Joe Riis is the best photographer I know. I’m biased—I get to hang out with, work with, and count some of the best National Geographic photographers as my friends. But Joe stands out. It’s partly because of his work, which speaks for itself, but it’s also because of his character and how he chooses to live his life. It makes him a solid person and it makes him a damn good photographer.
Joe and I have known each other for seven years. We met on a project organized by the International League of Conservation Photographers in southeastern British Columbia—a photography project designed to result in a portfolio of images strong enough to drive mega-scale conservation efforts. The project worked. The team of photographers knocked the assignment out of the park, conservation groups got down to business, and a mine was stopped. A few buddies and I made a film about it, and Joe—and his quest for an image—became the central character, and his work the theme. Seven years later, we’ve circled back to where we began to tell a more significant story.
Yeah, Joe makes amazing pictures. Some of the very best, actually. You want to know his secret? He does it old school—he spends an incredible amount of time learning animal behavior, hiking huge distances through the most rugged terrain, and waiting—a lot. He’s got the kind of passion that is above a desire to make good pictures. He’s got the kind of motivation that can only come from the desire to protect something that you know and love. Joe knows these animals, appreciates their place in the world and is driven to help protect them. To do it he has to learn from them. And make pictures to help tell their story.
And that’s the story that we wanted to tell with this film. Not just the story of a photographer making images, but the story of a National Geographic photographer who thinks and feels a lot like you and me. He wonders whether it’s all worth it, whether he’s capable of balancing a demanding career and romance, whether it’s all worth the sacrifice. And you know what? Just like you and me, he doesn’t always have a good answer.
Flip past his images and strip away the iconic yellow border, and you’ll find the Joe I know. I hope you’ll take a moment and get to know him. I’m glad that I did.
The Adventurists blog series “Freedom to Move” is sponsored by Toyota TRD Pro, which provided a vehicle for this adventure.