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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Stephen Matera: Real Sports With Stephen Matera

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Snowboarding in the Mount Baker backcountry.
Matera’s perspective is one of inclusion. He has had his fill of fantasy outdoor images that seem to magnify the void between most people’s real lives and the majesty of faraway lands or extreme feats of athletic daring. But that’s not his goal. Matera hopes to achieve a level of realism in his images that inspires the viewer—a beautiful image of a fantastic location and a great moment, no doubt, but also a sense that it’s an activity in a real place carried out by real people.

“It’s certainly intentional,” he says. “I almost always exclusively work with people who are authentic athletes. Most of these people are friends or people I’ve met who do this sport because they love to do it. I’m picking people who know what they’re doing, and I think that makes a huge difference in doing the sport and looking authentic—as well as attainable—that’s a word I go for. Some people might call some of this extreme, but people like me or people who do this sport wouldn’t use that word; it’s something they go out and do on a regular basis and then go home and have dinner with their wife. They don’t feel like they’re risking their lives every day. Attainable, to me, means somebody who may not be performing at the level of some of these people I’m shooting—but ‘I do this sport, and I look at this, and I want to be able to do it like that.’ They’re drawn toward it, rather than alienated. That’s something I aim for.”

Hiking near Kool-Aid Lake at sunset, the North Cascades, Washington State.
If you’re photographing real people participating in real sports in real honest-to-goodness locations, and you’re not creating a cartoon-style fantasy world in pictures, it helps to have some extra skills to keep your pictures special. Sure, an understanding of key moments in an athlete’s experience is the first half of the equation. The second half is an eye for interesting compositions. Matera got his, he says, from working toward his original goal of being a landscape photographer.

“I actually started out more as a landscape photographer than an outdoor sports photographer,” he says, “and I developed my eye and way of shooting that way. I think I’ve always looked for very graphic elements in my photography—a lot of diagonal lines, clean, simple compositions—and I learned a lot about light that way. I think that translates into my sports photography. If you look at a lot of my images, yes, I’ll shoot the in-your-face action, but that’s not what really excites me. I like shooting people as an element in the landscape. To me, that’s a lot more interactive. It draws viewers in.”

Many images in Matera’s portfolio would work well as landscapes even without an athletic element—like the mountain biker photograph he calls “Sandstone Playground.”


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