Mountain country is a beacon for outdoor adventurers—for skiers and snowboarders, bikers and hikers, fly fishermen and fisherwomen. Set against a backdrop of brilliant blue sky, emerald forest, and craggy peaks, it lures dreamers and lovers of creative expression too.
Most would-be travelers learn of Breckenridge from its storytellers—the writers and imagemakers whose work, shared broadly and widely, capture the imaginations of so many. Chief among them are four local photographers whose work has immortalized the high country for decades.
Carl Scofield has been telling the Breckenridge story from behind the camera lens for nearly 40 years. Like so many longtime locals, he moved to the mountains to ski, waiting tables to support his habit before transitioning to full-time photographer around 1984-85. Back then, in addition to assignment and editorial work for magazines, the bulk of his work was in stock photography— mountain scenics and lifestyle shots leased for use in print brochures. He got his first real break after shooting some ski events—among them the Freestyle World Cup, back when “freestyle” meant moguls, ski ballet, and aerials—which turned into a long-term gig doing promotional work for the ski area.
“I’ve made my living as an assignment photographer,” explained Scofield, who has done “a little bit of everything” from “food to fashion to aerial shots from helicopters to ski action sports and editorial work for magazines.” These days he shoots a lot of high-end architecture, events, and pretty much anything else that is sent his way. He has one client that manufactures chairlifts who hires him to travel around to photograph new chairlifts.
“I’ve had to continually reinvent it over the years,” he said, to keep pace with changes like the transition from film to digital, and the decline of stock photography as an income source. “I’ve managed to stay in business by being very fair and honest. I’m very proud I’m still working with the same clients I started working with 30 years ago.”
One of his latest ventures is a foray into fine art and décor in the form of colorful, abstract “digital mosaics,” created with layers of original photographs and brush effects, and printed on metal with flush-mount frames. “I’m starting to get a little traction with those,” he said, describing a series of commissions he created to fit the size, décor, and needs of a prominent resort property at the behest of a longtime client. “I pride myself on what I can produce for clients,” he said. “After years of being a commercial assignment photographer, I’m very comfortable with meeting clients’ needs.”
In recent years, Scofield has indulged his inner artist more and more, finding himself drawn to compose images about “time and entropy and ‘wabi-sabi’—the perfect imperfectness of being.” In one series, he captures “peeling and decaying paint,” he explained, “that in the end to me looks like a really interesting abstract painting—just a product of time and weather and age. It reminds us of our impermanence, and also the beauty of decline and decay.”
Only recently has he begun showing his more challenging images, starting with his first show of abstract work in 2014, prompted by Breckenridge Creative Arts (BCA), at the renovated Gallery@ BRK in Breckenridge Theater. “That opened the door for me. It was very reaffirming and gave me the confidence to continue to pursue some of the art that I’m doing now and getting recognized for,” he said.
Scofield has also appreciated the opportunity to shoot for BCA—an organization he watched from the early vantage point of resident artist at the new Breckenridge Arts District. “His vision has been so much bigger than any of us might have imagined,” he said of its CEO, Robb Woulfe. “He’s done so much more than just getting the campus moving—the scale and scope and variety of art that he’s brought to the community has been tremendous.”
For Scofield, telling the story of Breckenridge as a creative community for BCA involves “creative license to do things very differently,” whether he’s working “with colors and motion and reflections” or telling a narrative story. “I’m encouraged to do it as creatively as I can,” he said. “That’s a very refreshing perspective to try to bring to an assignment.”
“I am blessed and grateful and thankful to have been able to live in this tremendous community, and create such an awesome, fascinating lifestyle working with my camera,” he added. “It’s been a dream come true.”
As staff photographer for BCA’s /krē’āt/ magazine, Liam Doran has also appreciated the opportunity to shoot the creative community— an assignment he admitted was out of his wheelhouse as an outdoor sports photographer. “To shoot something out of your comfort zone makes you better,” he said. “It has helped me grow as a photographer.”
Often, he is to be found somewhere around the globe shooting professional skiers, most recently in Chile, Switzerland, and Canada. “I usually work with 1-3 athletes,” he explained. “We go out and set up shots. Sometimes we find a beautiful area we like and we farm it. I get skier one, move a little, get skier two, reset, and skier one comes in again, and skier two comes in again—that way we maximize the number of shots we can get in perfectly fresh snow. You’ll never see another track in any of my photography; it’s always 100% fresh.”
An avid skier who grew up in Denver and hit the mountains on weekends and holidays with his family, Doran moved to Summit County in 1996-97 and started shooting in 2001-02, transitioning to full-time photographer around 2008. Since then he has built a resume of high profile clients, among them “Powder,” “Outside,” and “Patagonia.”
“I am a storyteller,” he said. “That’s probably the main reason I get hired for most of my jobs. I’m good at telling the full, well-rounded story, not just the extreme stuff but all of the travel aspects—the food, the après ski, the portraits and landscapes. That’s what I do best—tell the entire story of a trip or an adventure we do.”
While the core of his business is ski photography, he also shoots mountain biking, fishing, kayaking, backpacking, landscapes, and wildlife. His favorite subjects are “basically anything I can do in Breckenridge,” he said. “I’m most happy when I’m shooting outside.”
