“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life”.
Craig Kolesky is a big gun. As a Red Bull photographer, he has shot motorcross, big wave surfing, skateboarding, climbing, kitesurfing, cycling, lifestyle, sport portraits, and oh yes, trail running! His photography is special – the composition, the angles, the light and the drama work together to capture the mood of the moment, and importantly, to evoke intrigue.
© Craig Kolesky
LD: Ok Craig, let’s kick off with the mundane stats… how old are you, where did you grow up, and do you have any nicknames?
CK: I’m 43. I grew up in Jeffreys Bay on the east coast of South Africa. Lots of my friends call me CK.
Ryan Sandes having fun in snow on the Matroosberg © Craig Kolesky
LD: Did you always want to be a photographer, or did you drop another career for the adventures of photography?
Looking back at old family pictures, it seems I often had a camera in my hand as a kid. But my photography really began in 1990 when my family moved to Cape Town from J-Bay. The skateboarding scene was huge, all the kids of J-Bay skated and surfed, and someone had to document our “missions”. Loving my camera, I was happy to oblige. My big break came in 2001 when Red Bull held the Red Bull DHX
(Down Hill Extreme). They needed another shooter, I was there and was asked to shoot. I’ve never looked back. Of course that was still in the days of film, processing negatives, printing… such a lot has changed since the advent of digital!
Ridgelines forever – 4Peaks 2016 © Craig Kolesky
LD: As a Red Bull photographer, you cover many other sports, and trail running is by no means the most dramatic of them. Tell us a bit about what you cover, and the incredible places you’ve been and seen.
I always wanted to be a surf photographer, but the industry was so small and there were so many guys photographing. Sport is my passion, and I shoot a huge variety of things, including commercial material for the advertising industry. Photography has taken me around the world – I’ve travelled to Hawaii, Peru, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Japan, Indonesia, Réunion… the list goes on, and it’s fair to say I never know where my next adventure will be. But that said, South Africa has so many hidden gems, and we’re continuously discovering new ones.
If you’ve ever taken on the Skyrun, you’ll be very familiar fence-jumping © Craig Kolesky
LD: There must be a few hair-raising moments in your memory bank. Any cliffhangers or near-misses you can tell us about?
Shoh… I don’t know where to start with that one! I think the most uncomfortable I’ve been was during a location recce in Namibia for Red Bull. We spent 10 hours in a cave 200m underground, squeezing through cracks and abseiling. I had never used ropes before, and it was a huge challenge negotiating the small space with camera gear. I could barely fit through the cracks (I was a bit bigger then… ). Things can go wrong during adventure shoots, but fortunately we always have good crew and are well prepared.
AJ Calitz getting his mind ready on the start line of Skyrun © Craig Kolesky
LD: What’s the most extreme shoot you’ve done?
That’s another tricky question – there’ve been so many crazy shoots over the years. But if I had to pick my toughest, it would be those times I’ve had to hang from helicopters to shoot kite surfers on the ocean and high-altitude snowboarders in high alpine slopes in Europe – only those who suffer from altitude and motion sickness will never know how bad this can be. And my worst day ever was trying to shoot in zero temps in the mountains.
Would you carry on if you got stapled up 90km from the finish? At Skyrun 2017 Tracy Zunckel wasn’t stopping for anything © Craig Kolesky
LD: What has been your most memorable trail running shoot and why?
My most memorable must be the Pure Adventures Skyrun
. I’ve worked at Skyrun for seven or eight years now, and every time that race throws something new into the mix. This past year we had knee-deep snow – in the middle of summer! I’ve also done a lot of shooting with Ryan Sandes, and I’ve learned a lot from him. I also know that he can’t change a car tyre…
Ryan Sandes running over crocs during a Red Bull project we shot. Ryan thought I was mad when I suggested the idea © Craig Kolesky
LD: What has been the most compromising position you’ve had to be in for a shoot?
Hanging off cliffs to get better angles can get dangerous, and I’ve learned that when you get too comfortable in a tight situation, things can go wrong very quickly. A few years ago we did a shoot with Ryan running over 1m crocs, that was rather interesting…
When you reach the Turn at Skyrun, you have only about 20km to go but far further mentally, especially if it’s 2am and in minus digits © Craig Kolesky
LD: In your years of learning, what photographers have most inspired you and why?
That’s a tough one. There are so many guys out there pushing the limits with their images. One thing for sure is that shooting for Red Bull allows us to connect with a lot of other photographers, and we learn from each other.
Landie Greyling on a shoot in Peru for a KIA commercial © Craig Kolesky
LD: Do you have any bucket list things/places you want to shoot?
Iceland, Patagonia, China, the list goes on, but these rate the top three.
Just as runners must carry mandatory kit, so race photographers must pack light, yet still be prepared for all seasons © Craig Kolesky
Kane Reilly was at Skyrun in 2017 doing some missions with me to check out the route © Craig Kolesky
For more of Craig’s work, click on Craig Kolesky