Mountain guide and extreme skier Vivian Bruchez on the airy abseil from Dent du Géant at sunset, Chamonix, France.
How did you get your start in photography?
I picked up photography in my early twenties, right at the same time as I was discovering climbing. I was initially carrying a very simple point and shoot camera and remember being so frustrated at the disconnection between the amazing scenes I was witnessing on my climbing adventures and the lackluster images I was bringing back. I started paying more attention to the photography part, eventually carrying a DSLR on most trips, which in turn motivated me to go on bigger and further mountain adventures. A few years later, after quitting my career in computer science, I turned full time professional photographer.
What type of photography are you shooting and what motivated you to focus on that genre?
My first love and what I am most known for is adventure photography in all its diversity: mountaineering, paragliding, mountain biking, trail running, sailing, BASE jumping… I practice most of these sports (with the notable exception of BASE jumping) to varying levels, and I think this is a crucial part of being an adventure photographer. Being able to competently access wild places and more or less keep up with the athletes I am shooting is absolutely key in being able to tell these stories.
Over the past five years, I have also begun working in humanitarian photography, especially refugee and development stories. It was really important for me to find ways to diversify my subject matters and the ways I tell stories. It helps me bring a slightly more commercial and polished look to humanitarian stories, and in turn a more human focused look in my adventure work.
What has been your biggest achievement or obstacle along the way?
One of my proudest achievements is to have shot the cover of the famous Patagonia catalog, twice. Their approach to adventure storytelling and their love of photography was a big inspiration when I first picked up a camera. Another big achievement was photographing the 2016 Olympics in Rio. I was shooting a few events for French magazines but ended up photographing everything I possibly could. I shot 46,000 images during the Games! I was supposed to go to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics for the Sport Climbing Federation, but COVID-19 obviously changed those plans!
One of the biggest obstacles to making a living from photography is the constant need to reinvent oneself. There is no “reaching the top” and being able to rest up there while the jobs come to you, you constantly have to think about how to make your work stand out and how to do something nobody else thought about. It is either very exciting or absolutely exhausting, depending on how I am feeling on a given day.
Who and/or what inspires you most?
A lot of my work has been inspired by the adventure photographers who came before me: Pierre Tairraz, Mario Colonel, Monica Dalmasso in Chamonix. Jimmy Chin, Galen Rowell, Cory Richards in the US.
But more importantly, I have a giant debt to some of the great documentary photographers: David Burnett, Eric Bouvet, Nick Ut, Don McCullin, Chris Hondros, Carol Guzy and Tim Hetherington. More contemporary, I love and am very inspired by the works of Danielle Villesana, Kiliii Yuyan and Ismail Ferdous.
What is your approach? Is there anything in particular you try to achieve during a shoot (for example triggering certain feelings, etc.) or are there any specific techniques you use?
My guiding principle is to focus on the emotions felt by whoever I am photographing. Nowadays, I am much more interested in the human side of any adventure than in the extreme moves or the peak of the action.
A rope team ascends Aiguilles d’Entrèves, while Val d’Aosta is engulfed by clouds, Chamonix, France.
Why is accurate color important within your workflow?
It is very important to me to have a scene be as honest and authentic as I remember it. I also use color a lot in my compositions, to bring focus on what I want people to pay attention to.
In my adventure work, I frequently shoot in the high alpine, which can be quite monochromatic between snow, sky and rock. Any touch of color will stand out, so it is doubly important that these colors are perfectly accurate.
Alex uses a SpyderX to keep his colors under control.
A team of adventure racers cross the huge Tyndall Glacier on day 1 of the 2013 Patagonian Expedition Race, Torres del Paine, Chile.
Any tips or advice for photographers just beginning their career?
I would recommend shooting a whole lot, in every domain, until you find what you are really passionate about. And even then, keep shooting portraits even if all you want to be is a landscape photographer, or shoot cars, or food, or events. Not only will the practice help refine your eye, but you might get new ideas and insights about how to shoot your favorite subjects.