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08/12/14 Photographer Cole Barash

Just as the snowboarders he’s captured defy nature’s intent, Cole Barash has challenged his own photography in perspective and style. As a teen, he became known for shooting the winter sport with greater depth and ease. A rider could be a bird of prey swooping over a slope of desolate white; off the powder, he’s caught slack and contemplative, fingers warm while strumming a guitar. Barash never settled for the obvious action shot.

Following countless covers and campaigns that span Transworld to Nike, the photographer decided to get out of his cool comfort zone and move to New York City. Three years since, his lens has traveled far and wide: a “5 People 5 Stories” series, where Barash sought men of daring, be it an L.A.-based boxer or a man who fled from Wisconsin to the Canadian wild. Last year, he immersed in Rekjavik’s arts and culture realm, illuminating its innovators through photos published in Relapse Magazine.

Kicking back after his first New York exhibition last month—“Talk Story,” a raw, uncompromising view of the North Shore through surfer John John Florence—Barash talks to NOUS about its accompanying monograph (published by Dashwood Books) and the lengths of his visual exploration: six women captured in six different cities, a project he’s releasing during New York Fashion Week.

Transworld photo essay

Getting your start shooting snowboarders, was there a particular style you were gunning for that hadn’t been seen in this realm of photography yet?

Kevin Zacher and Rob Mathis’s work—when I saw what they were doing in snowboarding, I knew it could be different and really far away from the peak action sequences I saw a lot of at the time.  I grew up snowboarding and surfing so I was pretty naturally into shooting it.

Your work has always had a candidness and spontaneity. You even go as far as shooting one subject doing their bathroom “business” for the “Snowmads III” series. How intensely do you have to be embedded among your subjects before you start shooting?

Whatever I am photographing, I come in very humble and respectful while mixing in moments of chance or unknown.  With the snowboarding era I was part of—I was 16 to 24 years old—it was great because we were all best friends traveling the world but working really hard together. There were always good times and pranks.

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How did the idea behind the “5 People 5 Stories” series come about and how did you go about choosing such men of daring? Like boxer Lamar Hooks or Walden-like dude Jay Katwiski, for example?

I’m huge on making personal work.  All of the projects on my site were personal projects besides the obvious “Commissioned” section.  I like to dig deep when making photographs and really find interesting people with flavors, style, or odd environments.  I didn’t know either of them. Jay, I met on a snowboard trip in Middle of Nowhere, B.C. (British Columbia). He was working in the tool shed of the lodge I was staying in and I just went up and started shooting the shit with him.  I really appreciate fine woodwork and good building, and Jay had done a lot of that so when I found out his story, I was even more blown away.  Lamar, I had heard about him through my friend Eddie Wall and I approached him through Eddie.

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Documentary photography follows in your upcoming monograph, “Talk Story.” What was it about John John’s life and times in Hawaii that interested you enough to make his story a focal point?

I don’t like the word “documentary” as it feels too war photo or press.  I think it’s more of a reportage style than doc.  The idea was to go to the North Shore and turn 180 degrees away from all the action at pipe, rocky point—all the waves. I wanted to dig deep into John John’s life, the people that make up the North Shore, as well as acting off my gut and shooting odd still-lifes that represent the environment to me.

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What has been the most challenging project or series you’ve worked on?

Probably the exhibition I just had in New York City.  It was my first solo exhibition so I wanted to make it really, really good and turn some heads.  In conjunction with releasing the body of work as a 92-page monograph book, I hand-built 18 pieces for the show.  Each piece was made out of reclaimed mushroom wood and reclaimed oak with the photograph floating in resin.  Each piece was really a project itself, which took a lot of time, prep, and execution to figure out correctly. I’m exhausted and ready to finally start my summer but so thrilled that it worked out.

I’m wondering if fashion photography, which is obviously more staged, is more challenging to you? Did the move to New York spur your interest in this type of photography?

Yeah, NYC for sure drove me to step up my game, as well as start to push into other areas such as fashion. NYC is a hard place to survive and people are really, really good here at what they do.  It inspires you like no other but also makes you hungry to elevate your work and take a well-sharpened blade to it.  I actually really enjoy shooting fashion as it’s collaboration among a model, stylist, hair and makeup to come up with something beautiful.  I am taking my reportage style into it when shooting but I also know how to give direction to a girl now, which is important for sure.  Fashion is hard as it’s really nothing unless the styling is good. Styling is everything in fashion—everything else is second but when it’s on point, it’s good. Real good.

Where has your photography taken you today and what have you been working on lately?

I’m actually more interested in exploring different mediums of art and incorporating them into my photographs. This past project for this exhibition really opened up my eyes and I can feel in my bones I will be exploring more and more now.  I think the most interesting project so far has been “6 Girls 6 Cities,” which I will release in Feburary 2014 in NYC during Fashion Week.  A double exposure project shot on 35mm film represents six different girls in six different cities. New projects—yeah, I got a few brewin’.

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