Prosor Edit4

The Prosor Portfolio

An Accidental Discovery


Interview BY:
Todd Heath
Words and Photos BY:
Larry Prosor

This story was first published in Issue #27, buy your copy: HERE.

Fate is a funny thing. You never know when an unexpected plot twist is about to light up your world. Or your magazine, as the case may be.

And so it went this fall when the legendary ski and snowboard lensman Larry Prosor made his way into Bomb Snow’s worldwide headquarters here in Bozeverly Hills, Montana. Prosor, who calls New Zealand home these days, was in town visiting his daughter and grandchildren. On this particular day, he was on the hunt for a printing wizard to help make some of his historic photos of Scot Schmidt a wall-hanging reality for an upcoming non-profit event at The Yellowstone Club. Prosor found his wizard (our very own senior photographer, Travis Andersen) and we found a heck of a photo feature in the process.

In the early 90s, Prosor was arguably the most prolific US-based ski photographer in the game. Based in Lake Tahoe, he was on the pulse of the burgeoning “extreme skiing” scene. The guy was everywhere, from first chair at Alpine Meadows to shooting Schmidt and Coombs in Canada to backcountry Sierra trips with Glen Plake, plus regular commercial work with The North Face, K2, Patagonia, Warren Miller and Rip Curl. There is no doubt that his photos helped create the visual language of the industry as we know it today. In fact, if you had even an ounce of ski bum in you in the 90s, we’d bet money that you had a Prosor picture hanging up somewhere on your bedroom walls or waxing room.

Bomb Snow: How does a kid from Hollywood wind up
making such a rich life in the mountains?

Larry Prosor: Born in Hollywood, with no memory of living there. My divorced dad was a stagehand. My grandfather, lighting director and photographer (gave me his old 35mm camera). My mom was cast as an infant in movies, including Gone with the Wind. My aunt lived nearby in the San Fernando Valley at the base of the San Bernadino mountains. My first skiing experience was at 8 years old with my cousins at our local ski area, Holiday Hill. Leather rental boots, long skis, huge poles and heavy rope tows in a raging wet-snow blizzard. Stoked!…Some years later, I decided I’d take a break from formal education and become a ski bum. Some skateboard/skiing friends reached out from Chico State University and clued me into a job as caretaker for the school’s ski club. I called the club president, followed by a 12-hour drive. At 19, I became the caretaker of Chico State Ski Club cabin on the west shore of Lake Tahoe. I bought a pass at Squaw Valley and skied 110 days in a low snow drought season. I also bought a used Canon F1 with 24, 50 and 200mm lenses. Then I started shooting
skiing. It’s been an enduring love affair ever since.

Prosor1

BS: The Doug Coombs and Scot Schmidt frozen waterfall pictures in the Caribou Mountains are iconic. How did that line come together? Was that specifically shot for Warren Miller and then also for Aspen Extreme at the same time? We must know!

LP: Scot gave me the heads up on a film shoot in the works for K2 Skis at Mike Wiegele’s Heli Ski. I wasn’t part of the inner circle of K2 on this particular shoot, but I was a late
addition add because of my relationships with Scott and Doug and Mike. As such, I can’t answer about the distribution of the iconic icefall footage, but I certainly know how the line happened. When Scot, Doug and I started shooting with K2’s crew that day, it became apparent to us that they weren’t
really up to the challenge of a real mountain experience. Low-angle runs and camera setups focused upslope is a bad look, and Doug and Scot weren’t happy. They wanted to elevate me to DP of the shoot, [but] the boss said “No way.” The start of the next shooting day was equally frustrating. So much skiing talent was not being shown. With morale getting low, we skied down to the helicopter pick up zone and there it was: the icefall cliff staring right at us. Doug pointed to the icefall and talked with Scot and I about approach, staging, take-off and landing zones. Scot and I agreed it looked like it could be done with reasonable sanity. Doug, Scot and I approached the film crew and told them what we were going to do. I set up my camera angle and the film crew shadowed me. The approach and staging for Doug and Scot were impressive to witness and scarier than the airtime, really. The K2 camera crew shook off their doldrums and started following our lead. Soon enough, history was made…

BS: What is a typical midwinter day like for you IN
the early 90s on the Lake Tahoe scene? Obviously, that was a very formative time and place for the industry.

LP: I was full-on with my photography business. I’d come back from the Outdoor Retailer shows in Las Vegas with my 4WD loaded to the hilt with next season’s samples for ad shoots. I had an established list of skiers and snowboarders I could call on to be there in the early hours, work hard for quality lighting, and get the goods.

