Serious Sisu: Adventure photographer Krystle Wright
Four years ago Krystle Wright was shooting photos for a local Australian newspaper; in August 2015 she was described by Outside Magazine as “the badass woman owning adventure photography”. In this post we learn what it's like to spend most of the year dangling off a rope, freezing in a tent on a mountain top, paragliding off an exotic coastline or diving in deep waters in the tireless pursuit of "the shot". (Hint: it involves incredible highs, bone-rattling cold, aching loneliness, and the quirk of living out of a shipping container).
Describe your journey into adventure photography - is it something you always wanted to do, or something you simply fell into?
Originally I wanted to be a sports photographer. I was obsessed with the Olympics for a long time as a kid; I always had the dream to compete in the Olympics, though that modified after high school as my photography soon took over all aspects of my life in the best way possible. I worked as a casual photographer for The Sunday Telegraph and other news agencies in Sydney. It left me with a huge chunk of spare time, so I would go out and shoot adventure sports - my other passion - in my spare time. Over a few years, I suddenly found myself prioritising adventures over my shifts and a catalyst moment came in 2011 when I decided to leave the newspapers and become an adventure photographer full-time.
What's a typical week like for Krystle?
Hah, there is no typical week for me! Since that moment in 2011 when I decided to become an adventure photographer full-time, I also changed my lifestyle which meant giving up my home base. I moved all my belongings into a shipping container on my grandparents' property in Queensland and I've been living out of my bags ever since. My brother has given me the nickname 'A Child of the Universe'.
What is it about photography that has drawn you to it?
I love that photography has pushed me outside my comfort zone many times, which in turn teaches me more about who I am. I've always been a creative person and I find the medium of photography is how I communicate with the world. The images that stick with me most are images that appear simple with a lot of negative space. It's as if I've taken a complicated situation and solved it momentarily through 1/1000th of a second and found that moment of peace with the world. There are so many things photography has given me but I crave the opportunity to learn about everything around me and myself.
What's the best part of your job - and what's the worst?
During my travels, I've met so many incredible people, though there's been a handful of people that I have met who are such amazing souls, I walk away feeling like a better person for knowing them. I won't name the worst, but there are downsides to this lifestyle where I do struggle from time to time with the loneliness. There are certain relationships that suffer because of my extensive time away, and it can be awfully lonely some days.
If someone told you you'd be where you are today 10 years ago, what would have been your response?
I don't think I would want that knowledge. I think about it now as I answer this question - what if someone told me who 38-year-old Krystle would be? I don't think I'd wish to know, as I enjoy the journey and discovering the path as it unfolds. Sometimes, in the hard moments, I know to have that knowledge could be encouraging, but I choose the unknown and figuring it out as I go.
What is something that you know now that you wish someone had told you when you started your adventures?
I have to admit that I became severely disorganised and I wish I could give the younger version of me a kick up the backside and have organised my photo library better - but the lesson was finally learned! There's so many things I wish I could've known sooner but I feel that I learned them when I was ready to and I finally entered a stronger mindset than ever.
What qualities does someone have to have to be an adventure/outdoor photographer. How much of it is technical skills, and how much of it is talent?
Typically an adventure photographer is working as a freelancer, which means you need to be more than just a photographer. I use to be incredibly shy and it took me some time to break out of that shell and learn how to approach people from all walks of life. It's important to have a strong folio so, yes, talent is a part of the equation but I believe you need to be just as good at networking, along with the many other skills required to run your own business.
What about luck? What role has luck played in your life and your success?
Well luck is a part of it, but you make your own luck. I've worked extremely hard and constantly putting myself out there that eventually doors do open and certain luck does come about.
Often your job requires you to be in dangerous situations to get "the shot". How do you deal with danger and risk in your work?
I get incredibly frustrated when a newspaper runs a headline like "Photographer risks her life in getting the shot." I know it's a sensational headline to hook in more readers, but it also suggests that I am reckless and purposely put myself in dangerous situations for some sort of kick. My line of work does involve risk but the best thing that I can do is build the knowledge and skill set to keep myself safe. Though ultimately Mother Nature can be unpredictable and it's a risk, that I accept, that things can go wrong, and perhaps a result of that is injury or worse. I choose this lifestyle as I couldn't think of anything worse than sitting on a couch and wondering 'what if'. Sometimes I do push myself but it's not until I am in the moment and judge what I am willing to do and what feels right.
I remember in Alaska last year, this feeling suddenly came over me that I wasn't having fun anymore. Thankfully as a group we decided to leave as one of the team members became violently ill. I just remember a mentor once teaching me that if you're not having fun anymore, then you need to question why are you really there.
What's the greatest lesson you've learned in your journeys in life so far?
It's a lesson that I'm still figuring out, but the process of learning to let go. My friend Steph David has been an incredible friend to me and through conversations we've had, she's taught me so much. Through losing a dear friend and pursuing a passion project that had me driven for 4.5 years, I had a complete meltdown afterwards as the end of the project meant I no longer had the distraction and needed to decompress and understand. There were so many layers that it's hard to summarise into a short paragraph but a quote from Steph; 'that's the brutality of life. We really don't keep anything. I know that's a hard and real truth in your life and probably why you are driven to take images of those ephemeral moments -- But at the same time we really do keep everything we love even if it's not where we can see it.'
What advice would you give to a SisuGirl about wanting to pursue a career as an adventure/outdoor photographer?
Don't let anyone deter you from your passion. I'm so thankful that I've stuck by my passion and gone after it with everything I've got as it's lead me down this incredible journey. It's not always smooth sailing and I've encountered the odd negative asshole, but you just can't let such negative energy ever influence you.
Finally, who do you think has serious sisu?
I've met some incredible women in my travels and I know it's fought o name one and there's so many I could add to this list but just a few; Steph Davis (BASE/Rock Climber/Solo), Sarah Marquis (Nat Geo Explorer), Sheldon Kerr (Skier/Climber), Emilie Drinkwater (IMGFA), Jen Edney (Photographer), Jody Macdonald (Photographer) Jessica Baker (Skier), Ellen Brennan (BASE), Caroline Gleich (Skier), Heather Larsen (Highliner), Faith Dickey (Highliner),