I am honoured once more because one of my photographs was used for the cover page of Russian magazine about Montenegro. The Chernogoria is luxurious season magazine for Russian tourists as well as Russian citizens in Montenegro. Inside the magazine readers can find out about the extreme canyoning as well as profesional photography from my point of view. The picture used for the cover page was taken at Crnojevici River and besides the story of making it, published in the article, it is special even more because my girlfirend is on it.
Predrag Vuckovic from Belgrade, Serbia is 39 years old photographer who took pictures of Felix Baumgartner and the historical jump from the Edge of the Space in October 2012. The following is the story about extreme sport, the Red Bull Company that Predrag works for, unreal photograps that he makes, hidden jewels of planet Earth that he had the luck to see and the feeling of aversion towards airports, airplanes, air companies… that you have after 112 airplane business trips in one year.
How the airports smell and breathe?
If you ask me what I dislike, on top of my list are airports and mobile phones.
Why the airports?
I like traveling, but if I go to Philippines today and return in three days, which is totally 30 traveling hours in one way, then I sleep in Belgrade and in the morning travel to Los Angeles, then you must understand that is too much. Everyday airport prcedures, controles… that insults my intelligence.
Where was the largest airport control?
In Israel where 4 to 5 hours prior to flight you need to be on the airport. They are very detailed and much more controling the exit of the country than the entrance.
What was your assignment in Israel?
It was on of the Red Bull’s huge project called Walking on the Water. We were at the famous lake where Jesus walked on water and we replicated that event with famous Red Bull athlete who is one of the best kitesurfers in the world (kitesurf – surfing board with little kite on it). He practised for months to pull the kite, to release it, remove the board and to continue running on water surface. Though the project was small, it attracted huge success and popularity through media.
What was your position during that photoshooting?
I was shooting from the water. I was about one meter away from him.
You wore diving suit?
Yes, I was in my diving suit and with underwater camera. I was swimming and photoshooting.
It can be done…?
Yes it can. It takes a lot of training and experience. That is what I like. If I gave you the camera and the rest of my equipment, you would sink just like holding a concrete block. I practise scuba diving more than 20 years now, and I am also a Master Diver Instructor.
What time did you spent in water during that project?
Four to five hours.
Without food and drink..?!
It was june, the water was extremely warm, about 30 degrees, so working was enjoyment and food was the last thing on my mind when I work. Adrenaline makes it even better. The only thing you need when it’s hot is drinking water.
Do you realise the time during your work?
Not at all. I take a look at my watch once in a while and just can’t believe it. Like I’m in some other dimension, totally concentrated on my work. The only thing I think of is how to make the photo, how to be in the right place at the right time and there are no other thoughts at that moment.
What sports did you practise?
Lots of them. You wouldn’t believe the count. I started as a kid playing ice hockey for ‘Partizan’ and our national team. After that came the bicycle and BMX stunts and tricks. From 1988 to 1994 I trained BMX for 16 hours a day and reached the fifth place in the world ranking. One day I realised that I have reached my maximum I draw the line and never sat on the bicycle again. Eather I do something till my maximum or not doing it at all.
Did you brake anything in cycling?
Both arms, both legs and middle finger (laugh).
What else sports did you train?
I was among the first people who brought skateboarding into former Yugoslavia, and later with few other people wakeboarding and snowboarding.
What is wakeboarding?
It is riding on the water board that is pulled by a boat, just like you are pulled by the cables on Ada Ciganlija. I practised a lot extreme sports along the way and all of them gave me the ability to make the perfect photography on the places where fellow photographers can’t even get to. I remain active in mountaineering, snowboarding and scuba diving, and one of the youngest discipline which is a mix of all theese – extreme canyoning.
Are the extreme sports athletes braver than the other people?
No, they just have greater abilities than regular people. Thanks to their training and experience in extreme sports their boundries are moving forward.
The boundry is not corssing, is your head in the bag?
It is hard to explain, but the boudry is known and nobody, not me nor any true extreme sports athlete, would cross it for a good photography. Here’s an example.When you find a little water pool and you want to jump over it, if it’s one meter long you would say ‘hop’ and that’s it. But if the pool is one and a half meter long, you will stop for a moment and listen to the inner feeling wether you can jump over or not. It’s the same in extreme sports. With more training you move that feeling further more.
Are the extreme photographers more extreme than the athletes?
I really can’t say since it is a wide circle of athletes and photographers. Sometimes yes, sometimes no.
In your case?
In my case also. Sometimes yes, and sometimes no.
When it was a ‘yes’?
Lots of times. I can give as an example the World’s Cliffdiving jumps. On the last shooting in Italy I spend five hours in water without break dispite extremely high waves. The rescue divers nearby changed every half an hour. They felt nausea, sick and dizziness.
