Rough Riders: Photographers Who Laugh in the Face of Danger

Considering the profusion of nature survival shows on basic cable (Man vs. Wild, Survivor Man on Discovery, National Geographic Adventure series Alone in the Wild, The History Channel’s Tougher in Alaska, and so on), one might assume it’s only a matter of time we hear from the crew behind the documentary. After all, Bear Grylls can’t be under that much duress if his team matches his pace while carrying 50 pounds of camera equipment.  That’s where Outside magazine comes in, feeding our imagination with a collection of anecdotes and photos shared by 16 hard-working photographers to share from their toughest assignments.

The “sometimes foolish, and invariably bold adventures” include treks  to the Konka Gompa Monastery in China and a frozen lake in Siberia, plus kangaroos, golf-ball sized hail, and throwing up while airborne. Check out some of our favorites below.


Jason Florio

I traveled for a month to get this photo of two nomadic Kutchi men showing off their horsemanship in Afghanistan. In August 2001, I had an invitation to meet the anti-Taliban commander Ahmed Shah Massoud. To reach him, I attempted to be smuggled through a Pakistani no-man’s-land, wearing a burka, without success. Then I took a UN flight to Tajikistan, where one of Massoud’s helicopters met me. While waiting for him, a commander allowed me to visit this Kutchi camp. It was three weeks before September 11.”


Philipp Engerhorn

“Winters in northern Xinjiang, China, rival those in Siberia: Forty below zero is normal. We’d gone in the fall to find an eagle hunter and make a handshake deal to follow him. But when we actually showed up two months later, he told us he never expected us to return and had no time for us. So we did the worst thing ever and set out by horse-drawn sleigh across the frozen countryside to find an eagle hunter. After four weeks in the blistering cold of that open sleigh, we finally found this guy. His name was Chalek. He was the best bird handler of all the hunters we met.”


Paolo Marchesi

“I was on a beach in New South Wales, Australia, in 2008, looking for surf, when I happened on a group of kangaroos. One had babies in her pouch. I followed her for maybe 20 minutes, taking photos, getting within six feet of her when she suddenly jump-kicked me. The blow made me click the camera and I got this photo. After that, I stayed pretty far away.”


Matthieu Paley

“I was in Siberia, at frozen Lake Baikal, and there were five of us crammed into a Russian jeep. The others were drinking vodka. I told them I was going up a small cliff to shoot this rider, and as I walked back I saw the jeep start up and drive off: They had forgotten me. I started running, then screaming. It was getting dark, and it was about to be 35 below. I freaked out. After an hour of trudging through snow, I saw a fisherman sitting beside a hole in the ice. I ran to him, waving like a madman, and tried to explain the situation in the little Russian I knew. He held out a vodka bottle to me, then gestured up a hill. At the top of it, there was a road. I sat beside it in this scary Siberian silence until I heard ‘Matthieuuuu.’ It was the driver and translator.”


Chris Anderson

I took this picture the moment we realized we were sinking. It was 1999 and I was in the hold of a 25-foot handmade sailboat with 44 Haitian immigrants. Water started pouring in and David, the man looking at the camera, said, “Chris, you’d better start taking pictures, because we only have an hour to live.” I was 29, trying to capture a journey of immigrants who risk everything to reach America. That I could die here hadn’t registered until this moment. All I could do was take photographs as a reflex, a way to deal with my fear, even though I assumed the pictures were going to die with me. We were saved by a Coast Guard cutter that happened upon us. It made me understand that taking photographs is as much about explaining the world to myself as it is about explaining it to other people.”

[via Outside]