Garrett Cortese has recently been creating a photography portfolio on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/garrettcortesephotography. He has been documenting the sport for over 10 years, and what a progressive time the last decade of wakeboarding and wakeskating has been. Garrett, the current editor if Alliance Magazine, has always brought fresh content and articles that myself and many other have enjoyed reading for years. Garrett is so humble about his work and isn’t one to blow smoke up his own ….. I realized that after all the years of him sending me questions about my life that I had never sent him any questions. So I sent him some and he replied like the legend he is. Enjoy getting to know Garrett better and stay tuned to his FB portfolio..
How did a camera land in you hands and become your passion?
I remember being a kid and always enjoying taking pictures on family vacations and stuff. My dad had an old Konica SLR from the ’60′s that he taught me how to use when I was probably 12 or 13. When I started subscribing to magazines like Powder and WakeBoarding back in ’95ish is when I really wanted to pursue photography. You know how some kids rip out photos of their favorite riders to put on their walls? I didn’t care who the rider was, I was ripping out the photos I thought looked the coolest, haha. I was basically one of those kids that had an idea of what I wanted to do very early on and it sort of worked out. Literally in my high school yearbooks there are notes from my friends saying one day your name will be in the corner of photos in WakeBoarding magazine… Persistence, preparation, and luck can be a good combo, I guess.
Was it a goal from day one to become a full time photographer?
I always wanted to focus on photography, but I wanted to be able to write and do other things for a magazine, too. I remember seeing articles in magazines that said “words and photos by…” and I thought that was the coolest thing ever. I’ve really enjoyed being able to be more hands on with Alliance, rather than just getting an assignment and shooting it. I really like coming up with a plan for an issue, working with writers and photographers to make it happen, and getting to shoot on my own, as well.
How did your Job with Alliance Magazine come about?
In 2002 I had just finished my second year of college and was heading home to California for summer break. The student newspaper at my college was cool enough, or maybe dumb enough, to loan me some of its cool equipment. It was a nice Canon digital SLR and a couple pro level lenses. Every time I went riding with my buddies I would try to take really good looking photos of them. I even bought one of those EWA-Marine plastic bag water housings so I could try to shoot from a tube. After a while I decided to try to send some pictures to Bill and Tony at Alliance and see if they would give me the time of day. They were really cool and receptive to me sending stuff in, I was one of the first photographers to send them all digital files and we had conversations about the quality of digital files back then and how to best handle them for print and stuff. I was able to meet Bill at a Malibu Open contest in Sacramento and he introduced me to some of the pros on the Delta at the time – Josh Smith, Rich Facciano, etc. The next weekend I met up with those guys and Ricky Gonzalez and did a shoot. One of the shots of Rich ended up running as a spread in Alliance and that was my foot in the door. For the next few summers I would come home to Nor-Cal and shoot as much as possible and send stuff into the mags. The industry is pretty small so I started to meet people fairly quickly, especially riders on the West Coast like Mike Schwenne, Aaron Aubrey, Kyle Murphy, Derek Cook, the Ennen brothers, Cody Ramsey, and others. Right after I graduated in 2004 I was able to go on a six week RV road trip all over the Northwest and was able to write and partially shoot two full length articles for Alliance out of it. I think that proved to them at the time that I could shoot photos, write stories, manage myself on the road, etc. I was hired full time in 2005 and moved to Orlando in June of that year.
You shoot more Silhouette’s then I’ve seen from any other photographer in wake. Tell us about your love for silhouette shots?
I don’t know what it is exactly about silhouette shots, but I’ve always loved them. I can’t help it, I think I’m addicted, haha! I was looking through some of my stuff the other day doing some spring cleaning and I came across an old print I have of my dad water skiing on Lake Shasta. My mom took this picture of him back in the early 80′s during one of our family houseboat vacations there. When I saw this picture in the family photo album as a kid I remember thinking how cool it looked. I’d seen my dad water skiing my whole life, but I’d never seen it look like that. You could take that photo and plug it into any time period of water skiing and it would still fit – it’s timeless. That picture is probably why I love shooting into the sun so much – it’s been burned into my personal vision of what I think looks cool.
