What I Discovered, And Lost, In The Pursuit Of Extreme Photographs

17/06/2016 10:20 AM AEST | Updated 23/09/2016 8:49 AM AEST
Krystle Wright

There's a toll to pay for a life spent in pursuit of an adventurous dream.

I've been working as a photographer for ten years. I started out doing casual sports photography shifts for newspapers but after I had a serious paragliding accident in Pakistan in 2011, I decided to jack in the shifts and pursue adventure photography full time.

Since then, I've travelled the world working as an extreme sports photographer. I've paraglided in Pakistan, hiked mountainous terrain on Baffin Island and camped on frozen Arctic fjords.

I think we need to see those grounding stories that aren't just about the glory, but the guts of an expedition too. I'm not trying to do something mainstream like, 'hey, here's a project on Everest.' I'm more motivated by what's on the other side of the beaten track.

Hanging from the side of a helicopter, or paragliding the silent airstream with my camera in hand and what I know -- or hope! -- will become the shot in frame, that is my sanctuary. Time and time again I've pushed myself outside my comfort zone but I live for capturing raw feeling in my images. Be that fear, jubilation, effort or intensity in my images.

One time in mid-2013, I was photographing a kayaking expedition from Mongolia to Russia. I was halfway through and had just crossed the border into Siberia. I made my way to the train station only to find that thanks to the impenetrable vagaries of the Russian train timetable system, I was seven hours too early for my ride.

To pass the time I tried to make conversation with a train conductor on the platform, a short, round shirtless man who spoke very little English. Despite the language barrier, he became convinced -- and desperately worried -- that I was lost, so he pressed a tiny plastic compass into my hand and earnestly tried to assure me that I'd never get lost again. He then picked up his accordion, and played me a song before going on his way on his train.

It's these distilled human interactions that I sometimes encounter on the road that, in addition to the work itself, make my job so special to me. A single shot. Nine to five? That's not me.

I'm not sentimental and don't travel with meaningful trinkets or keepsakes. But after my accident, which happened while attempting to capture the Mysteries shot -- my five-year pursuit of a single base-jumping shot which has been made into a short film "The Mysteries" -- a falconer friend gave me a rare peregrine feather for good luck. It's a badass bird and it's the most beautiful feather. So now, I carry it with me always as good juju.

But living this freely and nomadically does exact its price. I see my family -- if I'm lucky -- once or twice a year. I haven't had an actual place of my own to call home for the past five years. I live out of my car when I'm on the road, or crash on friend's couches when I do have some down time.

And of course, adventure sports and photography can be dangerous. I've dedicated "The Mysteries" to my friend, the late base jumper Mario Richard after he was killed in a jumping accident in Italy. I was devastated by his death and it took me a long time to process.

But ultimately, Mario lived an exceptional life. He travelled the world for almost thirty years engaging with the world on his terms. He's inspired me to do the same. I would never have known Mario if it wasn't for adventure photography so while losing him was impossibly hard, having had his friendship in my life was invaluable.

Next week, I'm heading off to Pakistan, in the middle of their summer, because the conditions are perfect for paragliding. I'll be photographing the expedition – and catching up in person with the villagers who helped me when I was injured. They should recognise me by the scar over my eye. I can't wait.

It's lonely sometimes. I've paid a price to live this way but I've gained so much also in exchange. This job has gifted me a life rich beyond compare in experience.

Watch Krystle's short film, The Mysteries, online at www.canon.com/themysteries

Krystle Wright
The basejumping shot Krystle finally captured - as seen in her short film, "The Mysteries"

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