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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Michael Clark: Master Of Adventure

From his New Mexico base of operations, Michael Clark is a global photographer whose clients have him chasing swells, climbing mountains and braving the elements. In a down economy, Clark is having a banner year.

This Article Features Photo Zoom
To convey the drama and intensity of action sports, you have to get up close. Part of Michael Clark's success comes from knowing just where to be to capture critical moments of action. Above: A rock climber in Mallorca, Spain, dangles above the deep blue sea.

Michael Clark wanted to climb mountains and ride bikes and take pictures, so just a year out of college, he left the physics lab and followed his passion. Fifteen years later, here he is, one of the best adventure-sports photographers working today—a master of that passion.

Shooting the action deep in the curl of the legendary Tahiti surf break, Teahupo'o.
"Pretty much everything I do is driven by my passion," he says. "I'm extremely passionate about my work and the sports that I participate in. My passion for rock climbing is what brought me into shooting adventure sports. That passion explains a lot, including why I left physics and why I work so hard."

Clark began his career as a climbing photographer, but quickly realized that, in order to survive, he'd need to diversify. So he expanded his subjects: cycling, surfing, base jumping—you name it, he shoots it.

Aside from a passion that fuels a killer work ethic and his easygoing can-do attitude, there are two main reasons why Clark is busier than ever in this down economy. First is his affinity for athletics. A born climber, his skills earn him assignments regularly—as when he photographed a story about a rescue helicopter team for Men's Fitness.

"Pretty much every job I get is because of the skills I have to get into place," Clark says. "I had to hang off the bottom of a helicopter—I was doing all kinds of crazy stuff. We did a cliff rescue, and I'm hanging off the cliff, I'm hanging underneath the helicopter, I'm in the ocean as it picks me up... That was a fun assignment where climbing skills definitely came in handy. It's not every photographer that wants to hang 100 feet under a helicopter and fly around. Every job has my skill set as a photographer and an athlete as part of it."

Red Bull Air Force Team members BASE jumping off a cliff in southwestern Utah.
Adventure photography sounds like a lot more fun than a desk job, but can it be as fun as it looks?

"I wouldn't necessarily call it fun," says Clark, "and it's definitely work. It depends, assignment to assignment. The Patagonia race is miserable, but you're in one of the most incredible places on the planet, so it's hard not to call it 'fun' on some level. You're just destroyed by the time it's over. It's hellacious just being there, much less trying to take pictures while things are going on. A lot of assignments are insanely hard work.

"I'm not actually climbing when I go out to shoot climbing," Clark continues. "I might be climbing, but it's just to get into position. And climbing photography is way more work than almost any other sport because you're carrying upwards of 100 pounds of gear. The ropes weigh 10 pounds, and you may need multiple ropes, and you need this and you need that, and camera gear on top of that... You might be hiking for four hours with that load."


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