Episode 15: Elevating Female Athletes with Re Wikstrom
Updated: Aug 17, 2022
Outside by Design is back! Re Wikstrom, professional photographer and senior photographer at Backcountry.com, shares her insights on getting women involved in action sports, what it means to be an artist, and being a photographer in the age of social media. Re's been singlehandedly furthering the careers female athletes in the mountains since before it was cool. Leave a comment or review to let us know what you think and stay tuned for new episodes every Thursday!
Follow Re: @rewikstrom
Lisa: Hey, thanks so much for listening to Outside by Design. I am your host, Lisa Slagle and I own Wheelie Creative, an outrageously fun outdoor agency. As well as Wheelhouse Workshops where we teach action sports photography workshops to women to help get more women involved in action sports.
Thanks so much for listening to Outside by Design by the way, we are seeing an increase in listeners and a lot more hype around the podcast. It's season 3, we're putting a ton of time and effort into it and it shows, so thank you so much for your shares and your likes and your reviews on Stitcher and wherever you get your podcasts, I really appreciate it so much.
Enough of that shameless promotion and plugs. Let's get down to the nitty-gritty. Today I'm talking to Re Wikstrom and if you don't know Re Wikstrom, you need to know Re Wikstrom because she is a living legend in the ski industry. She's a professional photographer who has helped elevate so many women in ski photography. When no one was doing that, she's like the first woman to really get out there and mindfully go capture images of women and help women get into magazines and you know before social media took over and everything was purely editorial Re was there pushing and working and taking photos and slinging photos to magazines. And Re is a freaking legend. She's professional, she shows up with a force. I really admire Re’s creativity and problem-solving., calmness and thoughtfulness. She's just all around an absolute badass and just excellent person. She also is the senior photographer at Backcountry.com when she's not shooting on her own for Re Wikstrom. So she will rock your world. I promise this podcast is great.
She talks about creativity, social media change, knowing your craft. This is an excellent one for anyone who works in editorial or any marketing managers or any photographer or aspiring. I cannot even begin to encapsulate Re. She's just fucking phenomenal. Give it a listen.
Lisa: Hey, thanks for being here today.
Re: Thanks for having me.
Lisa: Yeah, so tell us where you are what you're doing and kind of yeah, where are you recording from today?
Re: Well, I'm recording from my small home office in Utah, in Salt Lake City.
Lisa: Cool. So tell us, you know, just a little bit about yourself. Obviously, you're an amazing photographer and you do a lot for women's outdoor and helping women get you know, the publicity and the shots everything but how would you describe what you do and who you are?
Re: Well, I think I just basically describe myself as an outdoor sports photographer. It really started with ski photography. But now that I've been working at Backcountry for so long. It's really branched out into almost everything outdoors. I've been at it for, I don't know, a minute, a good grip of time at this point. I've had some time to experiment.
I moved out to Utah in January 2004. I just wanted to be a ski photographer at the time and then later that fall ended up getting a job with backcountry.com. And so I've done... sort of a like that was my ski bum job, but I'm still there. Let's see. So yeah, I've sort of simultaneously pursued both my own personal sort of freelance. Mostly ski photography and some bike photography and then just working full-time at Backcountry, working full-time on the side. Yeah, so I guess that's where I'm at and how I describe myself.
Lisa: What are you doing specifically at Backcountry for the listeners who don't know.
Re: So specifically I work on our creative team. I've had, you know my title sort of changes every few years, but currently the title is senior photographer and photo manager. And so I basically specialize in our marketing photography mostly when it relates to outdoor and action sports. I used to shoot a lot more studio stuff, but the team grew a little bit and we brought in another photographer who has taken over more of the studio specialty. So it's mostly outdoor, which is awesome - can't complain about that.
Lisa: Absolutely. And so what does that what does that look like for you, do you plan the locations or does Backcountry pick the locations? How does that work?
Re: Well, so that's interesting. It really just kind of changes year to year. We have, you know, sort of different company goals and direction and leadership and so it really really varies. I used to, there were times when I've been, you know, full... like I'm the producer and the assistant and the photographer and the coordinator and the PA and then we've had other times where we've had more robust teams where we've been a little less involved in some of the planning and locations. I've had so many shoots going on where it's like, okay, just tell me when to show up and I'll be there and give me a brief and we'll shoot it. So it really it’s just kind of changed and varied over the years. I mean in some ways it's been kind of exciting to get, you know, a good experience being in all realms and aspects.
