Featured image: Jeff Schultz
The Iditarod is a 938-mile-long sled dog race across Alaska that relies on countless volunteers to run the race, has professional and amateur mushers run the race with male, female and trans mushers competing at the same level. The dog athletes are the most fit and healthy dogs on the planet.
Jeff Schultz has been the official photographer of the Iditarod, as a volunteer, since 1981. Schultz pays for his own photo expenses and owns the rights to his photographs, and Iditarod pays for his travel and food expenses.
In 2019, Schultz acknowledged that he was absolutely burned out photographing the same thing over and over and over, even though the race was different each year. So, he invited two gifted, creative, photo-friends to dinner to help him figure a way out of his “funk”. They suggested he consider doing something different like shooting portraits of people along the trail and telling a story like Humans of New York — people like the mushers, village residents and the thousands of volunteers who help put on the race each year.
Schultz thought this was a great idea, but it seemed like it needed a little bit more consideration because he wanted the photography to be special. His friends suggested that he use some radical studio lighting so that the photos really stood out from other images. Instead of photographing the subjects with an Iditarod background like he had done before with a bunch of dogs parked in the background or in a village, they suggested he bring a studio background and take them OUT of the Iditarod elements. And shoot them wherever they were — indoors or outdoors — no matter the weather or temperature.
Then gather their basic life info — name, age, home state/country, profession etc. —and ask them three pertinent questions about their involvement with the Iditarod:
1. How, when & why did you get involved with the Iditarod?
2. Why are you still involved with the Iditarod?
3. What was one of your most memorable Iditarod experiences?
And the project kept morphing until the team added a fourth question: “What in life do you know for sure?”. “What a great question”, Schultz thought. “It goes to the person’s heart. I thought that was the kicker of everything. BUT then one friend said AND not only that, RECORD their answers and publish the words, portrait, and audio all on a website, and give it all away for FREE. ” So they did. To assist with expenses, Schultz does receive support for this project from his patrons via his page at patreon.com.
And yes, Schultz and the team decided to do dog portraits too. If one thinks humans might be hard to photograph, try sled dogs. The team asked the mushers about their dogs and when they listened to a musher talk about the personality of their dogs, they found their responses were “the best thing ever”. Some of these mushers know more about their dogs than some parents know about their own kids. The American Kennel Club (AKC) Museum of New York used some of the dog portraits and audio in one of their shows a couple years ago.
Digitial copies of the portraits were given to the subjects free of charge so they could use the photos however they wished, (social media, their own website, prints, etc.) albeit not for commercial gain. Some of the subjects have since passed on and their families were so grateful to have a professional portrait and a voice recording of their family member.
Schultz and the team have posted over 1,000 of these human and canine portraits online at www.FacesOfIditarod.com. So, take a minute to look, listen and learn more about the many faces of the Iditarod. You will enjoy the experience.