I think the combination of a good sunset with water and spray lit up just has this magical quality. Water and light can interact in so many cool ways that it is always fun for me to shoot into the sun to see what I can get. When I see a good sunset taking place, or if the direct sun is killed by some clouds, I’ll make some adjustments and try to shoot silhouette shots. Good backlit photos just have this timeless quality to them. Take a look at these two photos I took, one of Gordon Harrison doing a melan 3 and one of Jeff McKee doing a melan half cab roll. Almost identical pictures in terms of framing, focal length, etc. The shot of Gordon is a solid one, no doubt. Good grab, good light and color, clean background, etc. But the shot of Jeff is on a different level, in my opinion. If we had been going the other way, away from the sun, I don’t think it would be a very good picture, but being backlit adds a different dynamic that really makes it pop.
Silhouette photos can definitely get played out, but so can any other type of photo: fisheye, flash/strobe, etc. You just have to use the technique in moderation. I try not to run too many in one issue of the mag so the look doesn’t overwhelm readers, and in the wake section of my website/portfolio I tried to keep my selections of silhouette photos as diverse as possible. But I don’t ever see myself coming to a point where I’m tired of looking at or shooting backlit photos.
If you had 2 lakes and two riders but could only shoot one. Would you pick to go shoot wakeskating or wakeboarding?
Depends on what I shot the day before, haha! Having grown up wakeboarding and gotten into professional photography through wakeboarding, I’m always somewhat partial to that – I love seeing guys go big. But I love shooting wakeskating just as much, especially so over the past few years as guys have built some awesome setups in their own yards. I told Reed the other day that I don’t care how tired people say they are of seeing photos of Battle Falls, I’ll never get tired of shooting there, haha. And there is something totally raw and awesome about just seeing what you can find and trying to make something cool and unique out of it. So I’m not sure if I could pick one over the other, I’m at a point where I really just love being out with my camera and documenting what the rider(s) are doing. I guess whatever crew I didn’t go with I would just loan them a couple GoPros and tell them to go to work, hahaha!
Top 5 Wakeskater and wakeboarder to capture in your time as a photographer.
This is so hard, I’ve had so much fun shooting so many guys over the years. In no particular order…
- Aaron Aubrey. I first shot with him on Lake Shasta in May of 2003 and he blew me away. I was still somewhat new to shooting with pro level riders and I’d never seen anybody ride as fast or as long of a line as Aaron. He charged into the flats with a snowboard style that I really related to, doing big wrapped spins and holding the grabs forever, or doing double grab 5′s. We ended up hitting it off and became really good friends, getting together as often as possible all over Nor-Cal to do shoots.
- Keith Lyman. When I first moved to Orlando one guy that I was really excited to photograph was Keith Lyman. I’d seen all of his video sections and me and my friends just thought he was on a different level. I had met him once or twice at a couple contests on the west coast, but I’d never been able to shoot with him. As fate would have it he was actually the guy who picked me up from the airport when I first moved to Orlando. Tony Smith couldn’t grab me and he needed a sequence of Keith for the upcoming issue of Alliance, so he arranged for Keith to pick me up so we could go out and shoot. Keith’s riding was even better in person than it was on video. Everything wasn’t just big, but it looked effortless. In my opinion his combination of amplitude, style, and flow we’re second to none. He and I also became good friends and did a lot of shoots together over the years. I always looked forward to getting out on the water with him.
- Ben Greenwood. So controlled and precise, so much style. Even if I was having an off day shooting I could still get an awesome photo of Benny G. All of his tricks had these moments that looked awesome in still photos. I remember the first time I shot with him was for his Rider of the Year interview in Alliance. We needed to get a sequence of his toeside mute poke 7. He did a couple and I had never seen a 7 done like that before with that long of a grab and that kind of poke. It was signature Benny G and I was lucky enough to shoot with him a lot over the years.
- Jeff McKee. The first time I met and shot with Jeff was a month or so after I had moved to Orlando. I met him at the boat dock on Rollins College, got on a tube, and started shooting. I remember thinking right away, “Damn, this guy has some rad style.” Jeff had been around the sport for a long time and I remembered seeing his name in the mags a bunch, but at that point he wasn’t getting as much coverage because he was full time in college. Obviously we hit it off after that and I ended up moving into his place and living with him for almost five years. Jeff has always had a really relaxed style that just flows and is fun to shoot. Getting to be there firsthand as he continued to progress his riding was cool, too. He might not go big like Lyman or have some of the technical tricks like some of the kids these days, but I’ve always enjoyed shooting with Jeff because I know I’m always going to get something good for print and I’m going to have fun doing it.
