Interview Series: Cole Barash

When I found photographer Cole Barash, I fell in love. As the snowboarder in me yearns for the snow to fall, the next best way to spend my afternoon is looking at amazing snowboarding photography. Cole has spent much of his life in the scene, trekking all over the world chasing the best snow conditions. Though he’s an expert at photographing the high action shots, he has also made a point to document his pro snowboarder friends in a kind of “behind-the-scenes” way, making his images incredibly compelling and intimate.

He recently moved to New York City to immerse himself in the big-time commercial scene, and he’s also looking to expand his body of work outside of snowboarding for a change of pace. When I talked to him on the phone for his interview, he was getting lumber delivered to his house in Brooklyn so he could build it out. In big city living, you’ve got to bring the mountain cabin feeling to you, right? Here’s what he had to say about his wanderlust lifestyle:

LF: Let’s start with your snowboarding pics which Joel Muzzey talked about in your info “Documenting the motion and emotion of snowboarding, Cole learned technique.” Can you talk a little bit more about this?
CB: For me, coming up, I always looked at a few photographers in snowboarding, and they were not focused solely on the action, like Keven Zacher… Vincent Skoglund. Especially Keven Zacher, he had this almost poetic way of documenting the sub culture, and that’s what totally drew me into shooting snowboarding. And then the action for sure after that. It was more about documenting the whole trip, the stories, the long days, the bad days, the cold, the good days… I moved out to Mammoth, California with two other snowboarders when we were all sixteen, and we just worked and shot during the day and then home-schooled at night. We all made it happen when we graduated high school. They landed contracts and I got a job to be a principle photographer at one of the companies.

LF: What is snowboarding for you?

CB: Snowboarding is pure, you know? It’s a pure example of expression. Whether you go fast, or slow or hard or crazy… there are so many different styles of snowboarding with so many different kinds of energy with different riders. For me, just like surfing, its a way to disconnect and kind of hit the reset button. It’s nice to get away from people and electronics and all the bullshit of our reality now. For me, it’s a great creative reset button and a way to connect to the outside.

LF: So you surf as well?

CB: Yeah I grew surfing, it’s definitely a big part of my life. I’m from the northeast but I was living in San Diego for four or five years!

LF: Where are you from originally?
CB: Vermont.

LF: What’s your best snowboarding travel story?

CB: This is not too snow related, but my first trip that I did with the Nike team, we went to Russia, and the idea was to go up into space because they have these zero gravity planes that take you to forty or fifty thousand feet. The idea was to bring the team up there and to shoot it. We flew all the way to Russia, with the whole team and with a few of the creative directors from the company. We get there and are escorted around by this crazy bodyguard person that the government sent, and second day in, we find out that we’re not going to be able to go up in the plane. We went all the way over there, but it was still amazing to cruise around and check out Moscow.

LF: What’s your favorite time to ride? What do you like to do on the mountain?

CB: My favorite time to ride is when it’s absolutely puking out and there’s not a ray of sun in sight and it’s just you and your crew. Maybe hiking out to some stuff, but when it’s puking pretty much!

LF: You recently moved to New York City? Why NYC?

CB: A lot of the best guys are here in New York and they want to give me a shot. We’ll see how long I last, but I figured it was time to pull the trigger. And I grew up in a pretty small town and was never into living in the city. Then I moved around a bunch, Tahoe, Mammoth, and eventually San Diego. And then I moved to San Fran, which is amazing city! But I was in New York this last month, and just the energy and the amount of talent and resources there, it’s just amazing. All the sudden, things really fell into place, these two opportunities came up, a really good living situation in Brooklyn and a work space that both were super cheap. And then a month later, here I am. The big reason I moved to New York really, was to involve myself fully in different parts of photography, and to move away from snowboarding.

LF: Your portfolio has intense depth on your website outside of snowboarding. Your portraits are incredible! How do you get people to respond to your camera?
CB: Well, i guess it depends on the subject a bit, but if it’s more of a mellow subject and I want more of a quiet moment, I guess I just set the environment and talk to them for a while first, and slowly while we are interacting and shooting, if I see something that i really like, I might give some direction to it. If it’s someone that is not so quiet and it’s a portrait that I want to create with some energy, I will push some buttons to try and get some emotion, to get something that’s not so still. Whether it’s music or props, or the subject moving around, I guess that’s what I try to do.

LF: I love the campaign for the Alex Bottle shoot that you posted on your blog. It is pretty humorous. Can you talk a little bit about the idea behind the campaign?