“I’m an active participant in all the sports that I shoot,” he added. “It’s very different than football, baseball, and hockey. Whereas those guys shoot from the sidelines, I am actively doing all the things the athletes are doing, with a 40-pound pack.”
As a Sigma pro photographer, Doran also travels around the country giving presentations on outdoor photography, sharing “what we do, how outdoor photographers make the images we make, and how we survive, business-wise,” he said. He likes to joke that he got into outdoor photography “out of pure fear of having a desk job.”
In Breckenridge, Doran likes to walk into town from Warriors Mark with his kids to take part in BCA festivals and activities at the Breckenridge Arts District. “I’ve been here 22 years. When I moved here there was no Arts District, no creative scene. It has come a long way. I’m really excited about where it is.”
If there’s one story Joe Kusumoto likes to tell, it’s that of adaptive sports. He worked with the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center for years, and traveled to shoot every Paralympic Games since Athens in 2004. “I love getting that story out there—about these elite athletes and what they are able to do,” he said.
Locally, he enjoys capturing the “other” side of Summit—not just the ski town story, but “the other things that are happening in our community,” from the good works of The Summit Foundation to the “diverse mix of artists and performances” BCA brings. “It means a lot to me to have that diversity,” Kusumoto said, naming the Aztec dancers at BCA’s Día de los Muertos celebration. “Getting the chance to be involved in that, and shooting that, is one of the things I value greatly.”
Kusumoto makes a living by tackling a wide range of subjects—including public events, weddings, local sports, portraits, and architecture. “Up here in Summit County it works out to do a bunch of different things,” he said. “I enjoy that. It keeps things interesting.”
He went to school for architecture, so he enjoys shooting it, and “looking at spaces.” The same interest underlies his fascination with events like Trail Mix, a series of art and musical installations on local trails presented as part of the Breckenridge International Festival of Arts. “I’ve always been drawn to the interaction of the built environment with nature—our human interaction with nature,” he said.
Kusumoto grew up with photography. His dad had a darkroom in their house, and a camera club at the Veterans Affairs hospital where he worked. Later, Kusumoto worked for his school paper. He came to Summit County in 1997, and taught photography classes for Colorado Mountain College in the early 2000’s before opening his business in 2004. For the most part, he has stopped shooting film, and primarily uses a digital camera. “I say that with a little bit of sadness because I miss it,” he admitted.
He really values the local community of photographers. “I think building relationships with each other, helping each other out, and helping folks who are interested in working in photography … is an important thing,” he said. “There’s enough for all of us to do that we can support each other and really have a thriving community of colleagues.”
One of those up-and-comers is Jenise Jensen, who is quick to credit Kusumoto and other photographers in the county for their help, whether in the form of advice or selling her their used gear.
Jensen began to pursue her interest in photography in earnest a few years ago. “Summit County has some amazing things to experience,” she said. “I kind of fell in love with the fox families in Breckenridge—all the baby foxes in the springtime. It really motivated me to learn more about photography so I could capture some of these amazing images.”
Although she initially dabbled in blogging, she discovered she preferred to tell stories through photographs. “There are so many great stories here—whether the amazing mountains and skiing or wildlife or great concerts in Summit County where you can have an intimate experience with musicians that you don’t get in big cities,” she said. “I think we are very lucky.”
Jensen started out volunteering her services taking pictures for BCA, driving to the Front Range for advanced photography classes, and interning with a local band—anything to build her skill and experience. Working with the band broadened her horizons, she said, the challenge inspiring an interest in stage and concert photography, and the attention to lighting quality dynamics and specialized equipment required to capture it.
She got her first real break photographing the music industry with the Grammy-winning band Ozomatli, when they came to Breckenridge as part of BCA programming. She’d first heard them in Breckenridge in 2006. “They blew me away, so I researched them,” she said. “Besides being Grammy winners, they were cultural ambassadors for the U.S. State Department. I liked their music, but I also like their social activism. I have a lot of respect for Ozomatli.” After Breckenridge, the band invited Jensen to shoot them at Red Rocks Amphitheatre—and her career has blossomed since. “They gave me a chance,” she said.
Now she regularly finds herself at Red Rocks and other large Front Range venues with an allaccess pass, having been hired by bands, management companies, publicists, or venues. “I still don’t enjoy going onstage,” she said. “Especially at Red Rocks, I’m hiding behind the speakers trying to stay out of the way. There’s a reason I’m behind the camera.”
Still, she makes a point to encourage other female photographers. “Especially in media or concert photography, there are very few females. It’s a very intimidating environment,” she said. “If you are shooting for newspapers or magazines, you get the first three songs from what’s called the pit in front of the stage. The photographers I talk with are always like, ‘How did you get stage access, how did you do that?’ I tell them to keep working on it. It’s just like anything else you do—you have to keep practicing, stick with it, and you can get there. I was in their shoes, only shooting from the pit,” she reflected. “It’s not like I’m photographing Lady Gaga at the Pepsi Center—but I’d like to, so I’m still working and I’m still learning.”
In her BCA work, Jensen enjoys trying to capture images that “show something in a different light, from a different perspective,” whether that means deciding to shoot from ground level or eye level. She also enjoys capturing people’s facial expressions—“those moments when they are enjoying the art.”
“It all goes back to storytelling,” she said. “That’s what I like.”
Photos by Liam Doran, Joe Kusumoto, Jenise Jensen and Carl Scofield