I am very happy that Montenegrin lifestyle magazine about cultural tourism published my photo on the cover page and big interview along fourteen pages inside. This multi language issue covers various lifestyle stories and is one of a kind in the touristic area of Montenegro.
WHO IS PREDRAG VUCKOVIC?
A professional extreme sports photographer and one of the few international photographers for “Red Bull”. A photographer of vast experience who, through his fitness, knowledge and special skills, manages to reach places not normally accessible to ordinary people.
What turned you to extreme sports and made you engage in them professionally?
It all started as it usually starts for most people, as a hobby, turning later on into professionalism. Basically, the adrenaline rush and the possibility to do something others cannot do, moves you forward and shifts the boundaries.
Apart from being an extreme sportsman yourself, you are a top-notch extreme photographer. As you have put it, ‘there is no spot on Earth I would like to take a photo of that I have not already done’. What then is your challenge today in photography?
Frequently some places emerge enticing you this way or that to visit, since this planet has so many particular spots, all posing different challenges. The challenge in photography is always different so the journey to a destination depends fully on where your imagination might take you. I like to say that photographers view all those sites through different lenses; hence, some common places, seen through the eye of a camera, may project something totally different from what there actually is. That is the very reason why photographers stand out from each other and what distinguishes a professional from an amateur photographer.
What does courage mean to you?
I would always put fear before courage because that is the guardian preventing you from crossing the forbidden boundaries. Courage, experience and training all help you move those boundaries under certain circumstances.
You have the courage to go to places never trodden by human feet; you have ventured into ravines, taken shots of sharks, underwater, various extreme sports in the deserts and other places, wanting to keep a record of it as a moving or still image. Do you have fear of the unknown and when was it most palpable?
As I said earlier, fear is always present because going into the unknown always brings some surprise. There were several situations when fear would appear disguised in a different form, but with my presence of mind, quite often teamwork, and control over the developing situations, I would overcome the fear. I could not single out any specific situation since each brings something different.
Apart from your love of photography, you said that the safety of the team you work with comes first. Have you ever been in a situation when you were unable to anticipate all the circumstances and something got out of hand?
There is no single photo for which I would expose myself or the sportsmen I work with to danger; should anything happen, that photo would be of no value. I plan each photo shoot thoroughly and prearrange the communication with the people I am to work with down to the tiniest details. Such an approach has never led me to anything unforeseen up till now.
How important are the place and the time when you want to take a specific photo?
The location and the weather and light conditions are more than half of your future photo. If all that can be controlled, then it is very important for me where and how I would take the photo, but since it is not always easy, then I try to stick to the theory that photos can be taken at any time and at any place. Having this approach, you are bound to get back home with at least one good photo, which is rewarding and up to your own standards.
You work with full professional equipment. To what extent does a good camera influence taking of good photos?
Just like you can’t tell the book by its cover, fancy gear does not make a photographer. No-one can teach you how to look through your camera, but if you already have this gift, a good camera can help the photo look even better. Specifically, I work with first class equipment which I believe plays an important part in any of my photographs, since I use a specific approach tailored to each situation.
Tell us something about sequencing in photography?
It is a special method of taking photographs and is one of my specialties. There is a special technique in how sequencing photographs are made and each such photo demands special time. The ultimate goal of such an approach is to tell the whole story of a moving picture through a single photo only.
Extreme goals require extreme power and stamina for the whole team. What is the common denominator of a successful project when it comes to your team’s work?
Each project is a challenge in itself and the success is seen solely through the photos and the materials we make as a team. Without photos to prove it, some projects would not be seen or would not even exist at all.
You took photos of many extreme sports ventures in various disciplines. One of the extreme sportsmen you worked with is the Russian Valeriy Rozov. Among other things, you recorded his jump off the highest peak in the Antarctic, a dive into an active volcano in Kamchatka and many others. In such extreme conditions you have to have the perfect moment to take a few shots with your camera within the span of one second.
What defines the “perfect moment”?
When taking extreme photos the “perfect moment” is the most important factor determining the ultimate success of a photograph. When you show someone the image and get no response but only quiet surprise and astonishment, then you know you have managed to capture that moment. Perfect moments usually occur in split seconds and you have to know well the sport and the person you are working with, and recognise your own photographic capabilities. If you overestimate yourself or the equipment, rest assured you will finish empty handed. Add to that the weather conditions or the conditions under which you have to operate, then you can understand that the perfect moment is much more of a challenge than you can even begin to imagine.
“Everything you bring with you, you have to take away. The only things you can leave are your footprints, and the only things you can take are memories and photographs“, you said of your stay at the Antarctic, taking photos of the jump taken by the Russian alpinist and BASE jumper Valery Rozov, the “Ice Astronaut” from Mount Ulvetanna (2931m). Can you try to share this experience briefly?
The Antarctic expedition was one of the most challenging adventures and photographic shoots in my life. The harsh conditions at the Antarctic are hard to describe. The very idea of spending 35 days at temperatures around -30°C in a simple tent without any normal living conditions speaks for itself. Add to that the constant physical strain in a very extreme environment in order to keep warm and maintain your body temperature, that reaches a new level of harshness. Then the never-ceasing daylight, 24 hours a day, adding to the mental and physical exertion. All of that is only a small part of my Antarctic expedition. Where you have been and what you have done for 35 days, you only comprehend upon returning to civilisation and normal living conditions. Then even common, routine things and the small things in life become more important, making you much more appreciative.
