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Through the Lens of Women

Photographers of the Roaring Fork Valley getting the shot and changing the game.

Photo by Ann Driggers

By Jessi Hackett
March 2023

It’s below freezing, and the sun set hours ago. The night sky is aglow above the purple and red-hued high peaks, and the moon’s light is dancing across the snow-decked trees, the Valley’s walls, and the water in the river that runs through it.

Ann Driggers, originally from the U.K., has called the Roaring Fork Valley home for more than a decade and particularly likes photographing this time—nighttime. When she can clip into her skis and skin out into the coniferous and aspen-wooded darkness, carrying her camera equipment and chasing her breath in front of her, lit by her headlamp.

“The hardest images for me to capture are those at night in the winter,”

Driggers muses. “The weather is cold and managing to keep myself and my gear warm is always a challenge.” Her embrace of this kind of adventure comes through in the stunning imagery she produces—walls of ice under the stars, endurance athletes pushing through the dark, and landscapes with white snow juxtaposing aphotic space. As with many photographers who’ve chosen adventure and outdoor photography, the shot is never easy to get, but worth it.

“I’ve done some frostnip damage to my fingertips by not being careful in the cold,” notes longtime Aspenite and professional photographer Jordan Curet, who has shot everything from the Kentucky Derby and Formula One to rodeos and local events. “But I’ve never let it stop me from getting the shot.” Curet uses her camera to chase anyone pursuing their passion outside, including skiers, mountain bikers, anglers, rock climbers, and paddle boarders. Her images pop with color, capturing vibrant moments of action with focus, no matter the season. “Sometimes I like tight action shots, nothing more than a skier immerging from a powder cloud,” she says.

“Other times I like to use the mountains to give a sense of place and perspective to the image.”

When thinking of the variables that come along with shooting outside with athletes, photographer Anna Stonehouse instantly thinks of photographing X Games. “It's the most exhausting week of work for me every year,” she admits. “It's thrilling to capture the world's best athletes throwing down overhead, but you're exposed to the elements for very long hours, and anything can happen in Colorado.” She recalls sitting in the superpipe in below-freezing temperatures with escalating wind chill. But, like the frames she grabs in cold rivers or on snowy peaks, Stonehouse’s images from X Games reveal the triumph of her subjects, never the struggle it took to capture them.

Photo by Kelsey Brunner was selected for the Behind the Lens Photo Auction in March 2023 to help raise money for SheJumps.

Photo by Kelsey Brunner was selected for the Behind the Lens Photo Auction in March 2023 to help raise money for SheJumps.

Kelsey Brunner is another documentary-style photographer and visual storyteller who ended up in the Valley via a position with The Aspen Times, as did Curet and Stonehouse. Like her counterparts, Brunner has shot a wide range of subject matter, from high-profile politicians to deep powder days on the slopes. “The best photos tell a story, providing thought or a chance to feel something,” she reflects. “Photography is art, after all." Last year Brunner photographed a group of disabled veterans, two who were amputees and one who had one good lung and severe damage to the other, who summited Mt. Elbert. Recalling how fulfilling the project was, she says “Physically, it was incredibly challenging, and emotionally taxing. But in the end, the best experiences always push you out of your comfort zone.”

“The photographers I admire the most are the ones who implement ways of giving back to nature and communities through their photography,”

says Tamara Susa, another local talent, whose work has been featured everywhere from Outside Magazine to art museums and major gallery exhibitions. Susa grew up in Serbia during a time of great political turmoil. Photography served as her escape and gave her the opportunity to document people and places around the globe. Though many photographers inspire Susa, including female photojournalists she notes that the visual aesthetic of Ansel Adams and Edward Weston—both pioneers in capturing the American landscape—has always intrigued her and influenced her style. “These photographers advocated for protection of America’s wilderness, and I strive to continue their legacy by conveying important stories through my photography,” Susa explains. “On the other hand, landscape photography emerged as a male documentation of land, portraying the photographer as an explorer, adventurer, and the one taking incredible risks to achieve spectacular views.”

Susa points out that the male photographer was often at the center of it all, while female landscape photographers are more likely excluded from histories of photography.

