Life in Motion
Mizzou alumnus Steve Remich documents Alex D’Jamoos trek up Mount Kilimanjaro.
MIZZOU magazine asked photographer Steve Remich, MA ’10, about his work:
Q: Explain how you got connected with Happy Families International Center and what you wanted to accomplish with the video.
A: I got connected with the Life In Motion: Kilimanjaro project because I was referred by a photojournalist friend, Ed Kashi. With the video, I really wanted to tell a short story that was about more than a hike. Sure it’s physically difficult and you wonder if you can make it to the top, but the entire point of hiking the highest mountain in Africa on prosthetic legs is about the symbolism of the act. Alex said something very powerful in one of our interviews, essentially that walking — for him — is not about mobility but about being normal. That really stuck with me, and I did my best to build a story around that idea. He’s doing great, by the way. He just graduated from UT-Austin and got into law school at Boston University.
Q: Did you have much hiking experience before telling this story? What were some of the difficulties of documenting Alex and Sasha’s journey to the summit of Kilimanjaro?
A: I’m moderately outdoorsy and have always liked to hike and camp. The hike is really a test of mental strength and endurance more than physical strength because everyone is hurting, sick and not sleeping after a few days. Even so, it’s hard to complain when your companions are going up beside you on their hands and prosthetic legs. As for difficulties, they were physical and logistical but also creative. I had to carry a lot of gear because I was shooting photos and video for six days without significant access to electricity. I think my daypack of photo gear weighed around 30 pounds, which was pretty miserable. Creatively, there was the challenge of trying to turn what is essentially some people walking into a story. At first, I ran ahead, set up and let people walk through the frame. After I did that three or four times, I had that shot, but then thought to myself: “Well, what now?” Also, everyone on the trip except me spoke Russian, so communication was difficult at times.
Q: Prior to becoming a photographer, you sailed schooners for a living. What made you want to leave that career and study photojournalism?
A: I did sail aboard a few schooners, but I would hardly call it a living. After I finished college, I ended up in Costa Rica because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted adventure. I got hooked up with a captain who needed a cook and ended up staying on the Ranger (the boat’s name was the Racy Ranger) for about a year. We had some wonderful adventures. We were all in our early 20s and had this 100-foot-long boat to ourselves. We weren’t getting paid, so we just took our time and stopped at every anchorage to dive, surf and fish. It was a really special time. I still love sailing and sometimes think I should’ve stayed on the ocean. After I came back to the states, I took a few photo classes at the Visual Arts Center in Portsmouth, Virginia. As soon as I took a photojournalism class, I was hooked. It was one of those moments that you never forget.
Q: What is something that you learned while studying photojournalism at Mizzou that you find most useful in your day-to-day work?
A: So many things that David Rees, MA ’81, said in my Fundamentals of Photojournalism class have stuck with me since I left Columbia. That was probably the best class I’ve ever taken. At least once a week, I think about advice he gave us during critiques. I can even hear his voice sometimes. He once said, “You should have something to say” — it isn’t enough to just passively document what you see. I think that’s really good advice and particularly applicable as a freelancer. I also took a class as a print reporter for the Missourian, which I think was a really valuable experience. I’m not a great writer, but I enjoy the process of reporting.
Q: What do you like the most and the least about being a freelance photographer?
A: The thing I like most about being a freelance photographer is the freedom and flexibility. The thing I like the least is the terror that comes with the freedom and flexibility. When all the pieces are fitting together and you’re booking a lot of work, it feels like you’ve been given a secret key to the universe. My girlfriend and I went to Costa Rica in March to shoot a video of a jungle retreat and exchanged a week of food and lodging for a short video. You just can’t do that with a full-time job. Also, when my mom had emergency heart surgery last year, I was able to be in the car driving down to Virginia (where I’m from and where my family lives) within 30 minutes. On the flip side, there’s a constant anxiety that you have because you don’t always know where the work is going to come from or how long it’s going to last. It’s also very rare that you get to do work you care about and get paid a livable amount of money to do it. Very few people are able to pull that off. I don’t consider myself a particularly successful freelancer, but, with any luck, I’ll be one of them someday.