CB: My good friend Chris Hotell two years ago started this Alex bottle, which stands for Always Live Extraordinarily. Their whole concept of the bottle was to create this bottle that you can wash easily because most of the stainless steel bottles you can’t wash so easily. The main key part for their bottle was how you can twist it open in the middle and wash it. Initially, we were just going to try and shoot some water bottle shots while hanging with a few different styled people. But somehow Chris got the idea of bringing an astronaut into each photograph and I guess the overall concept was that it’s find of futuristic renewable energy. So we tried to bring a bit of comedy into it, and Chris was the astronaut, like the astronaut working out with the girl in the garage. Then we shot one with this girl dancing in the studio while he was DJing, and then shot this kid on a stationary bike in the middle of the woods. I think it was a great idea to bring that astronaut into it! That was a fun shoot for sure.

LF: It must be rad to work for all of these action sports companies! Can you talk about what it’s like to do what you love?

CB: It’s funny, a lot of people are like, “You’re so lucky, you shoot snowboarding! That’s so awesome, what a cool easy job!” But they have no idea the long, cold days that go into shooting snowboarding. The kind of cold days where the sun is just about to go down, you’re on your third pair of gloves and you’re out of food and you’re thirty miles deep in the bush and your snowmobile isn’t starting. You eventually get it started and you start your trek back and you have twenty five miles of basically a mogul field to go over which tears apart your back. And then you’re finally back to the parking lot by seven, back to the hotel by eight, and fed by nine. You dry out all of your shit, and then you’re up at four thirty or five a.m. to do it all over again.

Like, you will spend sometimes six hours shoveling a jump and getting it all perfect to shoot the next day, and then, well, the wind decided to blow out of the southwest at thirty five miles an hour, and you get up there and your landing is screwed. There’s so much labor behind the photographs that a lot of people don’t understand. It’s fun, and I wouldn’t change those days for the world, but it’s definitely not a piece of cake.

It’s definitely a blast working with some of your best friends and traveling the world and I mostly enjoy it because it’s almost like there’s a bit of pioneer in it when you are out searching these new zones, especially in the back country. Rail trips too because you get dropped in these urban environments, like cities, and there’s so much snow around and you spend like two/three days driving around and trying to find stuff to shoot. It’s pretty cool because you’re basically with your crew trying to be creative, and everyone has a job to do. The riders are going to perform, the filmers are going to shoot and you’re there as a crew to deliver a good product.

LF: I really love your “Friends” portfolio. It definitely feels close and personal to you. What’s it like taking pics of your friends?
CB: Well, what’s funny about that is that they are some of my best friends, but it’s this company that we started called “Friends” – and it’s a headphone company. We have such a good working relationship, and I make it pretty personal because it is. I’m not trying to please any kind of specific crazy client or bogus set-up. I have so much creative control with those shoots, that they just let me run with it and I am able to do what I want with most of the set-ups. They have input too – and there’s no guy that doesn’t get it that’s in the picture. At some shoots you get guys who obviously don’t get what’s going on and they’re just a roadblock and a pain and just shouldn’t be there. So for this it’s just those guys and me doing our thing, and it just kind of works out.

LF: I also love the “Polaroids” portfolio. Do you tend to shoot a lot of Polaroids on the road?
CB: You know, I have been going through phases, I was shooting a ton because Fuji gave something like one hundred rolls of ten pack, and I was just doing tons of little books and personal projects with them. I think I really like shooting with them, it’s instant gratification, but it’s also more like you have a pretty nice quality print right there that’s not digitized and that has a pretty unique feel to it. As opposed to shooting it digital, bringing it to a computer, doing a bunch of crap to it in Photoshop, running it to a lab and getting it printed and then finally having it. With so much photography being shot digital these days, I like it because it was printed as I envisioned it and it was instant and it didn’t require computers.

LF: How FAST do you live?

CB: I drink coffee, haha. How fast do I live? That’s an interesting question actually, because in the last month, I have made a point to constantly tell myself not to rush, because i think it’s healthier. So maybe I’m living slower. I try to just live in the moment.

LF: Art Talk: What inspires you? Favorite artists?

CB: You know, I was talking about this the other day with someone. I am constantly in search of inspiration, whether it’s music or film or photographs or art, but I will spend hours at a magazine store and go through like forty or fifty mags, buy like six or seven of them, and come back and start tearing shit out and filing them away. Also for art, I love museums. I think it’s such an interesting place to look at art in a big, white, open silent room. It’s super powerful. I think for photographs as well, an exhibit. It’s nice because it’s an opportunity to breath and that’s definitely when I get really inspired. Being constantly inspired is huge.

LF: Sex Talk: What gets you off? Literally or figuratively?

CB: Hotness and good energy.

LF: Travel Talk: Favorite destination or travel stories (besides your epic fishing journeys) that you want to share?

CB: Probably New Zealand or Bali. I’ve been to New Zealand probably a handful of times now, and one time I just went for vacation on a surf trip with my roommates. We got two camper vans and drove around the islands for a month and just camped and surfed and camped and surfed. It was so awesome.

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