LIVING LIFE THROUGH THE LENS

“I’m really inspired by the whole philosophy of a cowboy. Finding strength, independence, and confidence through alienation and being on the outskirts, that really appeals to me for whatever reason. I guess anyone who’s part of a marginalized community can relate.”

As a lifelong creative, Laura Obermeyer has flirted with many mediums. Most recently known for her groundbreaking work on the ski film Jyosei, a movie that follows eight women on their adventures in Japan, Obermeyer has still yet to let herself be tied down by a single manner of expression. “My art stuff more recently has kind of rivaled photography for me in the best way,” she smiled. “I feel like I’m married to one and having an affair with the other.” 

 Drawing, painting, photography, graphic design, whenever Obermeyer needs a break from one medium, she takes the opportunity to explore another. “I was just kind of an art kid growing up,” she explained. “I’ve got a pretty creative family, it’s just kind of common to be drawing or painting or taking photos or doing something in our household.”

Still, it was photography that first captured her. Taking cues from her father, an occasional hobbyist photographer, Obermeyer was looking at life through a viewfinder at an early age.

“I was just talking to my mom about this the other day, she found an old camera of ours that had a bunch of very artistic pictures of some toy horses that I set up when I was like seven,” said Obermeyer. “So I was definitely on the artsy wave.” A self-admitted ‘horse girl’, Obermeyer eventually transitioned from photographing plastic figures to the real deal while competing at horse shows through her teens. Transcending mediums, her equine muse persists to this day among the pages of Obermeyer’s sketchbook, fitting in perfectly with her Americana Western aesthetic. Because really, what’s a cowboy without a horse? “I just love horses,” she laughed. “I love animals, so I’ll draw them.”

As Obermeyer transitioned into more client based photography work in high school, capturing senior portraits and events, she befriended a local pro photographer. They would invite Obermeyer to go out and shoot with them, mentoring the sixteen year old hobbyist. “[They had] a big influence at a point when I was realizing [photography] could be a career path,” explained Obermeyer.

Along with these guiding opportunities, Obermeyer was snapping shots of her friends while working at her local ski hill, always bringing her artistic eye to the slopes. Upon her high school graduation, Obermeyer made the move out West to Aspen, Colorado. It was there that she was able to start shooting the sport professionally.

Skiing and its media have been a constant in Obermeyer’s life. The early work of her uncle, commercial film director Klaus Obermeyer Jr., on Warren Miller ski films inspired Obermeyer at a young age. She dreamt of one day creating her own ski films. She explained further, “I remember when I was first getting into the culture of skiing, the thing I found the most magnetic was filming and [the] very artistic approaches to skiing. I wasn’t really drawn to the [idea] of skiing in the sense of becoming a professional athlete.” 

In 2018, that dream suddenly became a reality. When Maddie Jones, the Australian freestyle skier, reached out to Obermeyer with a proposal to work on her upcoming project, Jyosei. Obermeyer’s ardent response was no surprise. “I was losing my shit,” she laughed. 

Jyosei is a ski film that follows eight women on their adventures in Japan. Narrated entirely in Japanese, the film weaves a story of perseverance, strength, and friendship. Skiing both powder among the trees, and some creative street spots, including a shot of a rail in front of a temple. The shared joy of each triumph extends beyond the screen, inviting the viewer to be part of the crew.

Photo of Laura Obermeyer and crew during Jyosei

Credit: Zoë Blewett

Responsible for both shooting and editing the project, Obermeyer’s artistry is able to shine throughout the film. Though she does not yet feel that she’s developed a concrete style, Obermeyer’s magnification of the transient beauty of skiing, and the world around her, defines the atmosphere that encompasses Jyosei. Each shot is its own exquisite vignette. With such a strong first step into her cinematographic journey, one cannot help but eagerly await to see where her path takes her.

“There’s something to be said for other people who see like you see and you can find a sense of home in that in a lot of ways,” said Obermeyer about her attraction to motion projects and photography in general. “I find it really refreshing and inspiring and grounding in a lot of ways when I watch a ski video where I’m like ‘Oh, they see this how I see this.’”

The goal from the outset of Jyosei was to inspire and carve out a space for women that hadn’t been there before. In a community as small as snow sports, the lack of representation can be suffocating. It is by creating space for diversity that the sport is able to grow in a positive manner. As Obermeyer explained, “If you have the ability to uplift someone, to give them a platform, to create a channel that isn’t there, and it does no harm to you and it doesn’t draw away from what your goals are and what your aspirations are, it’s a win-win.”

For trans and non-binary skiers, representative content is even more scarce. The delicate balance queer athletes face in not owing an explanation of their identity, along with the double-edged sword of rainbow Capitalism, and the perceived obligations to serve as a source of representation for young athletes is not an easy topic to unravel. However, in the case of an athlete who actively strives to be a role model, providing a platform for them is essential. Using her own work as a means for representation is imperative for Obermeyer. “For some kid to see that is important, it’s the exact same thing as a young girl seeing it,” she explained. “A young trans person, who maybe doesn’t even know that they’re trans, just being aware that it’s a thing.”

But it is important to be thoughtful in how that space is created. There have been a few previous projects falsely marketed as all female endeavors. While all the athletes featured may be women, there’s still the production team to consider. “Who shot it, who directed it, who edited it, who did sound design?” expounded Obermeyer, emphasizing that these roles were not filled by women. For those seeking representation, such marketing can be misleading. 