You have taken photos at over 250 events in over 50 countries worldwide. Even when you find yourself in a less intimidating place, a mere mortal recognises his or her own powerlessness in the face of the magnificence of nature. What event has left a lasting impression on you, if it is possible to single any one out?
Each journey and event covered by my photographs has its own unique and recognisable story, thus it is impossible to single any one out. For many of them I am linked with the environment in which I worked or the places I visited, with special people or customs, or at the end of the day some minor detail which I, as a photographer, remember in my own peculiar way. If I were to put all these things on a pile and you insisted I pick one special event or journey, then it would be the Kamchatka expedition with my friend, the Russian jumper Valeriy Rozov.
RED BULL STRATOS
You took photographs of Felix Baumgartner, the Austrian jumper who set new standards of extreme sports globally. What kept you as a team to be faultlessly devoted to your tasks, despite the adverse weather postponing the jump, and in one of the trial jumps even the capsule got damaged? What was the weakest and what was the strongest link in the project team?
Great people and sustained great atmosphere surpassed all the obstacles we encountered. Accurate planning, outstanding communication and the special approach to the event we were working on, warranted success from day one when we started jointly creating the “Red Bull Stratos” project.
How has the “Red Bull Stratos” project moved your horizons regarding the achievements of extreme photography and how has it affected you?
The mere understanding that you worked on something which will be recorded forever in history moves the boundaries of thinking and creates a special focus for all future goals you set for yourself. The story you leave behind makes you very proud.
“The aim of the Red Bull Stratos mission is to move the boundaries of human endurance”, as you put it. Were there any unexpected results and what was achieved?
As we worked for such a long time on this project, the constant training and preparation had already in advance determined the expected positive results. Each photograph taken within the framework of the Red Bull Stratos tells a unique story. To what extent is it possible to predict everything when you find yourself in changing circumstances for the first time? Perfect and precise planning accounts for more than half of every photo session. With the experience I have and the skills I possess, I can normally anticipate many things which might stand in my way, when I find myself somewhere for the first time. Surprise and the unforeseen always exist, but I make an effort to minimise them.
It is said that one can make all he imagines come true with good planning and being committed to the goal. What are the boundaries of your imagination for future projects? Maybe some outer-space expedition or collaboration with the extreme sports domain?
Sometimes my imagination takes me very far, but I try really hard to stick to some realistic spheres. Many times I would dream some future photograph and later on I would turn the dream into reality, so maybe another planet does not seem all that unrealistic.
You have been a professional diver for twenty years already. You are the editor of the “X Fitness” magazine. You go canyoning. You are compiling a book on canyons, as you announced, due out by the end of this year. Where do you find the motivation for so many projects?
What you mentioned are but a few of the activities I engage in. I can only explain the secret of my inexhaustible energy and keeping on top of all the things I do, by the strong connection between the things I do and engage with. Each activity builds on the other and together they make a whole, which defines me in my own specific way.
You worked on the Tibet expedition and photographed the Formula 1 Red Bull team. Tell us something about that experience.
Before this event, the very thought of a Formula 1 race at an altitude of 5800m puts you in awe. India and the road that claims to be at the highest navigable altitude in the world – Kardung La – were a great challenge for all of us. This is also one of my favourite stories written in my photographic biography. The whole region of the Himalaya is a spectacular natural environment and the mountain chains stretch beyond view. Add to that the Red Bull Formula 1, and you get a full experience of something surreal.
What would be your advice for young people wishing to participate in extreme sports?
My advice would certainly be to stick to their abilities and not to cross the boundary of what is allowed! At the inspirational speech you delivered in Podgorica as part of the photo workshop “Days of Photography”, you showed many photographs and video records of the events you covered. Do you maybe plan to gather these experiences into a book? This is something I have been thinking of, but not in the foreseeable future. Once I am able to travel less and have more time on my hands, I will definitely devote myself to writing about my photographic travels. But until then there are many more things for me to do.
Your professional photographic assignments are primarily linked with the Red Bull team you have been a part of since 2005. How much time do you have for independent work on projects not within the Red Bull domain?
Currently Red Bull tops my priority list and has precedence over my other clients, as we share similar visions and unique methods. But apart from all the things I do, I am always ready to accept a special and different challenge when I am offered it. After such rich adventures worldwide I guess you knowingly enjoy every minute of your life and that you live fully by the “here and now” philosophy. Am I right? Yes, you are right. Because we all have but one life to live!
Predrag Vuckovic was born on 17 February 1973 in Belgrade where he officially lives today. Constant travelling all around the world has contributed to his entering into the world of photography. It all started on an amateur level when he was taking photographs solely as a treat, whereas later it turned into professionalism and a serious business.
In 1999 his life started moving in a totally different direction due to the opening of his fitness club EXTREME GYM. Bodybuilding and fitness became one of his main preoccupations and he started being active in these disciplines. Thus his photographs started moving in a completely new direction, taking up a completely new form. Today he is one of two official IFBB photographers for the whole Europe. His shots can now be found on many websites and in many magazines in this field. Since he has always felt certain attachment to extreme sports, in 2006 conditions were established for starting the magazine X-SPORTS which includes about thirty extreme sports, adventures, challenges and actions. His pics have been published in lot of magazines all over the world and with a number of domestic and foreign companies and magazines.