like family. Recently I have found a massive creative partner in FILSON and have spent the last few months working on some truly exciting projects around the country.
What the been rewarding about your work lately?
That it’s evolving. I’m not the photographer I was three years ago and I’m certain I’ll continue to change in the future. The work of being a photographer isn’t making photographs, it’s having the courage to continue to push for something better. It’s a process and that’s what you’re seeing me go through. I started out in fashion and ended up photographing twin sisters prepping to feed their iditarod dogsled team in -23 degree weather.