- Delta Force (Derek Cook, Trever Maur, Josh Twelker, Mike Schwenne)
I have to lump these guys together. Having “grown up” shooting with Cook and Schwenne and then getting to watch the progression of young bucks like Trever and Twelker, I am definitely partial to shooting with anybody in the Delta Force crew. Seeing Cook still push it and really emerge as a front-runner in the style-based freeride aspect of the sport the past couple years is awesome. Most guys in Derek’s situation wouldn’t be doing what he’s doing at 31 years old, but he’s killing it and it gets me totally stoked to see new photos or video of him (or to shoot him myself). Josh and Trever have turned into such rad riders over the years. I remember when they were groms and thinking that maybe they could get some coverage and make a little noise… Look at them now, scoring covers and riding in ways that makes a lot of other top pros say “Damn, how’d they do that?” All of these guys have their own unique style and they all push themselves and each other to keep progressing – it’s fun to shoot and I think it’s good for the sport.
- Reed Hansen. I’m not sure if there is a harder working guy in wake than Reed Hansen. Not just working on his own craft and his own riding, but going out and building everything he has built, using his Bobcat skills to help grow and push the sport. I’ve gotten to shoot with Reed a lot since moving to Orlando and I might have more portfolio quality shots of him than any other rider, wakeboard or wakeskate. He’s so good at so many different things, it’s fun to shoot with him because you can try all sorts of stuff and know you’ll get something. Even if he doesn’t get it at first, he’ll keep working until he does. Plus, he’s just an awesome kid to be around.
- Aaron Reed. What can you say about Aaron Reed that hasn’t already been said? Aside from being one of the best wakeskaters ever and a legend in his own right, Aaron is also one of the best guys to be around. We will forever be linked by our cross-country trip in the Armada while filming for the Alliance video Innuendo.
- Danny Hampson. Danny’s style is so unique you can spot it a mile away. It’s crazy to think about how young Danny still is and how long he’s been in the sport. He’s done so much for wakeskating and he still has a ton to give. His self-deprecating sense of humor is also priceless.
- Dieter Humpsch. The bru from South Africa. I actually got to meet Dieter in South Africa when I went over with part of the Oakley crew while they were filming Push Process. He moved to Orlando a year or so later and I was blown away by how good he could make wakeskating look, especially for being a bigger guy. It looks effortless – and I still believe his indy backside 180 behind a boat is better than most wakeboarders’. Just don’t let him buffalo you at a party…
- Any members of the Remote team in the van. If you’re looking for an awesome, hilarious, down-and-really-dirty, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants adventure, just get in the Remote van with some of those guys for a week or so. They all shred, they’re all unique in their own way, and they all have an awesome time together and are down for trying anything.
Describe you ideal trip, Crew, Place etc?
My ideal trip is with a crew of guys who don’t mind getting up early or staying out late to get the good shots. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel all over the world the last ten years or so and I’ve come to realize that it doesn’t matter where a trip is in order for it to be successful. What matters is the crew on the trip. I believe you can take unique shots anywhere you go. Having a good crew that’s down to try stuff and not selfish about who gets what shot or whatever is what matters.
People and things that inspire your photography.
Too many to list. I love looking at all kinds of photos, from other action sports to mainstream sports, to journalism, to studio and portrait work. Being a photo editor for Alliance over the years has allowed me to look over some amazing photos from all of the photographers in our sport and I can honestly say that I think wakeboarding and wakeskating has some of the most talented shooters per capita of any sport out there. When you think about how small wakeboarding and wakeskating are on a professional level compared to other action sports and you look at the quality of work coming from all of the wake photographers today: Josh Letchworth, Bryan Soderlind, Rodrigo Donoso, Jason Lee, Joey Meddock, Bill Doster, Spencer Smith, Aaron Katen, Chris Garrison, Thomas Gustafson, Ian Reid, Ryan Taylor, and on, and on, it’s pretty insane. All of those guys and their work definitely inspire me to push my personal vision and how I approach photographing wakeboarding and wakeskating. And if it wasn’t for some of the OG photographers shooting wakeboarding back when I was kid, whose photos I was ripping out of magazines to put on my walls, I wouldn’t be doing this today – guys like Tom King, Doug DuKane, Rob Gracie, Matt Maloy, Trey Tomsik, and of course Letchy, Joey, and Doster.
