Traveling to the ends of the earth on assignment for such
magazines as Islands and National Geographic
Traveler, photojournalist Bob Krist thought he knew something
about climbing mountains. That is, until he was assigned to
photograph the elusive puffin hunters of the craggy cliffs of
"We had just made a really vicious crossing on a rubber raft over rough seas when my guide tells me it's just a little climb up a hill to find these guys," Krist recalls. "'Even a cow could climb it,' he told me."
With the North Atlantic Sea churning angrily behind them, Krist's guide pulled the raft to the side of an island and told him to get off. Weighed down with camera gear and struggling to keep his balance as the tiny boat bobbed against the shoreline, Krist bid his guide farewell and prepared himself for the light climb ahead. What he saw before him, however, was not what he expected.
"I look up and there's this 300-foot sheer cliff staring back at me. If even a cow could do this, maybe the cows in Iceland have wings."
To add insult to injury, after finally clawing his way to the top of the cliff, Krist watched as a helicopter swooped in overhead and landed on a plateau within a few feet of the puffin hunters. An incredulous Krist could only gaze with disbelief as the writer assigned to cover the story casually exited the helicopter.
"She just kind of popped over, did the interview, got back in the helicopter and flew off. I'm thinking 'What did I do wrong?'" Krist says with a laugh. "Writers are convinced that they're so much smarter than photographers, and this is one case where they were right."
San Blas Island
A NOSE FOR THE NEWS
Having a good sense of humor about life is not only a plus for a travel photographer, it's practically a prerequisite. And after talking to Krist, an ebullient former actor who breaks into laughter often during the course of an hour-long conversation, he clearly fits the bill. While Krist enjoys telling stories about his adventures, and occasional misadventures, as a photojournalist jetting off to distant lands, he notes that much of the work he's most proud of was shot far closer to home.
One of Krist's first big assignments came in 1980, when he pitched National Geographic the decidedly unsexy idea of doing a story on his home state of New Jersey. While many people envision the Garden State as merely a colorless network of highways, rest stops, and heavy industry abutting New York, the Jersey-born Krist knew better. He also suspected early on that travel magazines might be looking for more offbeat subjects than the typical panoply of India street scenes and European castles that had already been photographed to death.
Krist's instincts were right on the money and the magazine bought his pitch. Shortly thereafter he was chasing muskrat hunters through the swamps of the Jersey meadowlands and clicking off frames beneath the George Washington Bridge, where shad fisherman hauled in their catch of the day with the same fishing techniques used hundreds
of years ago.
Krist's nose for the news, as well as his flair for spotting the eye-grabbing shot, can be traced to his early days as a newspaper photographer for the Hudson Dispatch, a daily based in Union, New Jersey; circulation 60,000. Prior to working for the Dispatch, Krist had only a modicum of photography experience, most of which consisted of doing head shots of fellow actors in his repertory theater company as it toured Europe. He recalled that the Dispatch decided to give him a try-out simply because he was "well-dressed."
"My first month there I had the most incredible luck. I was shooting burning buildings, major accidents, everything under the sun and earning $140 a week—double what I was making as an actor. So I kissed acting goodbye," he says.
But after three and half years of photographing the bad news of New Jersey, Krist was getting burned out. "I originally picked up a camera because I wanted to photograph the beauty of things, not the blood and guts of things," he explains.
His big break with National Geographic eventually led to a steady stream of other travel features, and today he works regularly as a freelancer for such magazines as Smithsonian, Islands, and Caribbean Travel & Life. Some of Krist's recent assignments have taken him to Papau, New Guinea, where he photographed the painted faces of tribesman participating in the famous Highland shows; to Madurai, India, where he was nearly run down by bulls while shooting the ceremony of Jellikatu, and to western Samoa, where he documented the colorful and intricate tattoos of village leaders.