Montenegrin daily newspaper “Vijesti” with the most circulation in the country, published fantastic article about canyoning along with Predrag Vuckovic interview, one of the most famous sports photographers today (leader and founder of Extreme Canyoning Team), who also gave lecture at motivational photographic seminar at the Faculty of Economics in Podgorica on 11.02.2013.
“Do you know where the Brskut is?” my interlocutor asked me. It turned out that, despite repeated visits to the nature or the mountain, I do not know that Brskut is not out there towards Bijelo Polje, but it is located at about 40 kilometers from Podgorica to Verusa. Some of my friends, whom I asked the same question from Predrag Vuckovic, didn’t know either. He assumed that the majority of Montenegrin residents do not know that. Neither where Brskut is, nor that there is one of the most attractive Montenegrin canyon Nozice.
“In Montenegro I have friends and relatives, and whoever I asked, had no idea where I am going, where it is located, that is such backwoods,” he says.
Vuckovic will describe canyon Nozice closer to the public through his photos, which will be published in the canyon guide about Montenegrin canyons and canyons in Serbia. It will be amazing scenes, filmed from different angles and often unbelievable conditions. Because Vuckovic is that kind of person – the man who tried himself in different extreme sports, is now engaged in canyoning, he is master diving instructor and one of the best professional extreme photographers in the world. As he was well described by one of my fellow journalist, “A photographer who forever stopped in his lens some of the most extreme sporting endeavors on the earth, the sky and the water.” The photographer who recorded a jump of Russian athlete Valery Rozov right into the crater of the volcano Mutnovski on the Kamchatka Peninsula, captured sharks and rays, for some good shots rode snowboard along the edge of active volcanoes, the photographer who shot the Austrian Felix Baumgartner and was able to perpetuate his jump from the edge of the space.
From the early childhood through the life of this 39-year-old man from Belgrade, photography and sports had always mixed. He made his first pictures in 1989, with an ordinary camera. Photography has become the love older than the love towards sport.
“All this is very close in time to each other, but I started earlier with photography,” Vuckovic said.
In those years he was active in various extreme sports, and his specialty was BMX bike freestyle riding. To the former state of Yugoslavia, in addition to medals, he also brought new sports. He was one of the first snowboarders in the Yugoslavia. He was active in skateboarding, windsurfing, scuba diving…
During all that time he was not separated from the camera. And then he realized there are too many hobbies, he gave up on some of them, and some he only limited, instead of recording only his activities, he shooted other athletes and sporting events around the world.
Last year Vuckovic has worked in 24 different countries. This year, a little less, in 21, “But the year is not over yet,” he says. Being active in extreme sports was tremendous advantage over his colleagues, hence his photographs are a bit more remarkable. To come to some locations for shooting, it was necessary to have snowbord, motorcycle, bicycle, climbing and underwater equipment… sometimes he even actively participate in sports during the photoshooting event.
“I know extreme sports much better than my colleagues, and the mindset of people who practise them. On the other hand, some of my skills have helped me to get to the places where other photographers cannot go. That allows me to make a photograph different from the other photographers.”
Thanks to the flood that struck Belgrade in 2005, Vuckovic became the official photographer of the Red Bull for the whole world. He recalls that during that flood, all the streets in the city were under water. It was, apparently, a real challenge for him and his friends. In agreement with the friends who worked for Red Bull at that time, they organized an unusual event in the city – wakeboarding, the riders that glide on the board across the water surface and who are usually pulled by a boat or a cable railway, they pulled with the jeep. “wakeboarders surfed between buses, cars… I made pictures that have traveled the world overnight. Photos went to Red Bull, and they were more than satisfied, and surprised with the event and photographs. That’s how it all started.”
Then a lot bigger and better things began in life of Predrag Vuckovic, and one of the greatest, perhaps even the greatest of his career, was the opportunity to photoshoot the Austrian Felix Baumgartner jump from the stratosphere within the “Red Bull Stratos” project. And no, not Vuckovic, nor the other two photographers who have worked with him on the project, were not recording Felix from space. “It’s always a question from what position I photographed him. The point of Felix’s jump was not only that leap. We have created history through photographs.” During the project, the task of Vuckovic and his colleagues, was to take pictures of team of 15 scientists who worked on the project, the current record holder Joe Kittinger… We had to catch every detail, preparation, capsule, suit…
“I went to America six times last year to record the tests, training, so that we may have special training ourselves, where to move and how, what to do… before the final jump from 39 kilometers, we carried out the test jumps – from 21 and 29 kilometers. Felix was the main actor in everything, and we followed his every move, through the restaurant, gym, his house… One of the three of us was always there where Felix stayed”, says Vuckovic. On the day when Baumgartner jumped from the edge of space, Predrag had shot his preparation, dressing, testing the capsule. When Felix was ready for launching, Vuckovic was responsible for the first footage from the air – when launching the balloon, and when Felix was landing on Earth, while in the parachute, of his arrival. “No one was with him up there, everything was done by automatic cameras which were controlled from the ground, and it was the responsibility of NASA experts. Photos made in the air were triggered by remote controls. Only Felix was up.” Work on the Red Bull Stratos project, as he says, was the biggest he has ever been involved in, and at least for the time being Predrag cannot imagine a bigger project. “Judging by the complexity it is certainly the biggest thing I had done and what I will ever do. We chatted among ourselves that most likely as long as we live anything like that won’t happen again. Although, you never know. I do not like to be explicit in this, but it is very difficult to overcome something like that. This was one very big and expensive project.” The biggest, but not the hardest. The hardest project in his career Vuckovic stands out the Antarctic expedition, where he spent 35 days during which he made photographs of Valery Rozov in winning the mountain top Holtana (on 2,650 meters). “We slept in tents, in temperatures that ranged between minus 18 and minus 30 degrees, with no heating, showering and normal conditions for living, where the day lasts 24 hours, there is no night, you lie down tired, wake up tired, where you have to be constantly physically active to stay warmed up.”
