'Heroes' is a new fine art book dedicated to the culture, community, and progression of women’s snowboarding.
Flipping through most major snowboard publications, you’ll be lucky to find a few pages featuring female riders. Cover shots are even fewer and further between. And even though women's riding has progressed leaps and bounds over the last few decades, media coverage hasn't entirely caught up. The new book Heroes wants to fill this void. It's a 288-page large-format volume of stunning silver-gelatin lith prints, film scans, artwork, and personal essays, all exploring what it means to be a female snowboarder. It features 45 different athletes representing the full spectrum of the sport: urban, park, competition, and big mountain. Flipping through the book, you can feel the love and effort poured into every single page.
The project was spearheaded by legendary photographer Jérôme Tanon who you may remember from projects like The Eternal Beauty Of Snowboarding and Zabardast. Even though Tanon's career revolved around snowboarding, he realized three years ago that he rarely shot with women. This awareness became the inspiration for a lengthy two-year project, which sent him all over the world to capture women's snowboarding culture and progression. He hoped to compile the images into a self-funded book that was timeless work of art. If that task wasn't daunting enough, Tanon shot the whole thing on medium format black and white film. For those of you who aren't photographers, that's like using an old-school typewriter to write a 500-page novel. But not only did he pull it off, he and the riders also collaborated to make a book that will stand the test of time.
On top of shooting the book on a medium format Pentax camera with a manual focus and fixed lens, Jérôme etched, scratched, painted, and bleached the negatives to create one of a kind works of art.
We caught up with Tanon to learn more about the book and the creative process. Sierra Nevada athlete ambassador Robin Van Gyn even joined the discussion to share her perspective as one of the riders featured in the book, and here’s what they had to say:
Jérôme, your website explains that you noticed a lack of global media when it came to women’s snowboarding. Why did you use that as a catalyst to make a book?
Jérôme Tanon: I thought someone had to do it. If there’s no photographer out there giving an interest to the girls, one has to step up. It was something that was different from the previous projects I’ve worked on, which were mostly movies. It felt like a great opportunity to meet new riders and see snowboarding from a different perspective.
Robin, what did you think of the project when Jérôme first approached you about it?
Robin Van Gyn: I’ve been a fan of Jérôme’s art for so long, whether it’s his photography or filmmaking, everything he does comes from a place in his heart. When someone of Jérôme’s skill and dedication comes to a project like this, I was excited because he’s the perfect guy for the job. It’s funny because I had my moments where I recognized this female project was being spearheaded by a male photographer, but what I think is beautiful about that is that we’re all just humans at the end of the day. Feminism isn’t a female issue. It’s a human issue. Moving into the project I felt like I needed to be a part of it, and support it in the ways that I could. I knew he’d deliver something that was very heartfelt and artful.
JT: And Robin did help a lot with the project. She took me heliboarding with Estelle and we took many photos, and we also went to Baldface.
For Robin and the riders featured, this book will be remembered as an important moment in women’s snowboarding history. Jérôme Tanon fine art.
It’s cool that the book was designed to be a collaboration between your images and the riders.
JT: I felt like that aspect was very important because I can write an introduction about my technique in photography and why I was interested in this project, and I could tell why this project was so important to them. But in the end, I’m not a female snowboarder. I’m really glad they contributed their own stories to the book because it made things feel more legit. It’s not just a guy sharing his point of view.
It was very important that I got to meet these girls in person because we were able to open up to one another. You’ll find these very raw stories on topics like abuse or the struggles these girls faced trying to become a professional snowboarder. That’s how the written word in this book became very personal and deep.
RVG: I think that’s what is so important about this project. Even though our artist is a male photographer, he ultimately let the athletes dedicate how the book came together. He was open to hearing everyone’s voices. He actually asked each of us to write a piece for the book, and often he’d push us further to go deeper. That effort to challenge us to be vulnerable and speak from this place of realness really made the book that much more raw, special, and a genuine look into our world.
That feels in line with that “human” theme you brought up Robin. It makes all of these women feel relatable, vulnerable, and strong at the same time.
RVG: One thing that was really important as well, is that a lot of the women in this book would never have gotten coverage like this. This book is a piece of snowboard history, and it’s beautiful because it’s a physical object. It’s not on the internet. For these riders to have that platform is important and monumental.
Jérôme wanted the book to be a collaboration between him and the riders, and as a result, you’ll find art and words from the women who are featured. Heroes book photo.
That sentiment feels timely with the recent news of Snowboarder, Powder, Surfer, and Bike Magazines being discontinued. Our industry was rocked by that news. For both of you, why do you think print is so vital to our community?
JT: I think it makes a photograph or piece of written word feel more real and durable. You know an Instagram post will disappear in 24 hours. A book exists day after day, and it lives on your shelf or coffee table. As a photographer, I find it important to have your photos physically exist in the world. It feels like a trick on your mind when they only exist on your phone. I also intended this book to be part of a bigger exhibition. Typically with art exhibits, viewers can buy a book or print as a way to bring home part of the experience. Not everyone can afford a print, so a book provides a more affordable option.
RVG: I think print is timeless. It’s always there. I still look at old Snowboard magazines. I think there’s something to be said about reading and reading words off a page rather than a screen. These days I try to read less on the internet because I want more time in the present and away from the phone.
Jérôme, going into this project did you have an idea of athletes you wanted to work with, or did you connect with folks organically?
