This article first appeared in the February, 2018 print issue of Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine.
“1961 — five Bavarian mountaineers, all in their mid-twenties, take a daredevil trip. An adventure trip to Afghanistan. Target: the Hindu Kush. A mountain in which hardly any Bavarian had ever been. It was a pioneering act, a hussar piece, nothing less.”
Reading the translation of an article written in German by Stefan Sessler titled, Traunstein, Hindu Kush a Journey to Happiness, I’m filled with thoughts steeped in sepia of a“mountain fairytale from the Arabian nights.” I’m imagining a VW bus packed with five good friends plus gear travelling 7,600 kilometres into Afghanistan. There is a green adventurer’s anorak (all of this very contemporary at the time) worn by a young man named Karl Brenner. With him there is a movie camera he uses to capture images of “mountain peaks, alien landscapes and nomadic caravans.” At age 77, he is reflecting on his visual documentation from a different time “when Afghans still knew peace.” This man and these images belong to a piece of someone else’s origin story. Like some wild innocent seed that got passed between generations. A grandfather gifted their grandson the inherent legacy — go make pictures while happily hunting horizons.
I caught up with local photographer Vincent Schnabl over pint at La Baguette to finally ask about where his adventure chronicles began. When I first met Vince, I knew him through mutual friends; he was a bartender at the time, another fresh face discovering all things influential in Revelstoke. On the ski hill it was clear he possessed a certain athletic finesse, the kind that frees a person to huck their bones into back flips with skis on. We connected over social media and from here I learned he was also a bit of a romantic with the camera — he seemed unusually motivated to wake up when everyone else was sleeping to take pictures cast in first light. He’d go out on missions to catch a particular landscape he was curious about at sunrise and would then share these findings with the rest of us. He began to reach out and connect more and more with his photographs and has welcomed friends, acquaintances and strangers to go with him to the places he’d share in his gallery. Like many others who saw this art take hold early on, I have been following along to see where the evolution of his photography might take him.
Sarah j Spurr: Who is Vincent Schnabl? What are your roots?
That’s a long story, but I’ll give you the short version. I’m actually born in Africa, which is a fun fact most people might not know about me. My dad is Austrian and my mom is German. We lived in Germany until I was four years old and then moved to British Columbia in 1996. Aside from travelling, I have lived in Western Canada ever since.
Since I was a child I have always been active and on the move. I spent many years competing in track and field as well as ski racing. After suffering an injury that never quite healed the same, I no longer enjoyed competing and was, honestly, a little lost. I moved back home and tried to sort out my life. I had always loved skiing and the mountains growing up so I decided to apply to ski resorts around B.C. and by happy coincidence I ended up here in Revelstoke. It’s definitely nicknamed Revelstuck for a reason, and not just because it snows so much that the highway closes. This is an outdoor lover’s paradise. I spend most of my free time in the winter skiing, ski touring and summers hiking and climbing, but there are so many sports and activities I still want to get into. I love having all of these options right outside my door.
His father is a bricklayer and his mother a goldsmith. When he was born, his parents were living in Namibia while his mother pursued an apprenticeship abroad in the early years of learning her craft. Fast forward to now, Vince has been working on and off under the same masonry trade as his father; however, he’s found himself following that strange pull towards refining his own creative calling. He alludes to how, among many other places, a career in photography could one day even lead him full circle back to Africa.
SS: When did your photography practice begin? Was there a certain image or destination that stands out as the “Ah Ha!” moment that started it all?
There is definitely a destination that started my passion for photography. In 2014, I moved to Lake Louise for the summer to live and work. Any time I had off was spent hiking and exploring the area with friends. At the time, I only had my cellphone to take photos with, but I always enjoyed documenting my experiences, especially the beautiful landscapes in the Rockies. I liked it so much that one day I made the trip to Calgary and bought my first DSLR with a kit lens. I had a few friends who were already into photography show me how to use it and I’ve been learning ever since.
How long have you been working towards building your portfolio, skill set and style?
I would say that I have been shaping my photography for the last four years, ever since I got my first camera. However, within the last year it has grown from something that was just a hobby to more of a semi-professional level with the hope of one day making a living out of it.