Lisa: What's the coolest place you've gotten to go for Backcountry to on a photo shoot?
Re: For me it's a toss-up there. We did a big production down in Chile a couple summers ago and then I also covered a vendor event up in Northern Sweden. I think I'm sort of biased towards Northern Sweden because I'm half Swedish and that was just like really on a personal level a little extra cool, you know going to the motherland and you know being up in the Arctic was... I don't know. I think that's just pretty special place. And then down in Chile we were down in the Araucaria region for like... I don't know if you've ever heard of the monkey puzzle trees, but they're they're pretty amazing. So you're down in like the land of volcanoes and these crazy trees that look like a mix of old-growth rainforest and like a desert succulent. But they're giant and it's really cool.
Lisa: That sounds incredible.
Re: I highly recommend if you can make it down there. Check it out.
Lisa: Yeah. So are you shooting athletes in those situations or like ambassadors or what? Like what kind of is it action or lifestyle?
Re: It's pretty much everything. So specifically for Chile that was one of our big winter productions. We took down, in this case, four employees to do the shoot, ones that had some experience shooting shooting Action Sports before but the others were just employees that rip and so we kind of wanted to go that direction for that shoot, but there's other shoots where we do bring in more professional athletes. There have been times when we bring in models. That's a little more rare and then we brought in ambassador's and you know for lifestyle needs will do it again. Just depending on the project. Sometimes it's Ambassador. Sometimes it's models. Sometimes it’s employees. When we're talking about Backcountry anyway, yeah.
Lisa: How about yeah, let's talk about Re Wikstrom photography. What do you got going on there? And what's your favorite thing to shoot? Where do you focus?
Re: Yeah, so my my focus is ski photography mostly some mountain bike photography and in addition to that, I almost exclusively focus on women. Just female athletes and giving them more support in the media and trying to kind of foster... I mean, I think it's been really really cool to see like what happens if you get a crew of all women together because when I was younger and looking at ski media, especially I mean, bike media you look it up like. These guys have their crews but it's all dudes or you know, maybe there's one woman in the mix but I sort of came into this with a bit of a personal hypothesis of like, hey, what happens if that crew was all women? Can we inspire younger generations to like come up and create some all-female crews, you know, does this happen? How long does this take, is it feasible, are there enough women out there?
Lisa: How have you seen that change throughout the years?
Re: I mean, I'm certainly seen… I see so many more women, I feel like, getting involved in outdoor sports in general. I see so many more women just out on the skin track, out on the trails. But then I think there's also been... especially with the rise of social media because that's only been happening, I'd say for like half of my career really. It's been really cool to see women step in and say hey well, maybe the traditional model wasn't supporting women so I can do this myself and I'll put it out there, you know, maybe the companies aren't going to back us, but I can back me.
Lisa: Yeah, I think as ski history has evolved, I think that you hold a really important place in ski history in America from the media side, especially because you did help elevate women in a time when no one else was doing that and you went after that. Did you you know that was going to be such an important role or was that just something that you wanted to do because you thought it would be fun or were you trying to solve a problem at the time?
Re: Yeah for me, it was definitely like a problem-solving situation. Like I saw a hole, I saw something I didn't like and rather than complain about it, I just wanted to do something to help change it.
Lisa: That's just so true to what happened. I think it's just amazing.
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Lisa: I think that's a really valid point about Instagram and social media it coming in and giving people an open platform to kind of change the way of the game. How has, how has social media changed your process as a photographer or has it?