If you were a pro wakeboarder who would you want to be and why?
I’m probably partial because I lived with him for almost five years and we were practically common-law marriage material, but Jeff McKee has it pretty good in terms of being a pro wakeboarder. He isn’t required to compete in any events other than a couple for Nautique, he gets to travel all over and just ride however he wants. Plus he’s in a band and has a motorcycle. I’d like to say I helped him have an awesome career because I was an editor and photographer living with him for five years… so you’re welcome, Jeff… hahaha! Just kidding, Jeff kills it and is an awesome guy, with or without media coverage.
Please pick 1 or 2 of your favorite shots and tell us a story?
This photo of Raph Derome was taken for the cover of the 100th issue of Alliance (April, 2012). We knew the issue was going to be larger format than our normal issues and we knew we wanted something truly unique. Enter Raph. What I love about this photo is how involved I was in the process and what it took to make it happen. Raph was on a really tight schedule and originally wanted to build something like a rail up against a wall (which he later did in his insane web video last year), but it wasn’t working out. I ended up reaching out to Reed Hansen to see if we could use his lake and some of his stuff to come up with something cool and different. Credit to Reed because he had never even met Raph before but he was totally game and he came through huge. He wasn’t getting any photos or anything from working on this, but he is just down to help no matter what.
When the three of us met at Reed’s house Raph mentioned he had always wanted to try to set up a chain really tight and slide it. Reed just replied, “Well I’ve got the chain to lock my Bobcat down to its trailer and some old 4×4′s, let’s make something happen.” After a failed first attempt (we couldn’t get the chain to stay tight enough and it eventually broke loose, almost sending Raph straight into the 4×4 post), we devised a system that totally worked and Raph went to town. He seriously must have ollied onto the chain 25 or 30 times so I could shoot it as many ways as possible – straight on with a long lens, from the side with a wide lens, silhouette, with strobes, etc, etc. It might not look sketchy in the photo that ended up being the cover, but it was one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen on a wakeboard. Ollieing onto a chain at 18-20 MPH at just the right angle so you don’t kill yourself on the post at the far end takes some serious skill and Raph never missed. In the end we went with this backlit shot as the cover because it has the great sunset and colors to make the photo pop, and the links of chain backlit by the sun just look crazy. It’s a classic looking photo with an element of “what the hell is going on here?” in it and I think it’s pretty awesome. Spending a couple days with just Reed and Raph to build this setup and make the photo happen was a lot of fun. We didn’t have any other help and we were totally stoked when we were able to look at the shots that night.
Coming from a documentary/journalism background, the non-action photos are just as important – sometimes more important – than the action photos. This photo was taken in spring of 2007 at The Carnival, an all rails contest at The Projects – a contest that hadn’t been held in years. 2007 was Parks’ comeback year from his really bad knee infection when he was off the water for a year, maybe more, and some doctors didn’t know if he would ride again. The Alliance team was in the middle of working on the Parks Documentary with PB, so we knew all that he’d gone through. Right before The Carnival I went to Tahiti with Parks, Danny Harf, and Keith Kipp and Russell Spencer from AVE to shoot the guys towing in at Teahupoo. It was an epic trip and it was so great to see Parks back on a board and not just ripping, but ripping at one of the gnarliest waves in the world. The Carnival was Parks’ first contest back after his knee surgeries and rehab and he was in rare form. After his final run when it was apparent he’d won, Byerly came over to celebrate with him and started pouring beer on him. This was cool not just because it was Scott Byerly and he was one of the judges of the event, but because he was one of the originators of The Carnival back in the late 90′s and won the first event. There was just a lot of history and emotion coming together in this one moment and I think it shows in the photo. I was stoked to be there for it and to see Parks’ comeback firsthand.