When I say Red Bull what are yours first three asociations?
Energy drink, extreme sports and generosity. Energy drink because Red Bull is exactly that. Extreme sports because every extreme event in the world is somehow connected to Red Bull. You saw the Jump From The Edge Of The Space! And generosity because that is the main concept and thinking of Red Bull for sports and employees. Red Bull never leaves anybody in the lurch. When they select an athlete at the age of 12-14 they immiditely start investing in their lives regardless to the fact that it might not return the investment. Moreover, Red Bull has a lot of charity actions. One of those is the foundation The Wings For Life. The scientific research part of that foundation is trying to recreate the spinal cord so that paralised people with spinal injuries can continue their lives. Every country which sells the Red Bull organises once a year this kind of charity event that supports Wings For Life. I organised the selling exhibition of my photographs in Zagreb, Croatia, where all the incomings were dedicated to this foundation Wings For Life. When a Red Bull athletes are injured they go to rehab center in Austria where they are taken care of. And when a football player gots injured he is substituted by another player.
What is the first thing that you think of when the name of Felix Baumgartner is said, the man who jumped from the edge of the space with parachute in October 2012?
I think of something unbelievable, unreal – that is my first thought.
What was your assignment during that jump from the hight of 39 kilometres?
We first photoshooted Felix’s two trial jumps from the altitudes of 21 and 29 kilometres. In the final jump my assignment was to shoot every possible location from the ground and from the helicopter. I shoted the dressing of Felix, his preparations, arriving to the location etc. When he entered the capsule I entered the helicopter and was responsible for the first video and photo contact. I escorted the capsule’s take off and rising to some point, and then the landing of Fenix, arrival, etc.
What is the difference between photography and video footage?
The photography is a moment, and a video is something that continously lasts. Sometimes you can better present something with still image than in live footage and vice versa. In teschnical terms you can’t extract a good photo from a video recording.
Film image won’t ever take over the photography?
I think that is not possible. And various media proves it. You can’t put video in daily newspapers.
How many connecting points have reality and photography?
The reality is connected to photography.
When we see the azure blue sea on your photograps, do we really see exact color of the sea and sky?
Sometimes yes, and sometimes no. Sometimes the contrast does its thing, but I visited many unreal places that people wouldn’t believe they can exist.
You are saying that those places are unreal in beauty?
Where are those places?
Some non-turistic islands on Maldives, Cayman Islands… the unreal place is certanly Kamchatka, the Russian peninsula and Antarctic. You cannot see the real things and colors there. Even if you take a snapshot with basic camera it looks amazing.
Have you visited every spot of the Earth so far?
No, not yet.
Do you hava a list of places you would like to visit again?
I had once, but not anymore since traveling got over my head in time and I am eager for home. If I had to make a choice it would be Bora Bora in French Polinesia. It reminds me of diving, photography, unbelievable location, unreal beauty, and on the other hand it is warm and different from ordinary things.
Which segment is the Belgrade’s unreal beauty, why it is special?
My friends and people in my surroundings. That is special to me.
Could you live without people?
Yes, no doubt. Why are you laughing?
You are extreme even in your answers. How it was on the shooting of Valery Rozov jumping in the active volcano?
That project is on my favorite list. That is something most beaytiful I ever experienced through photography. It’s enough to say that I rode the snowboard down the active volcano cliff through the untouched snow where human foot never even walked before. Tha sky was amazingly blue, the path was shinig, there was a smoke behind me, and when we reached the bottom of that volcano we found geyser that sprays hot water. Imagine the feeling when you undress outdoors on -20 degrees celsius and enter the water of +30 degrees celsius. After that you see the bears hunting the salmon and you realise that you are in the middle of true untouched nature. On the end of the day you get that salmon for dinner. Everything there was special to me.
You brought Valery Rozov to Belgrade, the man who jumped into live lava?
Yes I did because we are friends besides work and we are in touch privately. We did several expeditions together, we visited Antarctic, climb the Mont Blanc…
He is Russian. Do you speak russian?
Of course not.
Is the Extreme Gym, behind you stand, the first opened gym in Serbia?
No, but it was among the first ones. We exist since May 1999, that is 14 years now.
How much of your time is taken by that job?
I am very well organised, but still yet it takes a good part of me. My associates in that area are giving me the independency so that work can function even without my presence.
If you should single out a three of your pictures that speaks of you the best, which ones would it be? You have asked me a very difficult question. I have photos that reminds me of places I’ve been to, I have photos that reminds me of people, and I have photos that remind me of the photography itself. When I put all that together I realise that I don’t have a favorite photo. When I had an exhibition in 2010 my biggest problem was choosing the photographs.
