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f-stop Global Icon Tsutomu Endo traded up the mountains of his native Japan for the wild open spaces of Alaska last spring. He undertook a road trip across Alaska with the goal of meeting up with a small community of snowboarders forging a snowboarding lifestyle far away from ski resorts. He took the FUJIFILM X-Pro2, a camera more commonly associated with artistic landscape and street photography, to capture both the snowboard action and document the tight-knit community dedicated to this lifestyle.
This video shows his trip in all its glory, and we caught up with Tsutomu to hear a bit more about the trip and the gear he used in the deep snow of 'the last frontier':
What was the photographic goal of your trip to Alaska?
The goal of this trip was to shoot a documentary of the life of snowboarders in Alaska. Of course, that also included shooting action of their hardcore backcountry snowboarding too.
What connection took you from Japan to this remote area of Alaska?
My good friend Ryland Bell is a professional snowboarder from Alaska. He came over to Japan to ride, and we shared so many good times in and around my home mountains in Japan. Through that experience we became good friends, so this trip was also kind of about exchange and friendship. Ryland had been immersed in the Japanese scene, and I was interested to taste Alaskan life and check out the mountains there. Ryland is part of a small community of snowboarders based in Haines.
Riding snowmobiles and hiking deep into wild mountains of Alaska to get shots snowboarders is far from most people’s daily shooting routine. What were the biggest challenges of that?
There are no ski resorts out there in that area. More than shooting, it’s just super tough to go snowboarding there at all. It needs team work and lot of energy. To navigate through that terrain by snowmobile as a group you have to build a good relationship of trust. But in that, you can feel their human passion in the wild snow-covered mountain landscape.
What gear do you use for getting the shot in the mountains?
I have been trying out the Fujifilm X-Pro2 for extreme mountain shooting recently. The camera is very light and compact, which makes it very good for hiking and accessing hard-to-reach environments and documentary shooting.
Do you switch up your camera for the landscape and portraits, when you are off the mountain?
No, I was using the x-pro2 for both action and documentary. I switched up the lenses depending on the type of shooting. For portrait and documentary shots I used Fuji primes, XF23mm f2 and XF50mm f1.2. Shooting the snowboarding, I used the XF16-55 f2.8 and XF50-140 f2.8 which are both weather sealed.
Even though you were going to shoot snowboarding in Alaska, the journey to get there was a big part of this trip. How was the road trip experience?
To be honest, being on the road travelling was pretty normal for me, as I’m always traveling a lot! But driving through Alaska like that, in the middle of that natural environment you can feel how small humans are in relation to nature, and you are not above any of the animals you meet. You should go!
Alaska seems so big and wild, and you called the snowboarders there in Alaska a “tribe”, which sounds more like nature and wildlife photography than action sports. Did you feel like you were focusing on the snowboarding or the lifestyle more?
Yes. To be a snowboarder is just one of the choices that a human can make for their lifestyle on this earth. We have so many choices about what kind of lifestyle we want to lead. But in Alaska they have not so many. In that environment, it’s usually just survival - fishing and hunting. I think they are in a unique position, where that lack of options becomes a positive, and they able to follow their passion to snowboard in the huge landscape of Alaska.
Where do you want to make your next trip to?
I am thinking about going to the Arctic next, to record the effects of climate change and global warming. In the mountains, I’ve been interested in the reducing size of glaciers, and the Arctic is where those changes seem to be most apparent.
Thanks for taking the time to talk with us, Tsutomu.