Working my base at Alpine Meadows was key to getting high quality. I had tremendous cooperation with the mountain manager and ski patrol, so I had access like you dream about. Avalanche control, bomb drops, riding first chairs with my crew at sunrise, and getting multiple laps photographed in ideal morning lighting with untracked snow. I’d rotate around the mountain staying a few steps ahead of the general public as patrol would tip me off before green lighting my desired exposures and lines. By the time the public was on first tracks, I’d have a dozen rolls done and be ready to free ski…When I moved to NZ, I took a truck full of skis to the dump in Truckee and added them to a mountain of skinny skis! The 90s in Tahoe were golden years for skiing and snowboarding. And, yes, double chairs still rule.

BS: Got any good Plake stories
you are allowed to share?

LP: I traveled with Glen on more than a few ski related missions. We did Rip Curl’s “The Search” campaign together for years, traveling worldwide. He’s a hardcore skier and a real mountain man. I have big respect for his skiing abilities and work ethic. Actually, one of my first backcountry photography adventures was with Glen, a multi-day mission into the eastern Sierra south of Mammoth Lakes. Glen had the basecamp set with a snowmobile approach on the lower elevation, then climbing skins, and heavy pack-grunting. We were rewarded by many extreme skiing options in very steep terrain. As we were discussing lines our first day at camp, Glen looked me in the eye [and said] “If I die out here, don’t bother removing my body. Leave me to rest in peace. Promise.” He rigged his skis with full lock bindings. No release, unless the screws pulled. Safety bindings they were not.

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BS: Be honest now: is it more fun to make pictures with skiers or snowboarders?

LP: Now that is a loaded question. I’ve been shooting both for a long time. My friends are both. I’ve hung out shooting and had fun with ski and snowboard devotees. I’m not partial with who I hang with and shoot either way. I draw the line on spending time with anyone who is a dick or egocentric. That being said, on a great powder day, I
always think I should be riding a snowboard. It looks like so much more fun!

BS: Talk little bit about your relationship with the late, great David Stoecklein?

LP: I was in Sun Valley during a ski road trip. My friend Dave Z was with me as a skier/model. I set up to shoot Dave Z below a knoll. Out of my view, he was being yelled at. I see a guy appear in my view with a camera. He yells at me and asks, “Who are you?!” I say my name and he lights up. Turns out, he knew my work, specifically a shot of a cowboy on a bronc he saw in a recent Sports Illustrated calendar. He ended up inviting me to come by his office and talk a bit. That was how I first met Dave Stoecklein…He was gracious in sharing how I should make a living in photography. He showed me his publishing business and his postcards and got excited when he learned where I was from. “Lake Tahoe has lame postcards,” he said. “Take these samples and go start your own postcard company.” Dave Z and I discussed the idea on our return to Tahoe. Soon enough, we formed a partnership and company. We used Stoecklein’s postcards as a sample of what we would do, and our business grew. Years later, I saw David doing all sorts of the western horse/cowboy theme books, calendars, fine prints, etc. that he would become famous for…RIP David. Thank you.

BS: What is work like for you nowadays?

LP: After 9/11, my photography business stalled out and then took a nosedive. Besides the turmoil of the times, digital photography was rapidly flowing into the waters of traditional film photography. Auto focus, auto aperture, and cheap digital imagery were crude at first, but I could see what was happening with the mass evolution of photography. I shelved my photo business, sold everything, and moved to New Zealand. My intention was to allow time for the digital cameras to evolve.

I built a home, surfed, fished, managed property, wrote a novel and a feature screenplay. When the camera and resolution became acceptable to me a few years back, I finally reinvested in new camera gear and was preparing to get back into the business side of things— and then COVID hit. The past few years I’ve been working on writing projects for a feature film and a TV series. My novel, Dream Walker, gained the attention of the producer of The Lord of the Rings and we signed an option. Time will tell what might come of that. Interestingly enough, my older ski and snowboard stuff has been getting some real interest again. My film files are back in demand!

BS: I know you are a passionate surfer. How does that compare/relate to your relationship with mountains and snow?

LP: Surfing uncrowded conditions on a sunny day with prime waves and offshore wind is bliss. I live at the ocean in New Zealand but still visit the mountains often. There’s a spiritual/soulful aspect to both sea and mountains. The core feeling of gliding with gravity on skis or riding the energy of a wave is similar. Both surfing and skiing bring joy. Both are good for you. Useless pursuits in the eyes of some, both are worthy of making part of life’s journey. I don’t shoot surfing photography much anymore; I’d rather ride waves. I also love to paddle sea kayaks. Balance of body and mind. When it’s glassy on the sheltered bay in front of our house, sea kayaking calls. I’m still active at 65. Yoga for life, kids.

BS: The theme for this issue of Bomb Snow is “Stomp Out Stigma.” What is one stigma you would like to see erased?

LP: That art and free thinking don’t serve the best common interests of the herd.

Check out more of Larry Prosor's iconic work on his website: https://www.larryprosor.com/


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