What do your friends say? What are their favorite photos?
I like the most when somebody looks at my photo and says: “This is Photoshop!” then I know that the photo is really unreal. My friends already know how and what I do and it is a little bit hard for me to surprise them, but I manage that as well.
What is your genius idea that improved the human kind?
Human kind is very large term. I know that I did many photographs first in the world, and that I also inspired many young photographers. Simply speaking I am photographer who makes unique photographs.
Do you have a family?
Yes I have a family, parents, older brother, girlfriend for a long time now and maybe she is the one that suffers the most…
Is she the person with the seashell on underwater picture from the Island of Vis?
Yes. Sometimes she models through tears just for the sake of good photography.
Why the Island of Vis?
The Island of Vis is the most popular diving location on the Adriatic sea. On the Vis in 2 square kilometres there are 8 ship wrecks and that is something very special and interesting for any scuba diver. The visibility is very high because the Vis is far from the shore, and Komiza is a special place to us so it became a ritual that we are there every first week of June. That is not something we agree upon, that is default event in our circle of people.
What school did you finish and when did you become a professional photographer?
I finished “Nikola Tesla” electrotechnical school. I never believed that I would become a professional photographer and I carried a camera since my childhood. I always took pictures while skating, riding the bicycle… and that developed over time to a profession. I am a professional photographer for the last 9 years.
Why do people think that extreme sports athletes are crazy and they do not know fear?
What we do a regular person can’t, and then they think we are crazy. We are only super trained, not crazy at all.
How much do you pay for life insurance?
I only have regular diving insurance and travel insurance. I don’t have a life insurance policy.
You have the support from your family and from your girlfriend. Tell us something about her.
She is not an ordinary person. She is special and she understands everything I do. We are going through many things together and we were together on many of my photoshooting projects.
When dod you fell in love with photography?
When I was born.
Did you know that it was going to be your profession?
You can see on the following pages rare and thus valuable photographs from the hidden corners of Montenegro, which you can see thanks to a group of brave athletes who practise extreme canyoning. We are talking to the leaders and founders of Extreme Canyoning team, Predrag Vuckovic famous photographer and Milos Radevic alpinist and outdoor rescue guard.
Who are the members of “Extreme Canyoning” team?
Besides us the rest of the crew are alpinists and speleologists from various clubs and foundations like the “Faith” and Rescue Service Gorska.
Has it ever happen to you to drop your camera and it finishes on the bottom of the cliff?
The canyons that we are crossing are very difficult for photography. The surroundings are dynamic, moist and inaccessible. At one point there is enough light and suddenly you enter the dark area. The water is additional problem. Sometimes we have a perfect photography but it is hard to take a shot due to inaccessible cliffs and water. We never had a camera drop situation because it could be very dangerous if it drops on someone’s head, so the precaution measures are very high. Our equipment though many times swimmed in water, soaked and wet, and that is one situation we are used to.
Do you ask team members to repeat a movement because you didn’t like the shot you took?
It happens very often and it takes a lot of patience for most of the pictures. It is not rare that someone must go back up the rope or waterfall in order to repeat the shooting. Setting up and waiting are very normal things. Sometimes we wait for the sun to go behind the clouds… that is why our canyoning tours lasts longer that the regular ones and every team member is aware of that.
Rope, helmet, harness… What part of equipment is “worth a gold”?
Every piece of equipment is “worth a gold” and it is specially taken care of. In any case the rope is the most important piece of our gear because without a rope it is impossible to even cross the canyon. For every canyon cross we carry at least one back up rope. The missing of other parts of equipment can mostly be improvised.
Do you carry a mobile phone in the canyon?
There are no mobile signal in the canyons in most cases. For every crossing we fully respect the precaution measures, so we carry a special satelite telephone with us that we could use just in extreme dangerous situations to call for help.
How do you choose the shoes for walking on the moss carpet?
The shoes should be hard and deep for the ankle support and with less or no gliding effect on wet rocks. We don’t recommend crossing the canyon in sport shoes and sneakers because of the slippery sole and high risk of twisting the ankle.
Neoprene suit, gloves, sox… What material are we speaking of, and do you have the impression of an armour suit?
Neoprene is material that goes very close to the body in order to keep it warm, thus it has to be tighten a little. That is why we have that feeling like we are wearing some kind of armour. We mostly use diving suits. Depending on the canyon conditions, the quantity and temperature of the water we select their thickness. When the weather is too hot we wear only the bottom part of the suit and we keep the upper one in the backpack for the end of the day when it gets colder.
How many back up batteries for head torch do you carry with you?
Our head lamps are professional so they don’t use much batteries. On every crossing each member carries their own lamp because you never know when will you need it. We also carry a back up lamps but we don’t exaggerate in their number.
