The path to becoming an action sports photographer is typically unconventional, but this may be the wildest we've heard yet. Learn how Eric Parker's quesadilla making skills and quick thinking inadvertently landed him a dream gig with Teton Gravity Research.
Camping at the base of picturesque Alaskan spines with some of the world’s best skiers? Well, it's the kind of trip that action sports photographers dream about. Two years ago skiers Sage Cattabriga-Alosa, Ian Mcintosh, and Griffin Post discovered a unique little zone in Alaska’s Tordrillo Range featuring everything from spines to Valdez-style ramps. Their goal was to hunker down for two and a half weeks with a TGR crew and film a whole slew of foot-powered missions.
When photographer Eric Parker boarded a plane to join the team he was envisioning an opportunity of a lifetime. Except he wasn’t brought on this trip to take photos. Parker was the camp cook. At this point, he’d spent years photographing all kinds of outdoor adventures with his friends. His craft was honed on kayaking missions in glacial-fed rivers of Alaska or on ski tours exploring new couloirs in South America. Based in Jackson, Parker always hoped to link up with Teton Gravity Research and work alongside the production team. This trip to Alaska was the golden ticket. No one said he couldn't bring his camera gear. So, along with pots, pans, and plenty of quesadilla fixings, Parker packed his camera bag in hopes of capturing a few gems. As long as he made sure that no one went hangry and there was plenty of drinking water, he could shoot too. Weeks later, a folder of Parker’s images were emailed to TGR’s HQ. Our producers peered through photos with raised eyebrows and got talking.
Maybe this guy should be handling more than just breakfast?
Parker hasn’t done much cooking since then, instead, he’s been photographing and filming everything from TGR Tested, Rise of Red, CreekBound and Down, and this year’s annual snow film. We sat down with the man himself to learn a little more about his last two years behind the lens:
What originally got you into Photography?
Eric Parker: My interest for photography came about during my senior year of high school. I went to this traveling kayak academy called the World Class Academy, and it had a photojournalism class. That’s when I got my first camera and became excited to document my adventures and travels. Everything really rooted in that class.
I already had this huge desire to go on all these adventures and it felt natural to document them and share them with my friends anyways. Looking back it was a hand and hand relationship that developed together.
Kayaking is where everything started for Parker, which is part of the reason he loves shooting it so much. Eric Parker photo.
Did you originally have this goal of being a full-time action sports photographer?
EP: For a while photography was just something I did for fun. But, the more I committed to it and discovered photographers like Jimmy Chin, I started to idolize what they were doing and dreamt of becoming an outdoor adventure photographer within that first year.
Along the way, you’ve become more and more involved with TGR. Rumor has it you were the camp cook originally. How did that come about?
EP: I had always wanted to get in with TGR. A few of my close friends were working there, but I hadn’t found a way to get my foot in the door. Three years ago, I was hanging out at Snow King’s Hill Climb with cinematographers Dutch Simpson and Ben Dann. It was a few days before their backcountry winter camping trip for Far Out, and they were still looking for a camp cook. We talked about it on the chairlift and I expressed interest in doing it. Sure enough, they were on board, and we pretty much worked it out by the end of the chairlift ride. It all came together in about 24 hours.
So it sounds like you brought your camera gear with you then?
EP: Yeah! I brought all my camera gear and it worked out great. All the zones they were filming in were right next to our camp, so I just tried to be super prepared. I’d wake up extra early to clean and cook everything, that way I’d only be a few minutes behind and still get to go out into the field every day. It was so rad how it worked out.
That’s really making lemonade with the lemons you have. Sometimes all it takes is just making sure you’re present for the opportunity.
EP: I couldn’t have dreamed of a better opportunity. You know, not just getting my foot into the door, but also it was so much fun to hang out with those guys. You learn a lot when you can shoot and not have pressure on you. It allowed me to be more creative and take more chances while shooting. I had a lot of fun and always reflect on that experience so positively. From that first trip, I got such a good feel for the TGR vibe and created friendships with legendary skiers like Sage Cattabriga-Alosa and Ian Mcintosh. It was powerful.
Since working as a camp cook for us, you’ve worn a lot of different hats: snowmobile shuttle driver, production assistant, digital content producer, and now a photographer. What caused this evolution?
EP: I think it really stemmed from that first trip and getting to know producer Brittany Gibeau. Another huge part is that Ben Dann is one of my best friends, so he’s always been finding opportunities for me to jump on. I think it really helps to be in Jackson, networking, and just being in the right place at the right time.
Also, every opportunity I’ve been given has been thrown at me with an extremely short timeframe. Sometimes I have days to make a decision. I’m fortunate to have a flexible lifestyle that allows me to say yes in super short notice. That’s been a crucial part too.
Sammy Carlson doing what he does best: slaying pillow lines. Eric Parker photo.