Re: Well, I think I’ll date myself again. It's been interesting to me because I didn't I didn't like grow up and start with social media and I you know, I came from a background where the magazines held all the power as far as the trends and like just telling people like this is what's going on. These are the people that are doing rad things and these are the greatest photos and these are the people you should be paying attention to. And so I think it's an interesting shift and I don't think we're done with the shift. I think we're kind of in a weird transition right now, and I don't know what's going to happen. But I think it would be interesting to see. I think there's certainly opportunity for more... I don't know models to start of spring up from this. It's certainly been interesting in the way of, you know, athletes are getting pressure from their sponsors to provide them photos for social media, but nothing gets written into a contract that says like, okay, well, we're going to like pay for for a photographer to work with you to get the photos and then maybe you get into this weird place where an athlete’s like, well, I have to give photos to my sponsor and so I need you to give them to me for free. But then for the working photographer that's trying to you know, simultaneously have a career but also promote athletes you get into a bit of a weird place. I think you know industry wise for photographers to social media is this like just hungry machine that needs photo after photo after photo, but because of the nature of a social and web platforms people believe that photos should be cheap or free. And then there's there's photographers that are maybe newer and they're like, “oh, well, I'll give away my photos because I want to get my name out there.” But you know, ultimately it hurts the entire industry because the more photographers give away photos for free the less photographers can make money and so, you know some photographers that may be driven away from continuing to you know, do their craft maybe or they just keep it to themselves.
It's an interesting ecosystem. Right, and a lot of people don't think about the full ecosystem when they think about, “Hey, can I just use this photo for free,” right. At the same time though, I also want to support the athletes. It's like, well, my mission is just to put more inspiring imagery of women out there into the world. And so there does need to be a balance and you're working with athletes you're all working on spec. You do also have to have some give and take there and you do need to support them. And I think we're still kind of working through the implications of like... do you post the photo now, or do you save it and post later? And like what is the impact? Is it better to post it now, but if you're trying to make money so you can afford your gear and say you can afford to be out there working. With athletes we need to work on the the career model, I guess.
Lisa: Yes. I definitely think that that part of the industry is broken right now. And it puts so much pressure on athletes. It makes athletes feel awkward because they have to ask for free things from photographers or they have to go out and try to learn camera skills or get their buddies to do it and so it's like this very stressful aspect now that comes with being a pro athlete that didn't used to even be a thing.
Lisa: So that's that's interesting and pretty unrealistic.
Re: Yeah. Yeah, because in some cases, you know, it's sort of just taking the photographer out of the equation entirely. So then where does where does that roll go? Does it exist anywhere? And then just socially I mean I think there's so much pressure just in terms of how you portray yourself on social media for a lot of companies. And you know, I think we're still wrestling with is this fake? Is this real? Does it feel authentic and is it right for me? Is it not right for me? And I think still so much remains to be seen.
Lisa: Yeah, it's going to be interesting to see where it goes and you know, from the agency side too, from where we're coming from at Wheelie. It's a very interesting dynamic where brands will hire us kind of as a blanket like, just take care of everything for our catalog just do the photos do the design. Here's the product. And sometimes they'll have us go find people that are on brand and then suddenly most of my days are spent acting as a casting agency. It's just this very interesting thing where I never thought I'd be like sourcing models and you know trying to figure out who looks best in a scene together and like curating human beings. So I think it's it's a really interesting dynamic and kind of fun to navigate and I yeah, I just don't know where it's going to go.
Re: Yeah, it's an interesting one because you want to be... for the most part right you think of social media is telling stories if you want to tell authentic stories, but then when it is just marketing you want to craft it a lot more specifically, but maybe we should be more open to using people that don't portray that you know that look that we're used to like the stereotypical look. You know, and maybe if we could get the industry as a whole to open their eyes to using real people. I feel like it would benefit everybody and then you know athletes too.
I think I've had a really interesting time with the rise of the social media ambassador where that tends to be more of just someone who's got a lot of followers. I mean and don't get me wrong. I think some athletes have... I don't know navigated that and they're like they do have a bazillion followers. Some of them they're just not as into the self-promotion and that's where in the past it's been great to have a sponsor that is doing the promotion of their athletes, but then we've gotten into this world of well, we don't want to do athletes anymore. We want to do real people that just use social media. But eventually those people need to... like it goes in a cycle, right? Because eventually those people are going to say well, hey, you're not paying me anything. You're not paying me very much to be an ambassador. And I need to really just focus on my actual, you know job because a lot of those people have been you know, they've got a full-time job and then they do sport on the side, right? It's been cool to tell their stories, but you can only use that for so long. And I think hopefully… I don't know my theory really is that the athletes are going to come back into favor, but it's going through this interesting cycle right now because they have so much more valuable insight when they can be like out testing your gear, involved in R&D. And then they can focus on being an ambassador for your brand and for the sport and if they're out there inspiring, you know, the younger generations that's going to help growth, right, but when they're not inspiring those younger generations, then we just see things shrink, right?
