Snow day

Built to Weather

Photographer Chris Carnel says both snowboarding and the process of   documenting it have steep learning curves.

Photographer Chris Carnel says both snowboarding and the process of documenting it have steep learning curves.

Photo By allison Young

Built to Weather is on exhibit at Holland Project Gallery, 140 Vesta St., until Feb. 8. A related film, Open Space, by Mike Basich, screens at the Nevada Museum of Art, 160 W. Liberty St., Feb. 2 at 1 p.m., and is followed by a Q&A with filmmakers. For more information, visit

In 1982, a high schooler from Reno named Chris Carnel saw a picture in Transworld Snowboarding magazine that inspired him to become a professional photographer. It was a photo of Terry Kidwell, a pioneer in freestyle snowboarding, bundled in red snow gear, tearing through the ice-blue sky, high above Lake Tahoe, defying gravity and mortality, dwarfing the snow-covered pines below him, and looking like he owned the place.

“That classic image to me stands for a time and era of snowboarding when it was perceived as a toy to resorts,” recalls Carnel. “It was photographed at Soda Springs when that was the only resort you could ride a snowboard on.”

“I was 16 or so,” he remembers. “I was a skateboarder.”

When Carnel started snowboarding in 1985, he recalls, “I started bringing my camera with me.”

He found the sport and the process of documenting it both had steep learning curves.

“I sucked at it for a long time,” he says nonchalantly. Typical of snowboarders, he didn’t seem to consider his lack of mastery an impediment to future mastery. He kept snowboarding, and he had his first magazine shots published in 1987.

Since then, Carnel has published regularly in all the main snowboard culture rags, including International Snowboard Magazine, Snowboarder Magazine, Thrasher, Trans-World Snowboarding, Bikini and Heckler. He’s also contributed winter sports photos to the RN&R.

Meanwhile, he spent years cooking up a plan to eventually showcase his colleagues’ photographic work in a gallery show somewhere.

Again, persistence paid off. He recently finished installing Built to Weather, a survey exhibit at Holland Project featuring his own work and that of seven other prominent snowboard photographers. Each has an assertive, practiced style that reflects the tenacity, passion, and humor that all run deep in snowboarding culture.

Ian Ruhter, for example, a boarder and artist who lives in Los Angeles, drives around in a truck converted into a huge camera. With a team of assistants in skater T-shirts and chemical-proof respirators, he lowers hand-cut, hand coated metal plates into trays of chemicals. The work is tedious. When, after hours of trying, an image doesn’t come out, the otherwise free spirited Ruhter hunches to the ground in disappointment. In the long run, though, he’s an ever-resilient practitioner of his 19th-century craft, and he produces dashing landscapes, portraits, and even action shots on those large metal plates.

To describe the work of another photographer in the show, Tim Peare, as having “strong compositions” would be an understatement. Even though his subject is almost always a snowboarder in mid-jump and his setting whichever mountain range or urban street he found himself shooting in, Peare, in that split second while his shutter is open, organizes each stairway, mountain peak, traffic light, or stunt-performing snowboarder within a frame so deftly it looks as if he’s cut each part of the image from a magazine page and pasted them together for maximum impact.

Another photographer, Seattle-based Mike Yoshida, has such a practiced grasp on the way the optics of snow and light work that his pictures look like they’d be at home in a photo-technique connoisseurs’ magazine such as Aperture. While there’s always a snowboarder somewhere in the frame, usually frozen in mid-air doing something daring, Yoshida pays equal homage to the majesty of the mountains, forests, skylines, and urban fixtures that the snowboarders ride on.

From Carnel’s own lens comes a steady stream of action shots and behind-the-scenes people shots. He’s forever chronicling the goofiness, the passion, and the camaraderie that mark snowboarders’ every minute.