The canyons are magnificent and freakish. Can you compare them with anyone or anything?
It is hard to compare two different canyons because everyone is beautiful in its own way, and impossible to compare with anything else. Canyons are even hard to describe to anyone without that experience. In the canyon you can witness the true untouched nature in the very essence of the word. One of our main goals is to bring back as many photos and videos as we can in order to present to other people the beauties of the nature in the canyon. We never treat the canyon as unique story because every little part of the canyon has its own unique story.
Claustrophobia and fear of hights are impermissible in the canyon. What else is not permitted?
Claustrophobia and hights fear can be overcomed, it just takes time and patience. If someone has this issues they should mention it before the entrance to the canyon so the rest of the crew doesn’t have to come to sitiation of danger or embaresment. Any kind of risk is not permited in the canyon unless it is absolutely necessary. It is also prohibited to take any actions on your own and without agreement with the rest of the team.
What is harder to do, ascending or descending the canyon cliffs?
Canyons are usually one way routes and mostly that is descending, because the water is always going from the upper point to the lower. Naturally it is harder to climb up, but there are many tough and slipery ways downstream so you get the impression it is harder then climbing up.
How much is important to have confidence in your team members?
Team spirit is the most important before entering the canyon. The confidence with the rest of the crew is maximal and there are no doubts about it. We are privately also great friends.
Is sleeping in the canyon part of the plan or extreme necessity?
Sleeping in the canyon is part of the adventure and it should be experienced. If it is part of the plan we carry full sleeping equipment. In any case we carry one part of sleeping equipment for every canyon crossing for non planing sleep overs as well as the fire equipment.
What was the most life dangerous situation so far?
Danger occurs in split of a second and that is the moment you realise how extreme the canyons really are. All the time you walk on the edge and every slip or rock fall is very risky and unpleasant. Any injury that drasticaly slows down or stops the ongoing mission through the canyon creates very complicated situation.
Judging on the photos you find snakes, insects, animal carcasses in the canyon…
Animals are basic part of every canyon. We are not afraid of them and we try not to disturb them in their habitat. We are sad when we see a dead animal, but it is nature’s selection. Through our photographs we try to present everything we see in the canyons, animals as well.
Is the canyon of Vruca rijeka the biggest in Montenegro, since the altitude is 600 meters, it was your serious accomplishment and crossing lasted for 14 hours?
The canyon of Vruca rijeka above Bar and canyon Skurda above Kotor are the deepest ones in Montenegro. In any case the altitude and the quantity of water mostly determin the timeframe of canyon crossing. We rarely categorize them based on technical difficulty, but only by time for crossing it. That is essential to determin the number of group members and necessary equipment. If we are crossing a bigger or deeper canyon it is certan that the group will have less members and vice versa.
Why did you compare the Nevidio canyon to water park?
The Nevidio canyon is the most commercial canyon in Montenegro and many tourists cross it during the summer season. It doesn’t have many verticals and it is possible to cross without standard alpine equipment, but diving suit is a must because the water temperature is very low. There is a lot of jumps into water, swimming, splashing and all of that reminds us of one big nice nature water park.
When we say Bogutovski potok, Medjurecki potok and Skurda, we imagine gentle waters. What are your associations of the just spoken toponyms?
Bogutovski potok is association of perfect moss carpets. Skurda is association of the old Kotor town and huge verticals with less water flows on the surface. Vruca rijeka is association of the strong and restless water flow that perfectly embossed its route through the stone. Nevidio associates of deep and beautiful canyon profile where you can see the sky only a little at the top of the rocks, and that is the very meaning of its name.
What is the feeling when you come upon the water pools with turquoise water or water sections that you presume no one has ever seen before?
The feeling of walking through the area where no one ever has is perfect. That is the true feeling of total wilderness and remoteness. Perfectly embossed stones, wall sculptures, turquoise green and clear water, the variety of flora and fauna, nature water pools, syphons, amphitheaters in stone, are all part of something that must be seen before realised.
What’s it like to “walk” through the canyon with both legs spreaded where the path is narrower than a man?
The spreaded legs walking is perfectly normal thing in the canyon. Sometimes we pass through some very narrow spaces where some members can easily swipe through, but others cannot. Nonetheless there is always a solution how to cross or avoid certain obstacles.
On the entrance to the canyon the locals are offering you honey and water… Who awaits you at the exit?
Usually there is no one waiting at the exit point since it is hard to predict the time of exit from the canyon, unless the situation demands otherwise. This is the case when the canyon exit point is in some bigger lake or river with no roads near by, so the only option is boat ride. Regarding the conditions of exiting point there is always a person who is informed of our trip and our route through the canyon.