JT: I wanted it to be a mix of both. There were of course a handful of the industry’s biggest names like Robin, Jill Perkins, Marie France-Roy, but I knew I wanted to have the average passionate girl as well. I also knew I would meet them in these riding crews. That’s what happened when I went to Women’s Superpark. I wanted there to be a mix of established and new riders because they’re the next generation of the sport, and their passion is incredible.
Shooting with medium format film may not be easy, but it’s worth it for stunning images like this portrait of Elena Koenz. Jérôme Tanon photo.
What stood out to you when you were working with these women?
JT: When I met with these underground crews that had never worked with a professional photographer before, there was a lot of emotion that I wasn’t expecting. The more I talked with these girls they made it clear how important this opportunity was for them. For me, it felt just like another day of work, but this experience made me grasp the lack of attention and appreciation towards the women’s side of the sport. They were very emotional about it. It only made me want to meet with more women, and tell more sides of the story.
RVG: I felt the importance of it early, and what I think is worth addressing is that it was hard for us to get brands involved. I found that to be profoundly sad and disappointing. I knew how amazing this book was going to be and tried to translate that. I’m not trying to rag on my sponsors, because they’ve given me such incredible opportunities. However, I found that a lot of brands didn’t want to invest small amounts of money. To be clear, we were just asking for things like money for a flight. It wasn’t anything crazy. Jérôme was just asking for support. When this book comes and out and you see the short sponsor list I think that will tell a bigger story.
JT: I was pretty surprised as well. I almost never ask brands to get involved in my projects because I typically like being self-funded. But for this project, I needed a travel budget to get from Paris to the U.S. and Canada, because I couldn’t wait for many of these girls to come to Europe. I was surprised by how many brands would say “women are our top priority for our 2020 campaign” but yet wouldn’t invest in this project. Brands have all this marketing saying how they support women, but when it comes to actually funding projects and getting girls in video projects, there’s still a disconnect happening there.
Why did you choose to shoot on medium format black and white film, and was that a challenge?
JT: I’m quite used to it! I’ve been shooting medium format in hard conditions like from helicopters and in freeride expeditions in Pakistan, so I know how to use it. But even then it’s a challenge. I found it most challenging when I was shooting in the park. The good shot is a fraction of a moment. If it’s a powder spray you have a larger range of opportunities. If it’s a hand plant or something on the rail you don’t want to miss it. Ultimately, I didn’t see this project coming to fruition with any other style because the medium format is a high-quality art of its own. What I wanted to create was photos meant to be hung in a museum. The depth of field is so shallow, which makes for these stunning portraits. I like the challenge. I also like the ratio of medium format film. The 6x7 ratio has the same feeling as a painting. For me, this ratio fits that artistic style I was looking for.
Robin, what did you think when you heard about Jérôme’s plan?
RVG: I love art, music, and culture and to me, it felt like the perfect way to express this concept. Again it’s moving away from something easy and doing an art form that requires a bit of heart and soul. Knowing the process of this photography style, it gives the whole project more meaning. There’s just this recurring theme of process all throughout this project. The process of being a grom and being inspired by others. There’s the process of art and storytelling. The process of learning and evolving as females in the sport. Then there’s the whole process of creating these images. It just felt like a compelling concept.
Both Jérôme and Robin hope the book can inspire more women to find their place in the world of snowboarding. Heroes Book photo.
Robin, how pivotal do you think this book will be for women’s snowboarding— especially for the next crop of riders?
RVG: The thing that’s important to remember is that we need good role models. I read snowboard magazines before I started riding and really looked up to all these women. The girls who read this book will be able to look at a photo and imagine themselves there. It’s also not just one spectrum of snowboarding. It’s rails, park, and backcountry. Then there’s the community aspect of it, where it explores the art, music, and culture of the sport. We need more of this. I think this book will be really important for young women to see where they can go with this sport.
It’s so profoundly important to see yourself reflected in your heroes. That’s where inspiration comes from. For me personally, I used to look at the photos of Hana Beaman and the huge jumps that’d she’d hit and think “I can do that.” You have to plant the seed if you want things to grow, especially in snowboarding otherwise marginalized groups will never grow.
JT: The lack of female riders in magazines and the media has a very strong impact on the younger riders. One immediate impact of this project is that two images from the book will be on magazine covers that have never had a female action sports athlete on their cover. It’s already making a difference.
We would all be shocked if there was no female category for tennis or some other mainstream sport. In most sports, there’s always a men’s and women’s category. But when it comes to media representation, there are no rules. If you want to only have men on the cover of magazines for 30 years, then that's going to have an impact. It’s also on us as photographers to capture these stories. The whole thing needs to change from the inside.
This lack of representation and support forces someone to constantly overcome barriers, and I can imagine it’s made marginalized communities ask “is it worth it?”
RVG: It always is. I just remember there was no plan B when I pursued snowboarding. I invested every single piece of time and energy into making it happen. I even went into debt because I used the money from my student loans so I could compete at snowboarding contests. I loved it so much, but it didn’t really feel like the industry supported you the way it could back then. I knew if I stuck with it long enough it would work out, but why should I have to fight so hard? There should be a little bit more space for us. I feel for the up and comers because it’s hard to push past the level to actually get support from the industry.
We didn’t have anything to prove as women, but I think we wanted this book to show how much we love this sport. Our passion matters.
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