Five years ago, German snowboard photographer Lorenz Holder had a mini revelation on the Hamburg harbourfront. “I’d been taking snowboard photos for a while, and was getting bored of the same old mountain shots of Canada or wherever. I was fascinated by these enormous ships in Hamburg and just thought: wouldn’t it be cool to have a snowboarder in there?”
There were a few slight problems, though. There was no slope, and no snow. So Holder – whose day job is as staff photographer for snowboard company Nitro – rented a van and travelled 50km to an indoor ski slope, and got Nitro to offer up a few boards in return for enough artificial snow to create a run-up and cover his chosen wall with snow. He then roped in two Nitro pro snowboarders – Swede Anton Gunnarsson and German Basti Rittig – and hired a winch similar to those used by wakeboarders to pull the snowboarders along. He liked the results, and has spent much of the five years since looking for intriguing spots in and around cities and towns.
“The whole rail and trick thing is only really interesting for snowboarders,” says Holder. “What I began doing was starting with the scenery, and then looking for rails. What I’m aiming for is something that you could put on your wall even if it didn’t have the snowboarder in it. I also like that second story – that thing that makes the picture work on more levels.”
His favourite shot is of a train going over a bridge that spans Munich’s Isar river, with a snowboarder in the air on the walkway below. “When you look at it, you can easily miss the rider, and that’s part of what I like about it – it shows it’s a strong picture.” Predictably, it took a while to set up – four hours of getting snow down from the upper bridge on a cart, and another few hours lugging the winch onto the bridge. “When it was time to take the shot, a lot of it is about timing – we use whistles and hand signals to tell the rider when to go, but we often end up screaming. It took eight or ten trains before we got the shot
It doesn’t always work so well. “We were in Umeå in northern Sweden a few years ago, and we’d been shovelling all day, but it was so cold that the winch just froze up. The next day we tried to use a bungee rope to pull the riders in, but it was so cold that when we stretched it nothing happened. We ended up bringing the winch inside and practically sleeping with it, so that by day three it was working. In the end, the shot wasn’t that great anyway.”
Other times, he gets luckier. “We were in Ruka, a ski resort in Finland that’s like a winter wonderland, and it was freezing again. We were shooting outside the wooden chalet we were staying in, but I had to go inside to warm up. Marco [Smolla, another Nitro rider] was still doing the jump outside and I saw him pass the window – it was this great contrast with the two guys chilling inside this cosy room.”
It’s this extra element, like the dock workers in one of his Hamburg shots, that elevate these photos. As Holder says: “There are a lot of people taking snowboard shots these days – you’ve got to work that bit harder to do something different.”
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