Every January, contributing photographers to National Geographic magazine gather at National Geographic headquarters in Washington, D.C., for fellowship, meetings, and two inspirational events. The first is a day-long seminar with a wide range of guest photographers, celebrating the art and craft of photography. The second is a smaller event where each of the magazine’s photographers take a few minutes to share an excerpt from a project he or she is currently working on, called Works in Progress.
This year at the end of Works in Progress, George Steinmetz, head of the magazine’s Photographers Advisory Board, bestowed the second annual “National Geographic Photographers’ Photographer Award” to German photographer Carsten Peter, as the “photographer who has most inspired us by expanding the possibilities of our medium.” Carsten’s work for National Geographic magazine ranges from shooting a cave of massive crystals in Mexico, to climbing an African volcano, to plumbing the depths of Australia’s slot canyons. He answered the following questions while on location for his latest assignment for the magazine.
Q: HOW DOES IT FEEL TO WIN THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTOGRAPHERS’ PHOTOGRAPHER AWARD?
Well, to me it was an award which I recognize very highly, because it’s given by my peers. When I came back from the last National Geographic magazine seminar seeing all the photographers’ works in progress, this incredible bar set of what people are doing, it was overwhelming, just amazing. It is inspiring in so many different directions. I know it’s almost impossible to judge which photographer “has most inspired us by expanding the possibilities of our medium.” To be elected by these peers, whom I respect and admire most, is a really special acknowledgment.
Q: WHAT MOTIVATES YOU TO TAKE THE RISKS YOU DO?
Well first of all, I don’t like to take risks. If I do an expedition like climbing an active volcanic crater, I try to reduce the risks wherever they are. There is always remaining risk, but to me it’s important to reduce as many as possible and to be on the safe side. The more dangerous these places are, the more attentive you have to be.
It’s hard to say what was the scariest moment, because there have been quite a lot of scary moments in my life, and potentially life-threatening ones. You know, sometimes it’s just something like that [snaps his fingers], which decides if you are dead or alive. So maybe I am only lucky in situations where other people have been unlucky. But I fear you have to make the “right” decisions, you have to be attentive and always make the best out of the moment.
Q: DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE PHOTO, AND IF SO, WHAT KIND OF SPECIAL EQUIPMENT DO YOU TAKE?
I don’t really have a favorite photo. How do you compare anything to a tornado image when you are close by? Well, that was an incredible moment, but it was also incredible to be inside the glacier of the inland ice in Greenland. That is another world…Or close to an active volcano in the Congo, or to to explore a giant cave in Vietnam. I don’t want to raise one over the other, and I am always seeking out other amazing locations on the planet. I think diversity for me is more interesting than just a single picture. And then, also to tell the stories about these strange and otherworldly places. My equipment might change and often I come up with special constructions or solutions to cover a certain aspect. I love to play around and try to be innovative, whatever it takes.
Beth Foster is the publicist for National Geographic Magazine.
National Geographic Live!: Vietnam’s Infinite Cave
Veteran photographer and National Geographic grantee Carsten Peter is also an accomplished climber, diver and caver who has photographed some of the world’s most extreme environments. In this video he shares stories and images from a cave system in Vietnam that may be the world’s largest.