By Samuel McMahon
These days, when even your mum has an iPhone and an Instagram account, everyone’s a photographer. With upwards of a trillion photos taken a year, it takes something special to stand out, especially in a crowded market like snowboarding.
Matt Georges is that special something. With over a decade of shooting snowboarding under his belt, he still has the passion and drive for his craft that keeps his photographs unique year after year. Utilising not only the most current gear, but a whole host of old fashioned lm cameras, once you know his style you see it everywhere: from Roxy and Vans catalogues to magazine covers the world over. Well respected throughout his eld, he even curates his own snowboard photography project, The Dirty Dogs, a hand-bound celebration of the people behind your favourite shots.
I’ve been lucky enough to work with Matt over the past few winters, so when Source asked me who I thought was ‘a bit of a legend behind the camera’, there wasn’t really any other choice.
How did you get into photography and what came first: snowboarding or taking pictures?
I started snowboarding and skateboarding aged twelve, then at school they had this photo club. I joined and started learning to shoot photos and print in the darkroom. My parents gave me an old Nikon FE they’d bought in the eighties so I started shooting my friends here and there during our skate and snow missions and printing the results at school in my downtime – at lunchtime and before or after school – then when some of my friends started to get sponsored, I started to get photos in magazines.
So you learned analogue techniques from the very beginning?
Yeah, when I started there were no digital cameras, just lm, and I was just shooting black and white so I could develop everything myself in the darkroom. It was way cheaper – I could use the school’s chemicals for about twenty bucks a year. Colour slides or negatives were more expensive, plus you’d just send them to the magazines, but then they’d almost never send them back! At least with the BW prints I was making, I could send them to several publications.
Analogue photography still plays a big role in your style, can you describe how?
There are many techniques in the darkroom, it’s pretty much like Photoshop! You can play with light, shades, masks, contrast… whatever. It’s a bit more complicated than clicking on stuff, so it takes more time and knowledge of course, but it’s almost the same in the end. After school I studied graphic design and typography, which involved learning some digital techniques, and then at some point I started to mix my computer skills with my craft skills in the darkroom. It was very useful for me at that transition time to be comfortable in both worlds. I remember many photographers were struggling with the digital era. So I was really there at the right time I think.
At this time the first digital cameras were on the market and I had access to a very good scanner when I was Photo Editor at Method Magazine, so when I didn’t have time it was a bit quicker to just scan a negative and edit it in Photoshop. I guess I was lucky enough to start before the digital era and then keep going with the new tools, so my style is a mix of digital stuff and older techniques like Polaroids, different format films and negatives.
Talking of analogue, how do you feel about what’s happening to print magazines right now, as well as using new mediums like Instagram and Snapchat?
I had mixed feelings at first, but now I’m pretty stoked on what’s happening even though it’s just a big mess, of course! Before it was hard to just show your work to the world, you’d send your negatives to the magazines and they’d never send them back and you’d pretty much lose everything. Now you just scan or digitise everything and can send it by email or upload it to Facebook, Instagram, and it’s easy to show your work to everyone and build up an audience. There’s way more people in the market, but I guess if you’re good, you’re good, so you will make it as a photographer at some point.
With print magazines struggling it’s sad for sure, but now it’s time to adapt and change things, I’m fine with this as well. I see this as a chance to evolve. I’ve seen too many editors doing the same stuff for fifteen years, season after season, and with too much brand politics there can be less artistic freedom.
Two years ago I produced a snowboard photography book called Dirty Dogs, my first goal was just to craft something by gathering all the best photos that weren’t run in “normal” magazines for obscure reasons. It was
very stressful and a big investment, but it sold out in just a few months, so maybe the style of magazines we used to make is on the way out, but I’m sure you can do something different and still have success in it.
Given that you work with a range of cameras – old/new, digital/analogue – if someone who’s never picked up a camera before wants to try shooting snowboarding what would you recommend they start with?
I’d recommend something like my first camera: small and easy to carry around with just one fixed lens, maybe a 50mm as that’s roughly what you can see with your eyes. Both digital or analog are good to start with; you just need a fast shutter to freeze the action. You can easily carry it in your backpack as it’s not really heavy and it’s pretty easy to use. The only thing is if you use an automatic mode on the snow you’re going to overexpose everything because of the high brightness and reflection of the white carpet, so at some point you have to learn to shoot manually.
How does a typical day shooting snowboarding in the backcountry go?
We wake up at six thirty pretty much every day, I check my batteries, pack my camera bag and make sure I’ve got all the cards and films ready, then because I’m French I go for a coffee and a croissant! We catch the first lift and decide on a zone, taking into account the avalanche risk, snow conditions and which faces have the best snow, then head there by riding or using snowshoes – it can take anything between ten minutes to a few hours.
Once there we’re building jumps and riding as much as we can, usually until the end of the day. In January the days are pretty short but in March and April it’s better because you have time and you get nice sunsets, but the long shadows and low light are better in January, so it’s always a compromise. Then it’s time to head home.
I used to post stuff online like “Another day at the office” along with a really nice landscape photo or something, so I decided if it really is my office I should start wearing a shirt to work. Also, being French I need to keep a certain standard and be a bit classy! Then one day a friend told me it’s good for apres ski as well, you can just keep going without going home to change, you can just party all night, no one cares that you’re still in your snowboard boots because it’s dark. So yeah, a shirt for the office, and a shirt for apres. It’s not the best for hiking and getting sweaty, but who cares. Style first!
When you’re not shooting snowboarding what are you working on?
I’ve been shooting snowboarding professionally for maybe eleven years now, so I can feel a bit burnt out from time to time when I’ve spent almost every day for a whole season working. I like to shoot skateboarding, architecture and just portraiture or lifestyle stuff. More and more I like working on the sportswear lifestyle and fashion side of things, but mainly just to be outside shooting photos! If you have a good model running in a nice landscape – I like it. You don’t have to chase after good snow or crazy tricks. As long as you have nice light and some good coffee it’s easy!
And finally, what’s your favourite thing about your job?
I don’t know man… I think it’s pretty nice to be paid to go to Japan, to explore nature, then go to a local restaurant… karaoke… and then get drunk and dance all night!