Lisa: Yeah. That's that's key for sure, is making sure that the decline of skiing. And you know the less interest in snowboarding and you know how to how to make it look fun because nothing is more fun than skiing and just you know keeping that joy alive I think is incredibly important.
Re: I know you're so right.
Lisa: Yeah. So, how do you work? You know, what as far as creativity goes? Do you tend to contact an athlete and go out and shoot something mindfully or do you just kind of go out and see what an athlete is inspired by? What's your process for when you're not shooting for Backcountry, but when you're shooting for yourself, what does that look like for you?
Re: I mean for me first and foremost, it's finding some women athletes that are just really stoked to get out and shoot some photos and make some magic and then we'll kind of take it from there. You know, I've worked with some some women in the past where you know, maybe one day it's like hey, I want to go hit this are and I'd love for you to come shoot it and so we do go out with a little something kind of premeditated other times, you know, because you're dealing with Mother Nature and the weather a lot of times. You're just letting that dictate. What you can do on a given day, I think certainly, I probably go through sort of phases of like, oh, I'm going to kind of think along these lines this year. You know, I want to kind of think more this type of shot this year.
Or the past few years. I've been trying to shoot a bit more inbounds as well as backcountry touring because I think you know, we've seen so many accidents in the backcountry and I was like, well, I wonder why can't it look fun to ski in bounds with a bazillion tracks around you right? Because you've got the classic obviously, it's beautiful when it's fully fresh and untouched and there's a reason that those photos are so sought after. But I just wanted to challenge myself to figure out well, how do we make inbound skiing when the resort is open look fun? And so yeah, just sometimes I'll give myself sort of self-imposed projects like that. Other times it's like hey, it just dumped three feet and we just want to go shoot blower pow.
Lisa: I think that's a very interesting point to bring up that. Oh, yeah, why should why shouldn't we embrace the resort rider because that is what helps get people into skiing. You don't just go immediately into the backcountry.
Re: Yeah, and so I'd say that's kind of more what I'm doing locally around here then you know, if it's a if I'm on a trip with someone not in Utah, then it becomes more about the story of the place and the day and the location and trying to capture, you know, what does it mean to ski in this place? At least that's how I tend to look at things.
Lisa: That's yeah, that's wonderful. I haven't really thought about that. That's a good point. Do you think most magazines are publishing very little inbounds content?
Re: Yes, I would say so. I would, I don't know. I should probably do an audit but I would say the majority of photos end up being shot outside the resort boundaries. Even when you're you know, doing a story on a resort a lot of times you'll end up, you know, hiking out of bounds to shoot photos. I mean not always, but a lot of the times because that's where you're going to find less people interfering and less tracks, better snow, like I don't argue those fact, it's the reason we do it. I do it, you know, but for some of my shooting I just wanted to sort of challenge myself to the inbounds.
Lisa: Yeah, that's cool. That's really cool. Post-production, on that end, do you like editing photos or dislike editing photos?
Re: Generally, I really enjoy it. But I do find that I need I need a good balance of screen time to not screen time. And so I do sometimes struggle a bit with having a full-time job with Backcountry and then kind of balancing the time to edit my personal work. Because like there's you know, I'll spend you know, weeks of eight hour days working on the computer and then it's kind of the last thing I want to when I get home
Re: But overall I do love it. It's just a matter of having the right like time and balance to work on And sometimes it's fun when I can't get to photos right away because it's it's kind of like going back to you know, shooting film process where he'd send your rolls off and you wouldn't get him back for a few days or maybe it takes you a week to because you're like collecting a few rolls. And that to me was always like Christmas getting your photos back because you're like, oh, I hope that worked out and you know, maybe you forgot about one or two photos that were in there and you're like, “oh! Surprise!”
Re: So I don't know, in some ways it can be good. Yeah, I try to look at the bright side.
And now time for another commercial break.
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Lisa: So a lot of women listen to this podcast because we do feature so many women. So what is your advice to any ladies that want to get into the creative side of the outdoor industry?
