Photographer and activist Chris Jordan made a point that deeply resonated with me: You cannot save this planet without also falling utterly in love with it over and over and over again.
Conservation is hard work. Going green is hard work. Caring is incredibly hard work.
So, taking that moment to breathe, to connect to the epic masterpiece that is Mother Nature, is so incredibly important. You must let yourself wonder and fall in love, to just take it in, to remember that we are of this wondrous and majestic planet. That love is what sustains us through the work.
No one's photography reminds me to take that moment more than my childhood friend turned bad ass adventure photographer and mountaineer Marisa Jarae with Grit & Pixel. I could sing her praises all day long, but I'd rather let the work speak for itself. -Reese Moore
How did you find your way into this niche in photography? Did the photos or the adventuring come first?
Marisa Jarae: Adventuring definitely came first. Ever since I moved to Colorado, almost 5 years ago now, I wanted to learn the skills necessary for mountaineering. I started getting into adventure photography after my first solo 14 summit. The light that cut through the valley that morning was so stunning that I just had to take a picture. The only thing I had with me was my iPhone. When I got home, I was surprised to see that the photo turned out. Since I was going out almost every weekend, I started taking pictures with my phone pretty regularly.
It wasn't until I started teaching backpacking with the Colorado Mountain Club that I really decided I needed a camera. We spent so many nights out under the stars, and here in Colorado, the Milky Way sings so vibrantly every night. I couldn't capture that with my phone. So, I did about three months of research online and ended up with a mirrorless Fujifilm XT 1. Her name is Gladys! But I found that I was taking pictures of people enjoying natural landscapes more so than just the natural landscapes themselves.
I started posting to social media and the rest is history.
How do you get these shots?!
Marisa Jarae: I take my camera with me everywhere. Literally everywhere. I generally tend to carry a backpack more often than I carry a purse, and Gladys is always with me. I don't force the shots, most of the time. And by that I mean I am very rarely looking for "the shot".
I think that, for me, if I spend time looking for "the shot"… Then I miss the experience of the outdoors.
So instead, I take a photo when a scene makes me say "oh my gosh!" Or "wow!" I call what I do photo-impressionism. Yes, it is representative of a real scene, but more so representative of an emotional reaction to an outdoor experience or scene. I play with natural light. And my set up is not very large - one lens or maybe two if the first is ultra lightweight, a couple of extra batteries, and a very small tripod if I'm shooting at night... that's about it. I use light room to edit my photos.
Nature has a way of peeling back all the pretense we carry with us...
I like to capture people in that element, to freeze those moments as people do something new or something pushes their boundaries, that helps them grow.
What sacrifices does it take to do what you do?
Marisa Jarae: Time and money. And sometimes a racing heart and stinging lungs :) I don't know that I will call it sacrifice, rather I would call it skill building.
Sometimes, the places we go require more than the ability to simply hike for a couple of hours. so we train for months and sometimes years to learn how to safely climb snow, rock, and ice, how to camp in the high Alpine, to learn first aid, and to build the endurance to be able to carry heavy loads for long and tall distances. Beyond that, and again I don't think I would call this a sacrifice, my social life tends to come last... but my preference is to be in the hills. So there's that.
And tell me about your work. What drives it, and what are you hoping to impart?
Marisa Jarae: I answered that somewhat earlier. But essentially, I create my art in an attempt to impart not only what a scene looked like, but what it felt like. So often I hear people say that they feel their photos don't do a natural setting justice. I think that is because we view the world not only as our eyeballs see it, but as our emotions interpret it. Sometimes, a photo may only show what the eyes see. I strive to show both.
As a woman in the outdoors, I do tend to create my art with women as the subjects of my landscapes.
Often times, you can't even see their faces. And when we are mountaineering and in full regalia, you cannot tell one humans gender from and other. Yeah, I tend to photograph and make art out of the images taken of women – even if I'm the only one that knows the person in the shot is a woman. I think that is because I see myself in them to some extent, and when I'm editing and creating an image and remembering how I felt during that moment, I think I relate more to women than men. I also just really love showing women being bad asses in the outdoors.
Where are three of your favorite spots to hike/climb?
Marisa Jarae: I love to get out in Rocky Mount National Park. I am so lucky to have it so close to my house. I can get there in an hour and a half. It is full of lakes and summits and crazy craggy rocks that all a beg to be climbed.
I also like to get out in Utah, specifically the desert. I've been most frequently to Moab and the surrounding area, but also have spent some time canyoneering in Zion. The arches and canyon lands and formations are simply mind-boggling. And the desert has a draw like no other place I have felt before... it's hard to explain.
I also really love the sand ones here in Colorado. That range holds lakes made of turquoise water, waterfalls for days, it basically almost looks like the Alps, or like one of the elf kingdoms in Lord of the Rings.
What is it you love most about nature?
Marisa Jarae: Nature is an amazing teacher.
Not a hike goes by that I don't learn something that I can take back to my every day life. She's also beautiful. But mostly, she feels like home.
What do you do, if anything, and no judgement, to help preserve these places?
Marisa Jarae: Years ago, I helped with some trail building. The more recently, I do what I can to educate people. Sometimes that means volunteering and teaching leave no trace principles, sometimes that means reminding folks as they are on trail about those principles and encouraging them to follow. Sometimes that means picking up trash that I inevitably find more often than I care to say. Sometimes that means calling out accounts on social media that have a large following and asking them not to post images that encourage damaging behavior.
And most of all, it means that I must also follow the leave no trace principles. And I do gladly.
Tell me about your favorite photo and why?
Marisa Jarae: I don't have a favorite photo. I do have a set of them though, that stick out to me probably because of the lessons I learned on those trips. The first one is the iPhone photo I took of the sunrise on that first solo 14er summit:
The photo that started it all.
Another one I really love was taken at the start of the white out on Colorado's tallest 14er. I got a touch of frostbite on that trip really tested myself. An other was shot during my first time ice climbing - The water was so blue. another was taken my first season rock climbing - I knew nothing and it was awesome! And finally, astrophotography. The reason I have a camera in the first place… And one of my first tent shots taken when you can see the stars.
Any tips for fledgling photogs?
Marisa Jarae: Your art is your own. Make it for you, for your own happiness first. Don't rely on others for validation. That's my rule number one.
I always check with myself, "Would you do this if no one could ever see it?"
The answer should be yes. And if the answer is not yes, dig deep… Try to understand why. I would say rule number two is to always carry a camera of some sort. You never know when the shots will show themselves to you. Rule number three is to let the shot show itself to you. If you spend too much time focusing on trying to get the shot, you might find that you miss out on the experience of life. And no one wants that!
Marisa Jarae: Nature runs on her own time. Storms pop up even if the forecast didn't call for them. Winds can be brutal and literally put you on your ass. She's unpredictable.
So sometimes if there's a shot or project you're working on, you have to be willing to give it multiple attempts... or even wait for a year for the season to change and conditions to improve. It's what I both love and dislike most about this kind of photography.
Want to follow along on the adventure? Check out more of Marisa's work at Grit & Pixel and follow her on Instagram for your daily dose of inspiration.
A huge thank you to Marisa for not killing me as a child, and for sharing the wonder of this planet the way through her unique eye and lens, and telling a better story of humans walking hand in hand with Mother Nature. Your work is incredible, old friend, and it's an absolute privilege to share it!
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