Climbing through harsh terrains, adjusting to inclement weather and witnessing death-defying acts may be hard for most people to stomach. But it’s all in a day’s work for extreme photographer, Ian Webb, known as rastaschas on Flickr.
“I really love going to places where people don’t get a chance to travel,” he tells The Weekly Flickr in the accompanying video. “I also share the same passion for photography and combining the two has taken me to places I could have never really have imagined.”
Ian always enjoyed photography, but only started to take it seriously a few years ago. In 2008, he was living in France and took a few photos at the end of one stage of the Tour de France in Toulouse. He uploaded them to Flickr and a couple days later, he discovered one of his photos was featured on the Flickr blog. In an instant, his inbox was flooded with hundreds of emails and weeks later another one of his photos was published in the French sports magazine, L’Equipe.
“All the attention to my Tour de France photos really led to me becoming more interested in photography and improving my skills,” Ian says. “I started exploring Flickr in a huge way, creating new relationships with contacts and finding a huge amount of inspiration from their personal pages.”
In 2010, Ian moved to China to work as a language teacher. At the time, photography was still a hobby, but he was very passionate about it. He’d often go out on the streets of Beijing, capturing daily life and taking stunning photographs. Following a lesson one day, one of his students revealed she was a general manager at Red Bull and asked to look at his work. She became particularly interested in his New Year’s Day series, which documented New Year’s celebrations in Beijing.
“She told me she really liked the atmosphere of the photographs,” Ian recalls. “It wasn’t just your typical plain, documentary-style photograph. There was more there. She said she could actually feel the emotion coming out of the images just by looking at them. This ultimately paved the way for Red Bull China to hire me to photograph the Chinese Badminton team during the 2012 Olympics in London.”
Following the Olympics, Red Bull China contracted with Ian to capture sports events and shoots throughout the country. The most dangerous sport he has photographed has been wingsuit flying.
“One of the most difficult wingsuit photographs I’ve ever taken was of an American flyer called Jeb Corliss,” Ian says. “He was going to fly through a very narrow and long ravine in the south of China. I was actually positioned at the exit of where he would fly out from. I was waiting and waiting for such a long time in the wind and the rain… not knowing if he was actually going to fly, not knowing if he was going to jump, where he was he going to jump, etc. Finally I saw him come through this crack for like literally one or two seconds and I managed to get out a few shots. It was really pretty much some kind of miracle that I got the photograph I was after. It’s probably one of the proudest moments I’ve had as a photographer; the memory of it was incredible.”
Ian said that his strongest photographs have come from spontaneous moments shot on location. One example was the Gobi Desert Trek. His original plan was to travel with other photographers in four wheel-drive cars, and occasionally stop to take shots of competing teams as they made their way through the desert each day. The night before it was supposed to start, he was convinced to take part in the trek, despite having no gear.
“I had the cheapest shoes that you could buy,” Ian recalls. “For the next four days, I found myself walking through the Gobi carrying all my camera gear, as well as water and food. Temperatures up to around forty degrees [Celsius], dust and sand storms, the like. It was some of the toughest photography I’ve ever done, but some of the most beautiful.”
Last year, Ian went to Lake Khanka in Northeastern China to document a kung fu movie. The region, he says, was completely frozen over, resembling the North Pole.
“In one of the scenes, the actor, Yue Song, had to do some kung fu in the water,” Ian says. “The outside temperature was somewhere around minus fifteen Celsius. Yue was in the water for four minutes. Within ten or fifteen seconds, my thumb, which was operating exposure and focus, had gone completely numb. The other four fingers, I could’ve used to operate the shutter [became numb too], so I couldn’t tell if I was focusing or pressing the shutter at all. But I carried on flapping around my fingers until Yue finished, jumped out of the water, and ran to a big fire nearby.”
“I love the challenge of this kind of work,” Ian says. “Red Bull has events that push the human body, mind and spirit to a new level. There have been many moments over the last couple of years where I have just found myself standing on top of a mountain or wherever and think, ‘What am I doing here?’ But it just kind of fills me with an extraordinary amount of excitement for what I’m doing and the potential for what I can do in the future. It’s a job that I wouldn’t exchange for any other in the world.”
Visit Ian’s photostream to see more of his photography.