“The best part about a camera is that it allows you to meet people,” says photographer Steve Shannon, “because everyone has a story.”
Born beneath the smelter-dominated skyline of Trail, British Columbia, and raised up the road in the sleepy mountain town of Rossland, where he began skiing at the age of two, the 33-year-old has a tale of his own to tell. After getting a camera as a high school graduation present, which furthered his already peaked interest in photography, Shannon set off to pursue a career in engineering in the nearby Okanagan Valley during his formative years. Throughout university, he would tinker and toil with his newfound hobby in an effort to make memories in the mountains with friends, before returning to Trail in 2007 to settle into a nine-to-five routine. But after being laid off from his engineering job two years later, Shannon took advantage of an opportunity to travel down a different path.
“Big Red Cats asked me to come out and shoot for fun, which is really what started my photo career. After that, I ended up getting asked to start a photo program at Selkirk Snowcat Skiing, so I packed up everything I owned and left.”
Rolling the dice, Shannon began splitting his time between living in Selkirk’s lodge and couch surfing in Revelstoke, which he’s now called home for the past six years, to chase a childhood obsession.
“I was always infatuated with magazines when I was kid, especially dirt biking ones, and would read them cover to cover and look at all of the photos over and over again. So I really took to photography when I got a camera, and then getting paid to go cat skiing and shoot photos seemed so unreal.”
Drawing inspiration from the likes of lens-wielders he’s long admired, like Jordan Manley, Blake Jorgenson and Oskar Enander, Shannon gravitated towards documenting moody light, while incorporating high contrast and dark shadows. Although, as his career progressed, he admits his photography took on a more personal tone.
“I got into photography because of landscapes, and my photography shows that, but something I’ve started to realize since I’ve matured is how I’ve used and continue to use the camera to develop connections with people. It’s my seventh season up at Selkirk, and the reason I keep going back is because of the incredible group of people there. And if it weren’t for the camera, I would have never been introduced to them.”
In an era when anyone with an iPhone and Instagram account can fancy themselves a photographer, another lesson shutter-bugging has taught Shannon is just how strong of a work ethic it takes to prove yourself and your craft.
“People always say to me, ‘You get to live the greatest life ever,’ but it’s not easy. You have to bust your ass to make it in this industry by getting up early, coming home late, and editing through the night at times.”
Along the way, Shannon’s hard work and intuitive eye have helped him emerge as a rising star in the world of both ski and mountain bike photography, having travelled to 20 countries to shoot, scoring a handful of covers (including Issue 4.1 of this magazine), and winning Pinkbike’s coveted Photo of the Year award in 2016. But, despite his growing success, and having established himself enough that engineering has been in the rearview mirror for five years, Shannon maintains a sense of humility and thoughtfulness about his place in the hierarchy of professional photography.
“It’s been a long road, but to be honest, I don’t know if I’ll ever feel that I’ve made it. There are always more opportunities to pursue, and another step along the way.” —JEFF SCHMUCK