National Geographic Traveler magazine is celebrating its 30th anniversary this fall. To commemorate this milestone, we asked 12 of our longtime photographers to select their favorite images shot on assignment for Traveler throughout the past three decades. We will be publishing these images, along with stories behind the photographs, throughout the month of November.
Today, we hear from photographer Aaron Huey about the image above, which he shot for Traveler in 2004.
This was for my first assignment for Traveler in 2004. It was an assignment I’ll never forget.
I was not yet making a living at photography—I was working in an indoor climbing gym in Seattle, Washington, and I’d just moved there after melting the engine of my Volkswagen bus and running out of money. Dan Westergren (the director of photography) called with this assignment in northwestern Montana, and it was all history from there. I grabbed my Leica M-6 Rangefinder (loaded with side film) and hit the road.
I did not go into this story trying to make what Traveler readers expected, or even what the writer was writing about. I went in trying to capture the soul of this place in a way that transcends the specific characters and storyline. No hotels, no store owners with their wares, and no food shots (unless you count the burger on a Styrofoam plate I shot in the bar one evening). I wanted to make poetry and portraits, natural ones, not stare-you-in-the-face-and-smile kind of ones. And so when I heard about this high school football game, I thought, having grown up in a similarly sized small town in Wyoming, that it would be a great place to capture the spirit of this community. I remember walking out onto that field with the whole stadium watching. It’s one of those moments as a young photographer where you just have to own it and do your work, and yes, everyone is wondering who you are and why you are out there shooting. But the shot was worth it.
Photo tip: Look for moments that are not the most literal aspects of a story. Shoot around the edges and help build the stage on which the written story takes place. And shoot either like no one is watching or like everyone is watching!
See more of Aaron Huey’s work at AaronHuey.com.