We’re introducing a new mini-series on the blog today called Behind the Lens, about our intrepid and freakishly talented photographers. Photographs don’t grow on trees, and our Flickr account is populated by the art of a number of wonderful CFSBKers. They’re so good at shooting us while we sweat that we sometimes even forget they’re there! Our first photographer is the lovely Bekka Palmer. See some of her favorite photos and her interview with Kate below.
Behind the Lens: Bekka Palmer
Where and when were you born? Denver, Colorado on December 28, 1985 at 8:15 a.m.
What is your theme song? Eye of the Tiger
If you weren’t a photographer, what would you be? My other dream was to be a C.I.A. agent
Weird fact: Both of my parents are aerospace engineers.
Do you believe forks evolved from spoons? No way! Okay, maybe now that I think about it, but I think a fork is more of an evolution of the knife than the spoon.
Favorite photographer? Do I have to pick just one? How about one living and one not living. My favorite living photographer right now is Lauren Randolph, and my favorite departed photographer is Walker Evans (who has an exhibit at MoMA right now if you are interested).
Kate: So, how did you start down the CrossFit journey and how did you find SBK?
Bekka: I started CrossFit almost five years ago when I was living in San Diego. I started watching some videos from CrossFit SoCal and decided I wanted to try it. I was so nervous going in my first time, I think I sat in the car for 15 minutes before getting the nerve to walk in the door. My first few weeks I could barely move a 22 pound bar, but I was hooked. I stayed there for a while and then got really into the CrossFit Endurance program and started coaching for the CrossFit Invictus Endurance team. I was working out probably 8+ times a week including the CrossFit Endurance programming. I loved it and fell into a crowd of ultra marathoners who were all doing it the CrossFit way. I tried one 50k and it was miserable, but also incredibly gratifying. After than I continued running and doing CrossFit, but realized one day I needed to leave San Diego for my career.
I moved to New York and haven’t run more than a mile since.
I had a friend of a friend that was going to SBK when I moved to Brooklyn. Conveniently, I moved just 16 blocks south of the gym so I started at SBK in November 2011.
Kate: Tell us about your journey with your camera. Do you remember your first photograph? What did you shoot with?
Bekka: The last time I was at my mom’s house she dragged a bunch of old boxes out of the garage and asked me to go through them and get rid of anything I didn’t want anymore. While I was looking through the boxes I came across two things: my first camera and my first photography project. I was in fifth grade, and was in a special arts program through my elementary school. I don’t think it was the first time I had ever used a camera, but it was definitely the first time someone handed me a camera and basically told me, “This is a tool which can be used to tell stories.”
The camera was an all-plastic Vivitar, which is currently sitting on my desk.
Kate: What do you shoot with now?
Bekka: My main camera is a Canon 5D Mark II with a 50mm lens. Occasionally, I’ll bust out my Polaroid for fun, but that film is pretty expensive.
Kate: What’s your favorite photo that you’ve taken?
Bekka: That’s tough, I’m pretty hard on myself, so I’m rarely satisfied with my work, but right now it’s a photo I took during a family reunion last summer on the Gasconade River in Missouri.
Kate: When your photographs are seen as a whole, I feel like a really clear, crisp, and lovely aesthetic emerges. You’re so excellent at composing your photos in an interesting and fresh way, and at drawing attention to things that most people might overlook. What captures your eye over everything else?
Bekka: Oh wow, thank you! In my life, I can be focused almost to a fault. If I get my mind set on one thing, I’ll let everything else fall by the wayside to see it through. That probably translates a lot to my photography work. I pick the subject of my photo and everything else just falls away. I think it’s probably about 10% intuition and 90% practice. For every good photo I take there are at least 100 bad ones.
Kate: If you had to spend the rest of your life photographing one thing or one type of scene, what would you choose?
Bekka: I think it would be behind the scenes of film shoots. I did my first behind-the-scenes gig recently and was completely enthralled by the amount of energy and equipment it takes to make a movie.
Kate: Do you have a philosophical approach to your art, or does it seem more intuitive and organic? Or both?
Bekka: I definitely am the type that shoots with my gut more than with my head. If I overthink something, it never turns out well. Often it’s a game of patience, and it’s more about being there with your camera ready than about planning great shots ahead of time, especially when you’re doing documentary photography. The genuine moments can’t be staged.
Kate: Tell us about your life outside of the gym. How do you spend your days beyond barbells and skulls?
Bekka: Now that I’m freelancing full-time, I spend about 90% of my waking hours working. I have a lot of emails to write, estimates to build and I spend a lot of time writing pitches to companies I really want to work with. I’m also very lucky to have a lot of freelancer friends, so we can sit together and work and it makes it more fun to do the admin side of things. When I’m not working I try to kick back with friends and have a few beers. My sister lives in Northern New Jersey, so I like to head out there and visit with her, my brother-in-law and my nieces.
Kate: Talk to me about shooting athletes and people who are sweating all over the place and often not looking their conventionally “sexiest.” How do you capture CrossFit in your photos? What’s the hardest part about shooting athletes?
Bekka: I guess I go into it expecting to get shots that maybe aren’t the most flattering, but the ones where people are making crazy faces are the most genuine. Like, yeah, that 200 pound deadlift was a challenge for that athlete, and it should look that way in the photo. I’m not trying to get fake smiles during difficult movements. However, I do understand that not everyone is into having their most intense faces on the blog, so sometimes after class people will come up to me and ask to see their photos, and if they really hate them I won’t post them.
The hardest part is catching them at just the right time. If you look at someone who makes their living taking photos of professional athletes, they have four cameras that each can take 15 frames per second. They’ll have them all rigged together so they can push one button when Shaun White is doing some half pipe trick and can grab 60 shots at 4 angles in just 4 seconds. To me that’s kind of cheating, it’s a numbers game, if you take 60 photos you are almost guaranteed to get one good one. For me, since I have a slower camera and only one of them, it’s about having the intuition to wait until the perfect moment.
Kate: What’s your favorite event or day that you shot at SBK?
Bekka: My favorite day so far was Memorial Day Murph last spring. It was a beautiful sunny day, and we had the garage door open. I went in one of the first heats so I had the rest of the day to hang out and take photos. It’s nice to not just be an observer, but be able to participate and take photos at the same time. I really enjoyed the vibe at the gym that day, most people hung out long after their heat to have beers and eat that delicious chicken Fox was grilling. I caught a photo of David sleeping on the wrestling mat that day too, which is a great one for the archive.
Kate: Where can we see more of your work? Can I hire you?
Bekka: My portfolio is at bekkapalmer.com and I update my photography blog at look.bekkapalmer.com pretty often. You can also follow me on Instagram.* Yes, I’m available for work. Mostly I’m sticking to documentary work, but I enjoy doing portraits or more collaborative projects as well. If you have some idea, but aren’t really sure how to do it, I would love to help!
*She humbly didn’t mention it, but Bekka also happens to have over nine million followers on Pinterest. Follow her here.
If you feel inspired, please remember to nominate Coach DO’s blog Inside the Affiliate for Breaking Muscle’s Top 10 Fitness Blogs contest. Have the best Tuesday ever, CFSBK!