Capturing ‘daredevils’

Katie Kowalski, arts@ptleader.com
Posted 4/18/17

Rachel Ganapoler is a photographer – at least, she says, as far as the dictionary definition is concerned.

She's not up for conversations with “real photographers,” who want to talk about …

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Capturing ‘daredevils’

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Rachel Ganapoler is a photographer – at least, she says, as far as the dictionary definition is concerned.

She's not up for conversations with “real photographers,” who want to talk about f-stops and other technicalities, but she has a camera and she takes photos when inspiration strikes.

“I wait for my muse to come,” Ganapoler said.

Past inspiration has led her to photograph boatyard workers, buskers and reflections on water.

More recently, she completed a series that depicts people hurtling themselves off cliffs in Norway and Switzerland.

Titled “Daredevils and Dragons,” the series of nearly 70 photos documenting BASE jumpers’ feats is on display at Hudson Point Cafe through the end of the month. BASE is an acronym for where participants can jump from: building, antenna, span and Earth, for example.

THE TRIBE

“I was terrified,” said Ganapoler of being wedged between boulders on the edge of a cliff taking photos of people – including her husband, Bill – participating in one of the most dangerous sports in the world.

“For me, to be up that high was scary enough.”

Bill first encountered the sport in 2013. One of the things that draws him to it is the type of people it attracts – his “tribe,” as Ganapoler calls them.

“I think society's view of BASE jumpers is quite opposite of what [they] are,” Bill said. They’re goal-oriented, calculating and exacting – you have to be, in such a dangerous sport; they’re people at the height of their careers, motivated stock brokers and pilots, he said.

They're men and women from all walks of life and all ages, Ganapoler said. “[They’re] not just testosterone-crazed 30-year-old men.”

THROUGH THE LENS

Ganapoler, who dedicates the show to those “men and women who want to push the boundaries and live life to its fullest,” said the energy of the jumpers was contagious that first day.

“People were so stoked about what they were doing,” she said. “Everybody was smiling – everyone was having a great time.”

What she saw from behind the lens affected her.

One wheelchair-bound man had to be carried to the cliff’s edge in a folding chair. His fellow jumpers picked him up and out of the chair, threw him off the cliff and jumped after him.

Watching that was eye-opening, she said.

“If you have a passion, are you going to just give way to sitting or continue enjoying your life as you want to?” she asked.

And she experienced the reality of the sport – one of the men who jumped off a cliff didn’t come back up. She had photographed his last minute.

Ganapoler is still dealing with the trauma of that event. “It changed my chemical and mental state of mind after witnessing the death of [the jumper].”

Her husband and others continued to jump after that – and she continued to take photos: They understand the risk, she said, and they know what they want.

And what they want, she learned, has to do with living in the moment and taking control over both life and death.

WHY THEY JUMP

For her show, she reached out to the people she’d photographed and asked them to write a paragraph on why they jump. The responses are part of the show.

“My life and death lie in my own hands,” one jumper told her. “While in my meditation, this pursuit, nothing else matters.”

“I crave the feeling and thrive on living a life by my own terms,” wrote another.

Ganapoler's husband wrote, “BASE jumping is actually pretty easy once you come to terms with yourself that each jump could be your final act on the planet.”

BE HERE, NOW

The camera she used for the shoot is now gone – along with the last 100 photos it held. She accidentally left it outside of a bratwurst cart in Switzerland, and when she returned moments later, it was gone. Thankfully, she'd already saved the bulk of the photos that now appear in the show, but she recalls one now-lost photo of her husband and his “tribe” after an especially challenging jump. She'd captured their faces, beaming with success, and remembers well the enthusiasm they exuded in that moment.

The enthusiasm and energy the jumpers bring to their sport run throughout the show, and seeing them firsthand made Ganapoler better understand and come to terms with what her husband does, and appreciate the “be here, now,” living-in-the-moment values by which these people live.

Ganapoler said she's not a risk-taker and won't be jumping off any cliffs, but she said she strives to live life with passion, and to follow those passions as they arise. Her plans now are to accompany her husband on his next BASE jumping adventure in Italy.

What her next photography series will be, she doesn't know. She has to wait for her muse to arrive.

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