balancing the desires of being both an athlete and action photographer / by Kjell van Sice

It is likely that if you are reading this, you are either an athlete, a sports photographer or both. Especially in the age of the digital camera, it has never been easier for an athlete to capture themselves or a fellow sportsperson in action. For those who have taken sports photography from distraction to source of income, there is a paradox; if I am a surfer (which I myself am), why would I forfeit a session of my own to catch a few shots of someone else riding? This is almost always a gut-wrenching decision, because if the waves are good enough to shoot, it’s guaranteed they’d be a damn good ride. Inside of this dilemma lies two core ideas: experiencing the raw, instinctive reality of an extreme sport versus the creation of a micro-reality behind the lens. Getting barreled is a very singular and meditative experience, as is whipping a fast-paced MTB ride down buttery single track or wing suit jumping off a Norwegian fjord. While the immediate realities of the sports photographer and the athlete are arguably the same—surf photographer in the water with the surfer, aerial photographer in the air with the subject paragliding—the act of including the camera in one’s hands immediately introduces a profound new character acting upon the photographer’s ways of seeing and thinking. In this sense the camera alters the image maker’s reality from that of the athlete, creating a micro-reality. Not only does the camera act as a strong suggestive force to create, but rather more importantly it changes the way a scene is perceived. This is perhaps the greatest difference between a layman with their finger simply on the shutter button, blindly firing toward the subject and a thinking, visually empathetic photographer; the latter subconsciously and intuitively has the potential to create complex and sophisticated compositions, but is damned to an eternity of seeing the world through a mental lens. An athlete who is not an image maker differs to one who is in that the imposition of the frame will fundamentally change the way he or she sees the world; as either a clean slate upon which to act with the body, or a canvas for the creation of a four sided structure inside of which a reality can take its own place.