I know that you were tapped for ‘Rise of Red’ and ‘Creekbound and Down’. Were those projects big turning points in your career?
EP: Yeah at that point I did the camp cook job, and photographed the TGR Tested project—which was really just a weeklong shoot. It was a nice little foot in, but not a big project where I could show my full breadth of work. As far as projects go, the whole Ford series was a turning point. I spent two full months on the road, shooting every day, and turning content over very quickly. I was able to show a lot of my strengths and what I love about photography which really spoke through the work.
You’re also pretty talented in the water too. How was it getting to blend your passion for kayaking and photography with ‘Creekbound and Down’?
EP: For me, the pinnacle of photography is getting to be immersed in the experience. To be out there in the elements, rapids, and working alongside the athletes is the realist part of this job. It’s what I love the most, and I felt completely in my natural habitat.
Let’s talk about what you’ve done with TGR this year. How was shooting on the Japan trip?
EP: We were there in early January and it was a pretty rough year as far as snow conditions go. We didn’t have a lot of great terrain to work with, which was challenging. Despite the low snowpack, we still lucked out with a few solid powder days. We were able to make it work. It was definitely a challenge—especially with what we had to work with considering light and snow quality. The one silver lining is it can push you to be really creative and make something you’d never expect given the tough circumstances.
I’ve shot so many things, but skiing is by far the pinnacle of difficulties. You can have all the pieces of the puzzle and there’s one thing that throws it all off.
Had you been to Japan prior to this trip? What was it like documenting the culture?
EP: No, I’ve only been to Asia once, and it was with the kayak school. Going over there was a bit of culture shock because I hadn’t left the U.S. in over a year. It was completely mind-blowing. I love food and art, and the Japanese culture has a huge appreciation for that. I hate posting photos of food, but the cuisine was so good I had to!
You also traveled to British Columbia with TGR, tell us about photographing in pillowland?
EP: Up in Revelstoke the snow was not a problem. Just like Jackson, Revy had their snowiest January on record. Rolling into town the snow banks were like 30 feet tall—it was absolutely mind-blowing. The alpine where we were filming had incredible amounts of snow and huge pillows. The snow quality was insane, but it was pretty much cloudy every day. A lot of days were high clouds, which was difficult to shoot if you’re not in the forest. But I’ll take good snow over good light most days.
How was it shooting with Nick McNutt and Sammy Carlson?
EP: I had to pinch myself every day. I never would have imagined working with either athlete, especially to be out in the field with them in this crazy pillow zone. They’re on such a different level of skiing than anyone I’ve ever seen or photographed with. To be in the front row seat watching them link pillow lines is really incredible. Plus, they’re awesome characters to be around and get to know on a personal level.
You also photographed up in Pemberton, how did that differ from Revelstoke?
EP: In Revelstoke, we were focused on these small features, jumps, and pillows—basically just freestyle terrain. Whereas in Pemberton we were up in the alpine looking for big lines with these big mountain riders. In their words, they described it as, “big game hunting.” It was a very different vibe that came with its own set of challenges. It ended up being more difficult shooting than Revelstoke—specifically in the alpine. You can’t shoot these big lines unless you have bluebird days. Add in the fact that March in British Columbia is not typically very sunny, so we had the odds stacked pretty against us. When it comes to these shoots, people don’t see the weeks you put in to get one solid day of shooting. From three weeks spent in Pemberton, we had really about one full bluebird day—which was by far the best day of the trip. The rest of the time was spent window shopping and waiting for the light. It makes you appreciate the shots when you eventually get them.
Aside from your work with TGR, what other kinds of projects have you worked on?
EP: I’ve been shooting professionally for seven or eight years now, with a lot of it in the action sports space and primarily focused on kayaking. Through kayaking I’ve been able to make some crazy connections and work with Red Bull, National Geographic, and Outside Magazine. I’ve also done some commercial work, and even wildlife photography. I did a stint with a National Geographic photographer for a few months assisting him for the magazine.
But at the end of the day, my favorite is still shooting remote action sports adventures.
Even when he's not photographing Parker is still on the hunt for a good adventure, like this waterfall above.
There’s this common theme of adventure in your work, which rings true for when you’re not behind the lens. What kinds of personal adventures gets you excited?
EP: Yeah, it’s worth noting that these kinds of photography trips are also total athletic missions, which requires being able to trek into these zones. But some of the best personal trips I’ve been on have been kayaking trips in Alaska. I’ve been going up there for the last few summers. We like to do these multi-day river expeditions where we just set out and explore. So far my buds and I have done eight first ascents up there. It’s not only fun documenting it, but then to also get rewarded with running these insane rapids. Those have been some of the most gratifying trips I've been on. And don’t just go out and explore Alaska, but also Patagonia and Chile.
Sometimes I have to take little breaks from photography to regather my energy and inspiration for it. But I’ll never get tired of exploring. That’s the main inspiration for photography, and honestly, life.