A quick search on social media reveals the bias against marginalized communities who participate in snow sports. Hashtags are filled with the cis het white male demographic and drone footage of resorts. Some of this may be due to the fact, as Obermeyer summarized, “street is fucking hard.” The barriers of entry to street skiing can be overwhelming. Freezing off your toes to shovel a spot for hours in order to throw yourself against a bunch of metal and concrete, all while avoiding cops can be a hard sell. However, for an activity that costs a Tuffy shovel instead of a $269 resort ticket, it can be deeply rewarding.

Photo taken by Laura Obermeyer of skier shoveling during Jyosei

Credit: Laura Obermeyer

For athletes who’ve navigated these barriers, they must then confront the eternal question, if you hit a rail and no one filmed it, did you really hit it? Though there may be women killing it at street sports, they remain unseen. As Obermeyer explained, “you need to have a crew that’s going to ask you to go film and if there’s not a lot of girls filming and even less people asking people to go film, then it just keeps diluting down.”

The reality is, filming a ski edit is an undertaking. There’s freezing temperatures, sleep deprivation, and managing people across multiple levels. It’s hard work that can eat away at any creative’s motivation. For Obermeyer, on the days where it almost feels like just too much, she explained, “Having the motivation of ‘there’s someone or something out there that really needs this’ is really special. That makes me excited to go hang out in -20 degree weather.”

The most tangible form of this motivation came to Obermeyer in the form of a letter written by fourteen year old Alanna after the Jyosei dropped. The letter was as follows:

“I am writing this to tell you thank you. Thank you for being such a rad role model for people everywhere! You are such an inspiration to me and so many others in every thing you do. Jyosei was so good, best ski movie I’ve seen in a loooong time. Also unbelievably rad that such an inspiring group of gals including you were behind it all. I loved watching it, rewatching it, telling my friends about it, and rewatching it some more!”

When the Minnesotan teen’s parents handed Obermeyer the letter, the effect of Jyosei became clear. “That was a really pivotal moment for me,” reflected Obermeyer. “Because that was when it registered that we did something big, and successful and we accomplished our goal.” 

Photo taken by Laura Obermeyer during creation of Jyosei

Credit: Laura Obermeyer

That motivation has carried Obermeyer into her next project, In Your Dreams.  The Jyosei team rode the wave of positive energy from the film’s release into the production of their new movie. “We were like okay, we have this momentum, we should run with it and strike while the iron’s hot,” said Obermeyer. “The iron happened to be hot in the first week of March of 2020.” A bad time for irons everywhere. Though the team managed to film a few clips, in a time when vaccines weren’t available and not much was known about the virus, staying safe was the number one priority. Obermeyer stressed, “I also have been, and continue to try and be, really diligent about safety regarding Covid. Just trying to be conscious of how my actions are affecting other people and if a silly little ski video is worth putting others at risk and a lot of times it’s not in my case.” 

After two challenging seasons of navigating closed borders and safety due to Covid, Obermeyer received a proposal for the project to be a Level 1 production. “The absolute fucking win that is, not just for seventeen year old Laura, but this guy, are you kidding me?” laughed Obermeyer. “God, I’m fangirling so hard about this.”

In the planning of In Your Dreams, which Obermeyer describes as more of an art project than a ski movie, great effort has been put into recruiting marginalized creatives to help her realize her vision. “I’m bringing on someone to make a custom typeface to use in the movie, and all our logos and help us with motion graphics, there’s a really talented graphic designer that lives in Denver and is female and able to do that role of creative direction. For music we’re having an original score put together by a friend of mine who’s studying audio engineering in Brooklyn, who’s super sick and is going to come out and help me score the movie, they are also super jazzed on it.”

With this carefully crafted team, Obermeyer is fully seizing the opportunity to give voice to otherwise under-represented athletes and creatives. She explained, “we’re technically not an all female production, we’ve got nonbinary, and non gender conforming people involved, we’ve got one filmer who’s male, he’s our token male.”

The film, which will be filled with “street, pow, all the good stuff,” is set to have clips from various locations across North America and Europe, keeping some of the original Jyosei crew connected. With such amazing locations, it may surprise some that the primary focus of the film will be the Midwest, where Obermeyer plans to shoot street skiing.

Photo of Laura Obermeyer being sassy.

By highlighting these less romanticized spots, Obermeyer strives to show the disheartened potential skier that they don’t need to live in Whistler or Jackson Hole to experience the joys of skiing, they can fall in love with the sport anywhere. One spot Obermeyer is particularly excited to film is in St. Paul, Minnesota, with the personification of her creative impetus.

“We’re going to ski with Alanna,” grinned Obermeyer. 

It’s an incredible opportunity, for two people who have inspired one another in indescribable ways, to be able to experience a sport they both love together. The impact of Obermeyer’s work cannot be overstated. 

Finding the facets of life that drive you is a constant journey marching through the background of our existence. For Obermeyer, the act of creation has become a key part of her identity. Beyond the boundaries of message and medium, Obermeyer shared an innate truth of what defines and drives her creativity. 

“Creativity is a natural occurrence, though the degree at which you give it energy varies among everyone. For me, ignoring the need to create is pretty lethal. I have to always be making something. It’s kind of a paradox, because to create anything requires you to be so inflexible on your vision, yet also accepting of change and whatever variables you encounter in the process. It is incredibly frustrating and painful, but when ‘complete’ the elucidation from mind to matter is a really beautiful and special thing.”

CREDITS

Cover Image by Maddie Jones @madelieneelizabeth
Other Images by Zoë Blewett @yah.blewit
Words by Alex Fig

MORE LAURA OBERMEYER

Instagram: @lauraobermeyer
Website
Watch Jyosei

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