The extremity of the situation in which he should make photographs, is never a reason for Vuckovic to refuse a job. He refuses a job if the shootings are matching dates or if he is tired. “There were moments when I was absolutely worn down from it all and I had no energy or strength to travel somewhere far away. Airplanes and airports are the hardest part of my job. However, I never said NO to the extremity of the conditions in which I was supposed to work.”
Vuckovic never returns from the task with unfinished business, as he says, and that is starting to create quite a lot of pressure, because sometimes it is not easy to make a photograph.
“Sometimes you literally have a second or a fraction of a second to make a photo and you have to be ready. If you miss it and come back without a photo, that particular event did not even happen,” he says. Despite the pressure, he is pushing forward. What will be the motives of his photographs when he is no longer young and in full strength for some extreme conditions shooting, perhaps is too early to say. He admits that he is not considering that at the moment…
“As any athlete don’t lasts forever, some of my skills won’t forever be at peak performance. I’ll probably opt for a more peaceful things.”
A calmer thing could be, as he says, the underwater photography. “For 20 years I practise scuba diving and I am also a scuba diving instructor. I also do underwater photography, so I think that’s something that I will always find attractive. It is much quieter, and has its own challenges and the person can be engaged in this activity for quite a while.”
The field work about the canyon guide book in Montenegro and Serbia, that Vuckovic and his Extreme Canyoning team are engaged is at halfway.
“In Montenegro there are canyons that people have never heard of, where I went and that we visit, some of them we discovered first,” says Predrag about their main reasons for visiting Montenegro.
The canyons are mostly full of water, there are extreme conditions – you should get there safely, take the adequat equipment. There are a lot of people who deal with canyoning, but are not involved in photography, he says. Vuckovic combines in canyons the love for two of his photographic techniques – underwater and regular photo shooting. Through this love he brings to the public the locations otherwise invisible to the human eye.
Over the past three weeks his team visited three Montenegrin canyons: Nozice, Bogutovski potok and canyon Grlja.
Through the canyon Grlja in mountains Prokletije they passed in a period when this is not recommended.
“The canyon was extremely full of water and is generally not recommended to go then, and in those conditions. We decided and we picked that period, physically we were preparing for it. Entire walkthrough lasted for seven hours, and six hours we were in the water at a temperature of only six degrees”.
There are canyons that are hard to cross, and there are those that anyone can cross. Canyon Nevidio is one of those, he says, and he visited it ten times already this year.
The first to cross through canyon Nevidio were members of the PDS Javorak from Niksic in 1965. It has long been said that Nevidio is the place where only those who are physically capable and skilled can go. This summer through Nevidio has passed Damir Petkovski from Bor who can’t swim, and the 80-year-old Krsto Kico Martinovic from Novljan.
“Nevidio Canyon is spectacular, but not terrible,” said Vuckovic and adding that through Nevidio “absolutely everyone can pass.”
For the canyon through which flows the river Komarnica, he says, is not necessary to have technical equipment, unlike some other more serious canyons.
“We like to say that Nevidio is like a water park and that’s it.”
DOES THE CAMERA MAKES THE PHOTOGRAPHER?
Those who believe that purchasing a good camera can make them a good photographer, says Vuckovic, are not photographers or have no idea about professional photography.
“The camera does not make the photographer,” he adds. Definition is difficult to give. A good photographer, says Vuckovic, is a collection of many things. He must have talent, know the conditions in which he photoshoots and must learn to choose and learn the equipment. In addition, it is important to know what you are about to photograph, whether it is an athlete, what he or she is doing, what to expect, you need a good planning of the photoshooting…
“There is so much, it is very difficult to define in one sentence. But when all these segments are packed in whole, then a good photograph is made. That is something one must work on”.
Text: Damira Kalač