Interview with Tony Harrington

By Susan Schnier
May 2006

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Tony Harrington, a 40-year-old Australian photographer and filmmaker, has been capturing surf and snow from the front lines since age 16. A sponsored surfer for three years and a sponsored skier for seven, Harro won the 2006 Powder Magazine Photo of the year and the 2002 Red Bull Snowthrill World-Champion Choice Award. He’s always on the road, seeking out the most untapped locations like steep lines on 50-acre islands in Greenland. He regularly shoots pros like Shane McConkey, Jeremy Nobis and Chris Davenport and has placed photos on over 80 magazines covers. But Harro is driven into the mountains by an obsession with skiing and adventure, not fame. He’s more passionate about participating in the action than his bank account or even his photos.

“I don’t know the meaning of can’t do it. Only by breaking rules and boundaries can you take life to a new level. I bought my first camera – a Minolta Weathermatic – at a local shop when I was 16. My parents were sure I wouldn’t be able to afford the film and processing. I never do anything I’m told, so I bought it anyway. I got a front cover on my first submission to a surf magazine and my second to a ski magazine. All self-taught, I’ve never taken a photography course or read any books on it.”

Jamie Sterling“Most photographers can’t ski the gnarly stuff with the athletes. I ski the same Alaskan slopes as they do, with 50 pounds of camera gear. Sometimes I’m just trying to stay alive, but it lets me get photos that no one else does.”

“My parents were injured in a horrific car accident eight years ago. It was a wakeup call to always do what I love and be 110% happy with my life because it could end at any point. I decided to end a long-term relationship. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it turned out to be the right thing.”

“It’s too easy to take a photo in good weather. I’d rather shoot on a storm day. You get to take more risk, use more imagination and think more. Engineering was my trade from 16 until 26, when I became a full-time photographer. The more I can use my brain, the more satisfying my work is.”

“I might be too soulful and not business savvy enough for this industry. Competition is healthy because it makes you stay on top of your game. But it pisses me off when photographers start undercutting rates just to get published. Small companies that promised they’d look after me when they got big have picked up the next young photographer to save money. In the last few years they’re starting to come back to the best and proven photographers are starting to get the respect that we deserve.”

“I make decisions instantaneously based on what’s happening at the moment and I’ve achieved a lot that way. Now I’m trying to learn how to be less independent for my wife, Fabienne, and some projects that will only succeed with the help of others. We’re trying to resurrect the World Heli Challenge in Wanaka, New Zealand next year. There’s still nothing like it on the planet. I have the athletes and the global media deal and great interest from big sponsors. Lots of the athletes I knew 20 years ago now have big roles in marketing, media and athlete coordination. The resurrection couldn’t happen without this passionate and knowledgeable group of contacts and their conviction that it’s possible.”

[Follow up from Harro: “The World heli Challenge didn’t get off the ground in 2007, but oh my god, it certainly looks like it has for 2008! All thanks to a team that I got around me! Visit worldhelichallenge.com for an update.

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