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Glints of Inspiration – My Sanctuary in Solitude

Photographer Kevin Lange gives us a peek behind the lens of his creative process.

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The following story first appeared in the fall 2021 print issue of Beta. To get print, sign up to be a Beta Pass or Outside+ member. Membership details HERE.


My career in photography began many years ago with an education in Moving Image Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, followed by the pursuit of film while living in Los Angeles. After chugging through a self-produced feature-length 35mm film, as well as working with Sony ImageWorks VFX, I realized the logistics of a large production were stifling what I loved most about making images. Something has always appealed to me about taking the time to remark on something visually, no matter how transcendent or mundane.

I admire expertly and artistically produced images of faraway places with exceptional athletes and capable crews. These demonstrate an apex of production in mountain bike riding, photography, and videography. Bangers are beautiful in their own right, yet there is far more to our shared endeavor. I ask myself, “What do I bring? From where I am, what does riding mean to me?” With mountain bikes, we are given a tool that allows us not only a collective pastime, but a means to better understand our own nature. With an open-hearted perspective, we can acknowledge the sense of purpose that can be found in our riding. It can make us better human beings. My photo- graphs aim to inspire the willing observer by illuminating mountain biking’s soulful profundity. It is as real as mountains, dust, and wind.

The pursuit of a unique personal aesthetic has always driven me. Adapting my photographic aspirations to my life is an ongoing process. There were days when I traveled more frequently and rode exotic locations, reveling in the dopamine-drenched satisfaction of intense, fresh experience. But once our daughter arrived six years ago, I consciously focused my life, riding experiences, and photographic style closer to home. Shooting in far- flung destinations with pro athletes is not an essential element for success as a mountain bike photographer. This isn’t what defines the sport—our pursuit to illustrate how riding makes us feel is what brings meaning to the form.

Some of my best work comes when I turn intently upon where I am and what I am doing. On some days, that means running laps on a perfect ribbon of desert singletrack as the crystalline-gold New Mexico light fades to dusk. Those solo interval sessions of lung-busting self portraits provide some of the most powerful and satisfying experiences in my life. Perhaps I never feel more alive than when depleted by a creative effort made in the cradle of earthen reality. Solitude is of- ten a requisite for this unburdened sanctuary.

Photo: Kevin Lange

On other days, my mountain bike photography takes a deep assessment of my immediate surroundings. Whether in the garage or my makeshift studio, pondering the elements of mountain biking provides a nuanced and introspective view of our sport. For instance, a chain is simply a chain. Yet it is within a chain’s ornate expression of a simple concept that we are able to turn our wheels. When I allow myself, such ideas are at least interesting, and at best, spiritual. These notions orbit in my mind when I approach my mountain bike in detail. What I hope results are visual modes that harness the energy of the human/mountain bike interface. These creations, with the mountain bike’s esoteric shapes and forms, are exclusively for the mountain bike community. The potential for a connection via the printed page inspires me to keep seeking our abstract commonalities as mountain bikers.

When homebound, my pre-vis grids allow me to turn vague daydreams into image mis- sions. Harkening to motion picture production storyboards, these simple pieces of paper let me note inspiration before it disappears. The key contributor to my notes is a diligent, independent, abstract observation. For example, I consider sprockets to become increasingly analogous to mountains as they wear and tear over the course of uncounted miles. I note on my grid, “Sprocket teeth as mountain ridge. ECU. Blue-ish WB. Cross light.” These simple notes provide reference for my intended outcome. A macro lens is used to isolate the teeth, the blue white balance to suggest alpine environments, and cross light to emulate the vagaries of light and shadow on mountain ridges. Yet none of these ideas occur without opening myself to enthusiastic curiosity. I am willing to expound upon what may initially seem trivial to reveal an engaging depth.

My pre-vis grids allow me to turn vague daydreams into image mis- sions. Harkening to motion picture production storyboards, these simple pieces of paper let me note inspiration before it disappears.

The cross-pollination of my technical knowledge and philosophical inspiration must intermingle at the outset. Another grid note reads, “Wretched tree on SFH low route. Diminutive rider overwhelmed by tree.” In this instance, my notes clearly are defining a metaphor for the human and nature interface. Shades of climate change and environment weave their way in. There is wisdom in this familiar tree’s patina. Mountain biking is as much about suffering and intensity as it is about how nature enriches us. I unequivocally open my- self to the soul of the ride and the atmosphere of the moment to be created. The tree illustration reminds me of technical points: this will be a low-angle, wide-angle shot requiring a large depth of field to hold both tree and rider in focus. Ultimately, I can fuse the information when it is time to create the photograph.

There is a wealth of information in the simplicity of the pre-vis grids. Sometimes all I get is a glint of inspiration. When I take the time to make note, sometimes the glint evolves into an expansive moment of perfect light.