“My goal is to convey that women as camera operators are just as capable of being explorers and adventurers,”

says Susa, who has a trained eye and skill for clicking her shutter closed at the perfect moment—atop the highest peaks with wildlife gazing straight into her camera, or amidst an aspen-covered hillside just as a mountain biker zips passed her lens.

Driggers, Curet, Susa, Brunner, and Stonehouse are some of Aspen Snowmass’ partner photographers, all doing one thing—exploring the Roaring Fork Valley’s unique sense of place through their lenses. And while they are not alone in this space by any measure, the come-up of women in outdoor, action photography has taken time.

“There are a lot of egos in this industry. I've had male photographers go right in front of me and ruin my shot even though I got into a shooting position before them,” reflects Stonehouse. But she says she’s found the Valley’s female photographers to be humble, helpful, and supportive.

Photo by Jordan Curet was selected for the Behind the Lens Photo Auction in March 2023 to help raise money for SheJumps.

Photo by Jordan Curet was selected for the Behind the Lens Photo Auction in March 2023 to help raise money for SheJumps.

Getting more women behind the lens and out in the field is important to Aspen Snowmass, as well as to folks like Lisa Slagle, based on the other side of the Elk Mountains in Crested Butte as the Founder and Creative Director of WHEELIE, a creative agency that has worked with more than 300 brands, many of which fall within the outdoor industry. “I started Wheelhouse Workshops, which are creative action sports photography workshops for women, taught by our industry's best photographers featuring professional athletes. I also hire women as often as possible, especially in leadership roles or behind the camera,” she says.

“Camera gear is extremely heavy, and it takes strength and endurance to drag it to the top of a mountain—as well as education to be in avalanche terrain and get the shot safely,”

says Slagle. “And of course, there’s the tech side of things. It can all be intimidating.” But in the end, gender or background aside, it’s about capturing the images and producing good work.

“We all have a job to do,” says Stonehouse. For her, the hope is to simply get outside, be respectful of other photographers out shooting, and produce photos that get people daydreaming about being in the outdoors.

Photo by Anna Stonehouse was selected for the Behind the Lens Photo Auction in March 2023 to help raise money for SheJumps.

Photo by Anna Stonehouse was selected for the Behind the Lens Photo Auction in March 2023 to help raise money for SheJumps.

“I honestly didn't know many female action photographers until I moved to Aspen,” says Curet, who has been in the Valley for nearly two decades. “I constantly found myself being the solo or one of few female photographers on the sides of halfpipes or football fields. I do see that changing now and it's nice to see the progression.”

“So much has changed and improved over the years with women getting behind the camera,” says Keri Bascetta, a professional photographer and former Director of Photography at SKI Magazine. “For a while, it was a bro territory where you’d go on a shoot with all male athletes and there may be logistical issues with things like sharing hotel rooms. But I think it’s corrected itself a lot—brands have more female athletes and women are being less excluded.”

Both Slagle and Bascetta say social media has helped women solidify themselves in the field. “Social media allows creatives to put out their own content. They don’t have to be hired by someone,” says Bascetta. But they each note the space has a long way to go to make women of color feel more empowered in a career in outdoor photography. Slagle will be launching an app that will link brands with creatives and hopes her workshops can continue to help open more doors and facilitate growth in this career path.

Photo by Tamara Susa was selected for the Behind the Lens Photo Auction in March 2023 to help raise money for SheJumps.

Photo by Tamara Susa was selected for the Behind the Lens Photo Auction in March 2023 to help raise money for SheJumps.

“I often work with other women creatives. We support each other’s work, and we constantly push each other to do bigger and better,”

says Susa. And it’s that kind of collaboration and approachability that can continue to diversify this space.

“Just do you,” says Driggers when reflecting on her nighttime solo photo missions and passing advice on to anyone interested in photography. “Stay true to yourself, but also push yourself out of your comfort zone and try new things.”

When more women are behind the camera, more diverse perspectives seep into the imagery produced, and a wider range of angles are captured—of places, people, and the passions that are born when the two collide. Because it's incredible images of vast, natural landscapes or the perfect powder turn that will undeniably stop you in your tracks, demand your gaze, and inspires you to look beyond your everyday life. And that’s when a photographer has done their job right.

Women's History Month

Women's History Month

Through storytelling, hosting local events, and fundraising while lifting up local photographers, we’re celebrating the women whose work, art, and impact are shaping our local community and beyond.

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