Re: My biggest advice is to know your craft and be passionate about it. It sounds really simple, right but I think when you're really excited about what you do that that translates to anybody and they're not going to look at you as like male or female. They're just going to look at you as a person who is just really really, really excited and stoked on the work that you do and when you're that excited about it, you're going to put the effort into it. And if you put the effort into learning it the best that you can, I mean, obviously, right, people want to work with talented people, right? You don't want to hire someone who's like just bought their first camera, you know, so learn your craft be as expert as possible and just make sure you're really excited about it and I think that translates better than anything.
Lisa: Absolutely. What's your definition of showing up as a pro? What does it mean to be a pro to you?
Re: Oh, you asked this one in our panel, didn't you?
Lisa: Yeah, I’m obsessed with this because everyone has such different styles and I work many photographers and I'm just like, huh? Everyone's different.
Re: Ah, yeah. It's an interesting question. I mean I think showing up as a pro is, I mean, especially if you're doing a paid photo shoot, but even if you're not even if you're just asking an athlete to go out and work with you, I mean, I don't know be professional about it, right like show up with all your gear, show up with a plan and be dedicated to your plan and don't slack off all day. Unless.. there's always a caveat. I mean, sometimes you got to read your crew. And if you're not on a commercial shoot, right, if it's a day where you're out working with some athletes that you're just building a working relationship with maybe it is a day to kind of have more fun. Right but I think you can still be professional and have fun. Gosh, I feel like I should have pre-planned this one.
Because right, you're like what does it mean to show up as a pro? And I'm like, well, it means to be professional. Thanks, Re. I don't know. I mean, I think I'm gonna have to work... maybe we can come back to that. I got to work on some better some better verbiage here.
Lisa: Yeah, I think I think it's really interesting. You know, like as an agency we have a special project where it just makes more sense to hire a photographer and then send someone in-house we hire a lot of photographers and they all bring their own personality as well as their own process into our creative process. And and so it's interesting, you know, trying to... there's no way to like just blanket integrate photographer because everyone is so different every scene of the ground and ambassadors are all different. So it's really something I find interesting is like, what is a commonality between like when it really becomes professional situation and I think... communication is a really big one.
Lisa: Absolutely. And I think like when photographer show up and they aren't physically fit enough and like the athletes have to carry their gear or things like... I'm not into that, you know, so I think there's it's it's tough in outdoor because you have to have this physical aspect to your job as well as creative and it can be a lot totally.
Re: Yeah. Yeah, this is I mean, you've got a you've got an interesting perspective on it coming from a place of hiring many different photographers. Yeah, I think yeah, something that just popped into my head to is to just take what you're doing seriously, but I think whether it's a commercial shoot or working on spec that's something that I do naturally is take it seriously. And when you're especially working in an outdoor environment, especially in the backcountry, especially if you've got athletes that are pushing their limits, you've got to take that seriously because, right, missing communication can be a dangerous situation. And obviously that's not what you want. It's not what anybody wants. It's not good for anybody, getting paid or not getting paid but communication certainly huge.
Re: I always tell my crew like I want just a good positive mental zone as well. Like even if a shoot is like going... if it's tanking, right, like like you said the last thing you want to do is let on that you think it's tanking because it will tank so much faster and it's like so much harder to recover from right to something's going wrong. You still need to keep it all super positive. And work through it. That is one of my biggest, biggest tenants. It’s like rule number one, positive mental vibes zone.
Re: You were there. We went over that. Rule number one. Along with rule number one, always zip your backpack.
Lisa: I break rule number one all the time.
Re: That's one that you'll learn. You'll learn.
Lisa: Always, and then mountain biking I transitioned to using a fanny pack. Now, I'm always leaving my fanny pack open.
Re: Oh my. seems real dangerous. Living on the edge.
Lisa: Yeah. I'm lucky I still have a cell phone.
Re: Back up camera. Hmm.
Lisa: Yeah, I think I'm curious. I imagine you’ll always work in the creative industry because you probably just can't help it. That's just the way you are.
