Photograph by: Pablo Durana , Swerve
You might not think fear is a part of the equation for an adventure photographer, but Bryan Smith says that even when he’s 2,810 metres up, following guys jumping off mountains in wing suits, fear’s an important asset in keeping himself safe. The award-winning filmmaker, who is here as part of National Geographic Live, sat down with Swerve Going Out Editor Jon Roe to talk about fear and what he wouldn’t try.
When you were growing up, you wanted to be an Indy car driver. Was there a moment you can pinpoint when you realized you were an adrenaline junkie? It’s funny, everyone looks at me and goes, ‘oh this guy is a total adrenaline junkie.’ I’ve actually never really considered myself that. I feel like I’ve been quite conservative compared to other people around me. My father was a racecar instructor, so I grew up on the racetrack, on pit row, with a helmet on, ready to take a ride in any sort of car. I never really realized it at the time, but I was definitely hooked on the experience of doing a couple hundred miles per hour in a car.
Is there anything now that makes you nervous? I have always considered fear to be my greatest asset. If you don’t get scared, you don’t actually think about what you need to do to keep yourself safe. A lot of times people look at what we do and go, ‘well, you guys are fearless.’ Well, no, we’re constantly scared. If you’re not scared, then something is wrong. Fear and being scared is what keeps you in the moment to actually focus on what it is that you’re trying to do.
Is there anything you wouldn’t try to do? There’s tons of stuff. We’re constantly surrounding ourselves with athletes that are performing at a higher level than we are capable of. We’re out there filming them, so we have to have certain skills to be right there with them. Stuff like wing-suit flying—I don’t have an interest in (trying) it. I don’t want to do that. It looks terrifying to me. There are certain sports that I do well—kayaking, ski mountaineering, climbing—and any time you look at things outside of your wheelhouse, you look into other sports. For me, there’s no way I can do that. If you invest the time, you could.
Red Bull, who you’ve done some work for, seems to be bringing action and adrenaline sports into the mainstream. Are they making the extreme more mainstream? I live in Squamish and when I look around—maybe this is why the stuff that we do doesn’t feel that extreme—I’m surrounded by athletes who are constantly out there pushing the limits. That is the natural progression of human beings. Whether it’s exploration into space or exploration into extreme sport. Every generation is going to constantly push beyond where other people were. Everyone’s like, ‘oh my god, everything’s getting more extreme.’ Well, yeah, but that’s what human beings do. They take what is considered the status quo and look at what they can do beyond that.
The Lens of Adventure with Bryan Smith: Sunday, May 4 and Tuesday, May 6 at Jack Singer Concert Hall, Epcor Centre. $37.50 – $65. 403-294-9494, epcorcentre.org.