A Sense of Belonging
Perhaps you’ve heard of the angle of repose. It’s the maximum angle that a slope will hold snow, the degree where avalanches start to slide, and where skiing gets exciting — a flash point of physics and weather. It’s also the name of Jackson Hole-based photographer Greg Von Doersten’s premiere fine art coffee table book, an artistic exploration of life in the mountain that captures the gravity-fed feeling of skiing.
Fifty-eight-year-old Von Doersten has been one of the preeminent photographers in the outdoor world for more than three decades. He says the angle of repose also functions as a tipping point for his philosophy about photography. “I think it’s like a lot of my work — coming up with something that’s a solid foundation, which has an angle, theme, and narrative, and then seeing where it fell,” he says.
Angle of Repose, the book, was assembled by a crack team of ski media luminaries, including Powder Magazine former editor Derek Taylor, book designer Tyler Hartlage and longtime photo editor David Reddick. “He’s one of the hardest working photographers I’ve ever met,” Reddick says, who worked with Von Doersten for 30 years on various Powder Magazine assignments. “He always wants to get a shot that hasn’t been seen before from a place that hasn’t been seen before. Nothing is off limits for him.”
The book is both a philosophical commentary and a love letter to Jackson Hole, a place that’s shaped Von Doersten as a photographer and a person. He first came to the Tetons as a 10-year-old camper. “Coming to the mountain and the rivers of Wyoming at an early age left an indelible impression on me,” he says. “For me, it just really brought the sense of adventure and taught me self-confidence.”
After college at the University of Montana, GVD, as his friends call him, returned to Jackson and jumped into the world of guiding and outdoor sports. He’d picked up his first camera in school, which became an asset when he headed out on big adventures, like the cowboy days of heli-skiing in Alaska and the first foreign film trips by Teton Gravity Research. In the ‘90s, he started taking photos of pioneering big mountain skiers like Doug Coombs, Jeremy Nobis and Sage Cattabriga-Alosa, documenting expeditions to far-off places. That led him to regular work for brands like The North Face, Patagonia and Red Bull, as well as publications such as Powder Magazine, Outside, The New York Times, and National Geographic.
But Jackson, with its range of spiny mountains, tight community, and deep pool of outdoor athletes, kept pulling him back. Jackson has changed significantly over time, but he still sees the good parts and tries to find the light. “I’m always looking for stuff out of the norm,” he says. “The one thing I didn’t want to do was repeat the angles my predecessors had used. I’m looking for something that hasn’t been done before — and that’s challenging in Jackson.”
He’s found those original perspectives through a relentless drive to experiment and find new ways to see the mountains. Greg uses his climbing background to set up angles that look like they could be shot by a drone. He says there’s no secret formula, just hard work, linking up with great athletes while trying to be unique and authentic in his approach. That takes patience and time. “You’re going up and getting skunked a lot,” Von Doersten says. “But after a while, you know the atmospheric conditions — you know where you’re going to find the light. You’re seizing the moments.”
After three decades behind the lens, Angle of Repose is a culmination of those moments and a new way for him to think about storytelling. “The last thing I want is for my career to feel static, so I’ve been trying to push my photography in more of a fine art direction.” A photo book felt like a way to get people to slow down and sink into the stories that his photos tell.
Von Doersten has achieved his objective. Even if you have never been in the mountains, you will be transported by the light, geometry and drama on the page — a compelling experience that is individual and personal — the ultimate goal of art. But GVD’s work also brings the mountains alive for those who know them intimately — which is equally impressive. You will find your fingers reaching to feel the texture of the Tetons, and the verticality of the faces will induce an elevated heart rate anticipating the lines, or perhaps a few whispers of vertigo.
The world of photography is changing quickly, as digital cameras and smartphones give everyone a lens, and shuttered magazines mean fewer platforms. “The book is my way of being able to take charge and produce a high-quality publication that I think will be a testament to snow sports photography into the future.”
You can order the book, or some of Von Doersten’s fine art prints, at: www.gregvondoersten.com or at retailers like REI, Backcountry, and Teton Village Sports.