Carbondale Writer Reveals Photography

Jul 11, 2013

Marci Krivonen: Carbondale Writer Jonathan Waterman is known for his adventure writing. Starting with a account of a hairy trip on Denali, the highest peak in North America…to most recently a bleak account of the Colorado River with the help of photographer Peter McBride. 

Bathhurst Inlet, Nunavut.
Credit Jonathan Waterman

Elise Thatcher: Now, Waterman has a kind of anthology out of his life time of writing.  Titled Northern Exposures: An Adventuring Career in Stories and Images, it documents his outdoor adventures in arctic regions.  Many of the photos in the book are previously unpublished. They show, among other things, several generations of gear… like skinny K2 skis on glaciers…

“Yeah the K2 skis, and the short shorts, you’re not supposed to wear shorts up to your crotch any more, they’re supposed to fall to your knees.”

Like the vintage skis, many of the photos were taken while Waterman was using other older equipment: film cameras, instead of digital. I asked him if there was a risk to including photos that, well, look and feel different compared to the digital norm today.

“If I was doing a strictly an art book, on photography perhaps that question would have arisen, but to be honest I never thought about it. Because the book is really about rather than the evolution of the photography, it’s the evolution of an adventurer, essentially. So I use the images as a tool to show not only where I went and what I did in places in the North. But also to show how a writer depends on images, if they are writers like me and carry a camera."

Arguably one of the most viscerally intense photos is of a polar bear swimming. Although the animal appears moderately close, the reader learns Waterman took the photo from a kayak—and the bear was actually chasing him in the water. Going back through his images helped Waterman, as a writer, to recall some of the details forgotten in the heat of the moment.

“There’s that part of it, and just that good writing should be rich with images, and I found myself whenever I was struck for instance, I would dig out my slides, and have a look at my slides and fall toward leaning on the colors and scenes that I captured with my camera, in order to finish writing a story. And my photographs for a long time were always sort of slaves to the writing, and the writing was the mainstay and still is the mainstay of my career. But now I’ve kind of come full circle, and I’m beginning to realize a dream, in that these photographs are valuable. Even if I took them thirty five years ago they stand alone as works of art or an exemplars of a place or an adventure, in a sense now they’re supporting me, too."

Aside from book sales, Waterman hopes the anthology inspires others to live life outdoors… and, in turn, to protect those places.

“I supposed I had a choice. I could have just done a book about adventuring, and I have written many adventure stories that have nothing to do with environment at risk, because there are places that you can travel that simply aren’t at risk, in the north. But although the book isn’t a call to arms, I don’t think any outdoorsperson with a conscience can go to these places and not want to defend them and speak out for them. The wilderness needs a voice.”

Writer Jonathan Waterman’s new book is called Northern Exposures: An Adventuring Career in Stories and Images.