This to me doesn’t feel like a long time because I think photographers and artists spend a lifetime developing new skills, improving their style and expanding their portfolio. I’m constantly finding new inspirations, editing techniques, watching tutorials, etc. There are so many things to learn and paths you could take, with the rapid increase of technology it’s a non-stop process.
What were your earliest pieces of gear and how did you maximize these to the fullest before looking for more or investing in any upgrades?
My first personal gear would have been the camera on my cell phone. It’s crazy how far technology has come that we have a pretty good camera with us at all times in our pocket. From taking photos with it and editing them with apps I quickly realized I wanted to pursue photography further.
My first DSLR was a Nikon D5200 with an 18–55mm kit lens. I used this for most of the time I lived in Lake Louise. It was a perfect camera to learn the basics of shooting in manual mode. I’ve taken photos with this camera that I still enjoy to this day, even with all the upgrades in gear and improvements in editing I have made.
From here I have slowly progressed through the Nikon line of cameras to their more professional grade cameras and lenses. Investing in good glass (lenses), in my opinion, is better than getting a new camera because you can always buy a new camera body when you feel you’ve outgrown it and use the same lenses you already have.
I’ve definitely fallen into the trap of wanting and needing the best gear because I thought it would improve my photography, when really you should spend as much time utilizing and learning with what you have.
Once I for sure knew I wanted to take this more seriously is when I invested in the more specific gear I have now.
You’ve been sharing a timeline of images with us, often stunning large scale landscapes from your travels. Is it a creative motivation that now guides you when choosing a destination or is it the physical challenge in reaching these places? Where has your camera led you recently?
I would say it’s both of these things when I choose a destination to visit, but I also just really enjoy travelling and love to see new places. This November I went on a trip to Nepal for five weeks. We did a trek called the Three Passes in the Everest region as well as the hike to basecamp along the way. I had heard this is the area to go for beautiful landscapes, this absolutely influenced my decision to go to here. It was also one of the most challenging treks I’ve done because it was my first time experiencing this much altitude.
Where do you see yourself going. This year/beyond?
This year I would like to keep pushing myself as much as possible to get out there. It feels like little by little everything is falling into place. I’ve spent a while learning the photography side of things and now I think it’s time to learn more about the business aspect of it. The ultimate dream, of course, is to be able to turn it into my only profession and experience and travel the world while doing so.
In July you reached 2,000 followers through your Instagram profile and now you have a dedicated following of over 4,000. How does this social sharing platform fuel your desire to create. How does it work for you?
Instagram is an amazing tool for sharing photos with the world. It’s fast, it’s easy and I don’t know many people in my generation who don’t use it. With an astounding amount of over 700 million daily users in 2017, it’s a great way to help get your name out there. There are so many inspiring and amazing people you can follow. It can really be geared towards what you want to see with your profile.
I have to admit, it can be pretty addicting and I have certainly been guilty of spending too much time on social media. I try to limit the time I spend on the app now and designate times to focus on it.
Whose work do you admire or look up to?
I do have many people whose work and what they stand for I admire greatly. Wildlife photographers such as Paul Nicklen, who has dedicated his life to wildlife and ocean conservation, tells beautiful stories through his photos of threatened animals. Adventure lifestyle photographers and movie makers such as Chris Burkard, Jimmy Chin and Cory Richards have also motivated me to get out there and to do more. The beautiful artsy landscapes that Daniel Kordan captures never seize to amaze me.
Any wisdom to share from one picture taker to another?
My biggest advice would be to never stop chasing the light (my favourite time to shoot photos is early in the morning) and to always stay true to your style. I was watching an episode of Bob Ross’s the Joy of Painting one day and I remember him saying something along the lines of, “If everyone painted the same way the end result would always be the same and that would be a pretty boring world, wouldn’t it?”
I think the same thing when it comes to photography, as long as it makes you happy and you enjoy your photos, I wouldn’t worry too much about what anyone else thinks of them.
Last winter he took us skiing in Japan, this year to trek Nepal, and he has his heart set on future endeavours like getting a van of his own and heading for those promising landscapes of the United States. If you ask anyone who knows Vince they’ll say he gets out there to get after it, he’s up for good company and always looking towards the good times. Vince invites you to follow his lens or get in touch if you’d like to join for an adventure, collaborate on a photo project or own a print.
Begin your collection — hang on to this month’s cover shot!