Re: Exactly. Yeah. I mean, we, I think we touched on the definition of what it means to be an artist back in the winter. And I came across this definition in the last year where someone was defining being an artist as, well, “You're an artist if you can't not do something,” right and I feel like I can't not shoot photos of women doing awesome things. And previously I was like, oh, I'm just I'm a photographer. I didn't think of myself as much as an artist. And so it was really it was just really awesome revelation for me again, like seems so simple, but. It was really awesome to kind of have that revelation of like, oh, maybe I am an artist. Maybe that's okay. Maybe I can call myself an artist, you know, I don't have a gallery. I'm not like selling fine art prints at least not right now, but maybe I should because, to me this is my craft and this is something that I can't live without doing. I don't know and feel like I'm living my best life, I guess.
Lisa: Yeah, do you ever... do you ever feel like there's like a potential for burnout because you have done such a great job just fusing your passion with your profession. Do you ever get burnt out or is it just something that stokes itself and is it just the way that you are and always will be?
Re: Yeah, I can't say that I've hit like a real burnout, especially when it comes to shooting with with women like every time I'm out there with my camera shooting women doing rad things just being awesome, you know just being rad examples of humans. I'm stoked. I've never ever felt burnt out about that. I will say that I have had some experience just having too much work lined up back-to-back. Where I have gotten burnt out and it's not like it's not burn out where I'm like, oh, I don't want to do this anymore. It's just like, oh, I need some life balance. I need some sleep. I need to let my body rest. I think that probably comes with, well not probably, definitely comes with age. You recognize more that you need a little more rest and recovery time when you're out doing such physical work. I mean, I think everybody does whether you're at a desk job or whether. Doing physical work, but especially physical work. You need to let your body rest, so it's not really like work burnout, but you do need feel good recovery balance time and I definitely learned that the hard way.
Lisa: Do you find yourself caring more about like nutrition and good food when you used to?
Re: Yes, definitely. Although I think I always cared I just wasn't educated as much about it. So I've definitely been taking more strides to educate myself about it in the last maybe four years or so and some of it too I think is just we as a society didn't realize how bad we were treating our bodies based on our diet. You know, what you refer to as the American industrialized diet right full of processed foods full of sugar and you know, we didn't fully understand the detriment of that diet. So we've got a lot more just studies coming out now so that we can be more informed and understand more.
Lisa: Oh, yeah, like oh hot pockets are bad for you.
Re: Yeah. There’s like sugar hiding and everything and eating fat does not make you fat but eating too much sugar will will make you fat, right. And we need more protein to operate especially, you know, as an athlete or with an active job and especially women need more protein than most of them realize.
Re: That's been a big thing trying to up the protein intake.
Lisa: Want to know something hilarious? I have a twin sister and for years, I'm a vegetarian and I talked about protein a lot. Apparently, she's had a drinking game going with her boyfriend for like years because every time I say protein like because talk about it way too much. I just found out, it's been going on for years.
Re: That's amazing.
Lisa: So they're making fun of me this whole time.
Re: Hopefully they're learning in the process. That's funny.
Lisa: Yeah, cool. Well, thank you so much for being on the podcast.
Re: You're welcome. Thank you!
Lisa: They can find you on Instagram and @ReWikstrom. I'll put links in the show notes and your website, which is ReWikstrom.com. Easy.
Re: That's right. I got in early.
Lisa: Yeah, awesome. And yeah, thank you so much for being you.
Re: Oh, thank you. Thank you for taking the time to even do this podcast. It's amazing.
Lisa: Alright, thank you so much for tuning in to Outside by Design. I told you Re was a heavy hitter and she just is, man. I have so much respect for Re.
Tune in next week when a really fun episode comes out. I enjoyed it. It's heavy because I'm speaking with my friend and partnership manager for Camber Outdoors. Her name is Sallie Hoefer and Sallie. Sallie doesn't bullshit. Sallie is a very intellectual person and a deep thinker and that comes across in the podcast. Here's a sneak peek. Please tune in next week. It's a really good one.
Sallie: God. So I won't name any one in particular but I look at some people's feeds who I love but I'm just like, come on. There's five men on there and one woman and they're all white. And guess what, you're missing a half of the country, more than half of the country when you're only marketing it to this group of people. And if people can't see themselves in your ad, they're not going to be compelled to buy the product or to look into the product more or to like your feed or to start following your feed. So to Brand managers and marketing people out there. It's the right thing to do to show a diverse group of people in your branding but more than that: It's really good business.