An Interview with Photographer Ben Moon
by Emily Nuchols
Chances are if you’ve perused the Patagonia website or catalog, you’ve caught sight of a few of Ben Moon’s images. From surfing and climbing to capturing the music scene, the self-taught Moon took the photography scene by storm more than a decade ago.
Moon’s work will be featured this weekend at the 5Point Film Festival in Carbondale, Colorado. I caught up with Moon in between travels at his home-base in Portland, Oregon and asked him a few questions.
[Above: Portrait of Ben Moon in SE Portland, Oregon. Photo: Ryan McDonald]
Emily: What did you have for breakfast this morning?
Ben: I love to eat, so breakfast is a great excuse to get rolling on that early in the day. While I’m home, I usually make a green juice first thing in the morning with kale, an apple, a lemon, and fresh ginger. I’m not into big meals because I can’t be productive during a food coma, so a “second” breakfast follows soon after, along with yerba maté to keep the day moving.
[Peter Thurlow, a Newfoundland native, climbing ice over the Atlantic Ocean during low tide in western Newfoundland. He established these climbs and is one of the only local ice climbers on this part of the island. Stephen Gale is belaying. Photo © Ben Moon]
What came first: climbing or photography?
I had been climbing for a few years before I picked up my first “real” camera, but the first images I shared with a photo editor were a few slides on Brooke Sandahl’s light table at Metolius during a brief period working there. He was the first to publish my images and I began working with Jane Sievert at Patagonia shortly after. Embracing my love of photography and making the art my work has been a decade-long process. I'm self-taught and didn't start shooting seriously until my mid-twenties. After that it took me a long time to identify myself as a visual artist. Now I can truly say that I cannot imagine doing anything else.
How do the two arts complement each other?
While I was just starting my path in photography, I lived in a camper van for nearly three years, traveling the West and photographing the rock climbers within my community. Both pursuits require a level of dedication and focus to progress in them, and I appreciate the process of working through a difficult crux whether on the wall or on location for a shoot.
[A ropeless Alex Honnold freesoloing the final pitch of Zebra Zion (5.10a) at Smith Rock State Park. Terrebonne, Oregon. Photo © Ben Moon]
Favorite place to shoot photos?
I live in Portland, Oregon and I love the access to so many different landscapes — the rugged and beautiful coastline, the rainy forests of the Columbia River Gorge, the snowy Cascade Mountains, and the painted high desert. Portland also has a thriving scene of music and creativity, which keeps me motivated as well. Smith Rock is still one of my favorite places to photograph and climb. I've spent a lot of time there over the past 13 years and I’m still awestruck by the light, landscape, wildlife, and varying angles you can capture there. I also lived on Kauai for a summer early on in my career, which made a deep impression on me with its vibrant colors and island culture. I have a soft spot for the tropics and water photography. Traveling to a new destination and observing cultures that are a contrast to my own keeps me inspired.
[Belinda Baggs ducking underneath a wave in New South Wales, Australia. Photo © Ben Moon]
You battled cancer at a young age. How did that challenge influence who you are today?
I'm continually inspired by human emotion and how we're in a constant state of growth and change. I survived colorectal cancer several years ago and that had a profound influence on how I connect with others. It made me value real human connection and friendship rather than simply glorifying athletic accomplishments.
When you were sick, I know the outdoor/adventure community supported you, and the climbing community always bands together to fight. Can you tell me a little bit about the community?
While I was going through chemo, radiation, and the surgeries for cancer, I was amazed at the support I received from my friends and clients in the outdoor industry. There was a fundraiser to help cover my medical expenses and we literally had a room full of gear donated to auction off, and this was all via word of mouth, prior to any of the social media we have today. It brought tears to my eyes. It was so incredible to see everyone come together like that to support a cause. I’m reminded daily of the importance of community and am grateful that I’m able to work with clients that are also my dear friends. I’m also fortunate to live within a group of incredibly talented friends that are artists and musicians, and they are a big influence and inspiration as well!
[A portrait of surf legend, shaper, yogi, and snowboarder Gerry Lopez in Bend, Oregon. Photo © Ben Moon]
Have you ever been to 5Point?
This is my first time to the festival. I’m pretty excited to be a part of it this year, and I’ve heard nothing but praise about it from my peers.
Tell us about Denali.
Denali is my dog. He’s a husky/pit bull mix that I rescued from a shelter twelve and a half years ago. He’s been my sidekick from the beginning of my photography career and has been my dearest companion through the years. While I was in the hospital for cancer surgery, the nurses let him lay on the bed with me, and he never took his eyes off me during the entire experience. Denali is also a bit of a rock star and has been in several Patagonia catalogs, is Ruffwear’s poster boy, and has shown up in a few music teasers for Blind Pilot. Currently, a larger than life image of him is touring the country on the side of a cargo trailer for Subaru’s “WorkPlayLove” campaign.
[Aerial image of Peter Mel outrunning a giant wave at the 2009 Nelscott Reef big wave surf contest in Lincoln City, Oregon. Photo © Ben Moon]
What's a "normal" day in the life of Ben Moon?
I can say that there are no two days that are the same. If I’m at the office, I spend a lot of time on the phone and emailing clients and athletes discussing future shoots, as well as working with my producer. There are always images to edit, a video piece that is in some stage of production, and a shoot or trip to pack for, so there are few “off” days. In spite of the dedication required for this career, I love being a nomadic visual artist and feel so fortunate. I make it a priority to eat well and take care of my body, so I always make sure to take time to practice yoga or climb on a daily basis, and commute via bike while in Portland.
[Drew Peterson climbing JR Token at Trout Creek, a basalt crack climbing area in Central Oregon. Adrien Erlandson is belaying. Photo © Ben Moon]
To check out more of Moon’s photos, visit his website benmoon.com.
The 5Point Film Festival starts today and runs through April 29 in Carbondale, Colorado. Check out the official trailer:
Browse the festival program:
Emily Nuchols is the founder of Under Solen Media a full-service communications firm with a cause, representing some of the top outdoor industry brands, nonprofits and high-profile adventurers.