Iditarod photographer focuses his lens on Alaska

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The frozen face is musher Kristy Berington in Huslia during the 2015 Iditarod at minus 40. She just came off a run where it was 50 below zero on the river. Photo Courtesy of Jeff Schultz. Photo credit: Jeff Schultz

There were bloody streaks on the ground from where they crawled out of the wreckage. The plane was mangled, the wings wrenched in opposite directions, the wind was picking up and a harsh storm was fast approaching. Things were looking dire for Jeff Schultz.

Schultz, an internationally-recognized Alaskan photographer, will be giving a lecture about his experiences April 6 in Schaible Auditorium. He was invited to jury, Circumpolar, a statewide photography exhibition hosted by campus’s Frozen Lenses Photography Club.

Trapped in whiteout conditions, Schultz and his pilot Chris McDonnell sought shelter in their sleeping bags. With McDonnell incapacitated, the photographer resisted sleep, calling for help over the radio for hours. Schultz described the 1992 crash in his book “Chasing Dogs – My Adventures as the Official Photographer of Alaska’s Iditarod

“It looked like a wreck that no one would have walked away from,” Paul Claus said in the book. Claus was a member of the rescue party dispatched from Golovin.

The plane crash left pilot Chris McDonnell practically scalped with a gash to the head that would require 70 stitches and several staples. Schultz suffered severe damage his face and fracturing to his skull.

“I could tell there was some fracturing and his teeth had been pushed back and down,” Mark Kelso said in the book. Kelso, a travelling dentist, was one of the rescue party that responded to the crash.

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Aerial photograph of Jason Barron traveling on the glare ice of one of the Farewell Lakes during the 2008 Iditarod. Photo Courtesy of Jeff Schultz. Photo credit: Jeff Schultz

Schultz played with his first single lens reflex camera in the 7th grade when his best friend Frankie brought in his older brother’s Pentax camera to school. Schultz remembers looking through the viewfinder, focusing the lens and thinking, this is cool.

“You could say it just clicked,” Schultz said in a phone interview. “I love to be able to compose and focus the world around me.”

Schultz moved to Alaska in search of adventure three months after graduating high school in the bay area of California. He was inspired by a book he read about a man who lived off the land in remote Alaska. Schultz’s traded the California pavement for mountain views in Anchorage.

Schultz’s Iditarod career took off with Joe Reddington Sr., the man who is considered the father of the race, Schultz met Reddington during a portrait session in 1980.

“When I met Joe… I didn’t even know what the word Iditarod meant,” Schultz said.

Reddington invited Schultz to come and photograph the Iditarod in 1981. Schultz volunteered and donated his photographs to the race committee that year. The committee invited him back the following year in 1982 as the official Iditarod photographer—a title he has held ever since.

In this role, Schultz said he’s free to follow his gut and shoot what he wants to put in front of his lens. He said he prefers to cover the event rather than the race, and doesn’t put much focus on the front of the pack.

“I’m photographing the beautiful places, the treacherous places, the people that are out there, the volunteers, the villages and just kind of the feel and the color of the event,” Schultz said. “And, that’s what I really enjoy doing.”

Schultz said that he loves photographing Alaska’s terrain because it helps him compose his signature style.

“For me, the Jeff Schultz photograph is a small something in a big landscape—small person, small tent, small tree.” Schultz said.

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Spring landscape of snowshoer viewing the snow-covered Talkeetna Mountains at the Mountaineering Club of Alaska's Mint Hut Photo Courtesy of Jeff Schultz. Photo credit: Jeff Schultz

For Circumpolar, Schultz narrowed down the submissions to 20 photographs from 14 different artists across the state. The images showcase life in the North.

“Circumpolar was tough, I’ve got to tell ya, that’s a big word that can mean a gazillion things,” Schultz said. “I looked at this project similar to how I would edit photos when I owned Alaska Stock Agency.”

Schultz combed through the submissions looking for photos that went beyond just fitting the theme of the show. His final selection of images for the exhibition vary greatly from wildlife to abstract but all have one main thing in common, strong composition.

“To me, that’s what photography is all about, the composition,” Schultz said. “Certainly there’s science involved in it but if you get down the composition then sometimes the science doesn’t really matter.”

In addition to his lecture, Schultz will be at the opening reception of Circumpolar Friday, April 7 at Ursa Major Distilling from 4 – 8 p.m. The show will be on display through the end of April. For more information regarding the juror talk or opening reception visit the Frozen Lenses Photography Club website or Facebook page.

Disclosure: Sarah Manriquez currently serves as the director of the Frozen Lenses Photography Club.

Juror Talk: Thursday April, 6 at 6 p.m. in Schaible Auditorium, Bunnell Building on UAF Campus.

Circumpolar Opening: Friday, April 7 from 4 p.m.- 8 p.m. at Ursa Major Distilling.

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