It seems like every time I go to Sweden to photograph dog mushing, I get this question. It started last year when Michelle and I went to Slussfors, Sweden to go on a backcountry dog mushing trip with Petter Karlsson Sleddogs. We were their first visitors from Alaska. And this year, when I returned, I had a few people ask me again, “You have dog mushing in Alaska. Why come all the way to Sweden?” I suppose that is a good question.
I have been living in Alaska for over eighteen years. Certainly, in that time, I have seen and photographed dog mushing. From photographing the Iditarod, to spending time with a National Park Service ranger at a winter base camp in Gates of the Arctic National Park with his nine-dog team, to photographing clients at summer dog mushing camps on glaciers, I have had many opportunities.
But growing as a photographer means stepping outside of the familiar to explore and find new sources of inspiration. And, for me, that has also always been part of being a human being. One of the great gifts of being in the Navy was being provided the opportunity to travel. Being homeported first in Guam, I had the opportunity to visit Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea, and the Philippines. Later, when I deployed to the Persian Gulf, I was able to visit Thailand, Singapore, Sri Lanka, and Bahrain. After the Navy, as I grew as a photographer, I increasingly enjoyed traveling.
While still exploring Alaska, I have set out to explore the broader circumpolar Arctic. Part of that exploration includes examining unique landscapes that differ from Alaska, like many parts of Iceland, but aspects where similarity can be found. Certain parts of life in the Arctic cross boundaries, like reindeer herding and dog mushing. I cannot explore and tell the full story of dog mushing if I stick to just Alaskan mushers. Not all mushers are alike. Many of the guides and handlers I spoke to while spending a week at Petter Karlsson Sleddogs in Slussfors had worked for several mushers, across Alaska, Canada, Sweden and Norway. It was clear from talking to them that there are a lot of differences among mushes, and that Petter was perhaps the best that any of them had ever worked for, in both the quality of the kennel and the work ethic of the musher.
So, there is the aspect of meeting someone I could not meet in Alaska. But there are the differences of life in Sweden compared to life in Alaska that are part of the experience. I learned that Petter’s father, Roland, is a rather efficient moose hunter. While moose hunting is not foreign to the Alaska experience, how they hunt moose in Sweden is. Roland has a moose hunting dog. These dogs are specially trained, and are used to keep a moose at bay while the hunteris able to get lined up for a shot. My visits to Sweden have also helped me to learn about the Sami culture, which I could not have done if I remained home.
And traveling to Sweden has helped to broaden my understanding of dog mushing culture. Had I not visited Sweden last year, I would never have learned about the longest race in Europe, the Finnmarksløpet. And now, I will plan on photographing that race in 2019, which will allow me the opportunity to explore northern Norway in a way that no other Alaskan or even American photographer does.
And that brings the final component to answering the question of “why.” I don’t want to do what other photographers are doing. I see the same people going out to photograph the same subjects all the time. Going to the other side of the planet to photograph dog mushing allows me to explore new subjects and new locations that expand my experience and set me aside from others.