Portraiture is one of the most difficult types of photography for me. More difficult than shooting in the mountains, or in the back alleys of third world countries. I’ve spent a lot of time wondering why this is, and I haven’t figured it out. I’m an outgoing person, but there is something so raw and intimate with the interaction, it makes me uncomfortable. The void between the camera and subject is essentially nonexistent, leaving me with nowhere to hide. I’ve been trying to overcome my anxiety and certain things help put me a little more at ease, like in this instance, being longtime friends with the subject.
Luke Nelson, who I’ve known since college, is a talented ultra-marathon runner for Patagonia. He loves suffering, but more than that, he loves suffering in the cold and excels when the temperature drops. One of my first adventures with him was documenting a hundred plus mile run that he and Ty Draney did through the Frank Church Wilderness area in central Idaho. I had photographed the beginning of their run and didn’t find them until well past the time they were supposed to have finished. We stumbled upon each other 15 miles up a drainage. I had hiked up the side of the canyon to get a better vantage point and saw them thrashing around in the brush at the bottom. I yelled and started running down toward them. Even after hearing my shouts and seeing me from a distance, both Luke and Ty weren’t convinced I was real until I was handing them a couple of apples I had pulled from my backpack. The two of them had been without food for quite some time and informed me that they had spent a couple of hours that night, huddled under a map, shivering on the banks of the Salmon River.
I think that seeing Luke at his absolute worst made the portrait possible for me. Allowing me to witness a part of him that not many people ever get a chance to see definitely put my anxieties at ease. Thanks Luke.