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The Fellowship: fostering the next generation of African-American skiers

6 years ago

This blog is part of a series of exclusive interviews with the winners of United Photo Industries’ (UPI) pioneering Brooklyn-based public photography installation THE FENCE.


Chip Kalback is a photographer who lives in Denver with his wife and pug. His work focuses on people and his love for the outdoors, and he has been shooting professionally since 2008. 

Hi Chip. Tell us a little about you and your photography  

I’m a commercial & editorial photographer based in Denver, Colorado, with most of my work focusing on environmental portraits and the outdoor lifestyle. I got my start in photography by shooting concerts in Cleveland (where I grew up) with a Nikon Coolpix while I was in college. The photos were terrible, but I loved the responsibility I felt to document and show photos of some of my favorite bands. At the same time, I was also photographing my friends skiing and snowboarding in Ohio, which continued when I moved to Colorado for an internship as I was finishing college. I started borrowing friends DSLR’s to shoot more skiing and snowboarding, which led to finally being able to afford my own camera and using it to shoot for various action sports blogs and magazines. I also started shooting for various outdoor brands too. That led to shooting things like the X Games, working with brands like Target and Land Rover, and continuing to expand more into commercial photography and fun editorial shoots!


Talk to us about your series 'The Fellowship' - Where and why did this project come about?

'The Fellowship' was a feature assigned to me by Powder Magazine’s Director of Photography, Dave Reddick. He emailed me about a group called The National Brotherhood of Skiers, an all African-American ski club comprised of various regional groups which started in 1973. The goal of the National Brotherhood of Skiers is to help foster interest and funding for promising young African-American skiers with the hopes of ultimately making it onto the U.S. Ski Team and into the Olympics.

Each year the NBS has an annual ski summit where all of the regional clubs come together for a week, and Dave wanted me to join them for their week in Lake Tahoe to photograph as many portraits as possible, as well as Sunday morning gospel service, board meetings, ski racing among the various clubs, nightly theme parties, and more.

Each morning I would wheel my portrait setup through the casino at the Hard Rock Hotel in Lake Tahoe, setup my makeshift studio in a back hallway, and start shooting portraits at 8am as NBS members were on their way to the mountain. Following that, I would wheel everything back upstairs, quickly change into my ski gear and get to the mountain in time to shoot the day’s festivities including ski club parades, cookouts, races, etc. I would have just enough time after that to get back to the hotel and grab a quick bite for dinner, before needing to be at the nightly theme party, which varied from a Mardi Gras theme (put on by New Orleans' ski club Jazzmatazz, to the all white party put on by Detroit’s ski club, the Jim Dandy's.

Needless to say by the end of the week I was a little tired, but it was one of my most favorite editorial shoots to date, and I came away feeling like I had just made a bunch of new fellow skier friends.


Why photography? What does the medium mean to you? 

Photography is as exciting as it is humbling, as rewarding as it is frustrating, at times. To me, photography is not only the reward of making an idea happen, but it’s also a ticket to anywhere, to meet anyone, to access anything, and with any luck improve your ability along the way. It’s always an honor when a brand or a publication asks me to shoot for them. I really do enjoy the chase of an idea as much as the catch, and all the marketing/sales/accounting/editing/shooting/ups/downs that go with pursuing photography as a profession. I don’t take any of this for granted and I’m just thankful I’ve gotten this far.


Do you have a photographic philosophy?

"You make your own luck"

Where in the world are you, what’s next for you?

I am currently in Denver, Colorado, sitting next to my pug. Bob Marley’s 'Babylon By Bus' is playing on iTunes, after some Joe Strummer, BADBADNOTGOOD, and Minor Threat.

Next up for me is putting a personal project out there into the world which I’ve been working on, about cycling in Colorado’s Front Range outside of Denver + Boulder. It’s part of my next photo quarterly which is going out soon, and I’m also headed to Los Angeles for portfolio meetings in a couple of weeks. I try to go somewhere once a quarter for portfolio meetings so I can show my work in person, and hear what photo editors and art buyers are looking for.