One of the Good Ones

By Jacqui Palumbo

Embry Rucker is a portrait, sports and lifestyle photographer based out of Encinitas, California. For 19 years he has photographed for top editorial and advertising clients, with recent clients including Runner’s World, People, Adidas, Nike, Fedex, Bicycling magazine, Target and Sony. He has also photographed top athletes from all over the world with a natural, documentary approach with an aesthetic that is truly unique to his eye.

Rucker simply calls his style “adaptable.” He excels both at high-energy action shots just as much as low-key portraiture and appreciates the surprises that come with the territory of unconventional photo shoots. Most recently, he was asked to do a very laidback editorial shoot with snowboarder Kevin Pearce for HUCK magazine to accompany an interview by Zoe Oksanen. Pearce, who was critically injured in 2009 during a training session, is used to the throng of media coverage on his accident and his recovery. Both Rucker and the creatives at HUCK wanted an informal shoot instead.

Rucker only took one camera, a Canon 5D MK2 and a 35 mm lens to Pearce’s home. Pearce has been in recovery since his accident on December 31st, 2009 that left him with traumatic brain injuries after slamming his head into the lip of a halfpipe. Pearce, a three-time medalist in the 2008 X games, had been the only snowboarder who would give Shaun White a run for his money in the 2010 Winter Olympics. After several months of intensive physical therapy and over two years recovery time, Pearce has vastly improved but still struggles with things like memory and balance. He will soon be able to ride a snowboard again but will never be able to compete.

Pearce and Rucker spent the day chatting about everything from home ownership to landscaping, old Volkswagens and how Pearce has a great spot for a chicken coop. “I wanted him to feel relaxed enough to just hang out and not feel a need to “do” anything,” Rucker explains. He snapped photos of Pearce doing his daily exercises to help improve his vision and coordination. One image shows Pearce applying eye drops, another of him performing a balancing exercise and eye exercise simultaneously. His balance is still better than most; Rucker says he tried the balance board himself and comments, “I need a little more practice.”

The ease between photographer and subject is apparent in Rucker’s images. Rucker chose to show Pearce’s warm personality instead of harping on his accident. The subtle references to his recovery do not dominate his series but still add narrative and depth. Rucker appreciated the loose guidelines given to him by HUCK. “It’s nice to just show up with no intention and allow yourself to be open to serendipity,” he says.

Rucker also found the shoot to be impactful in a personal and unexpected way. He says, “In my past, I shot plenty of people getting wrecked on snowboards, but now that I am a parent, I see the shredders of today not so much as my peers as much as fragile youth. I find that I identify with Kevin’s parents and it is refreshing and inspiring to see a family like theirs.” On Pearce he comments, “That kid is an inspiration, an unstoppable fighter and one of the good ones.”

Proceeds from the shoot were donated to one of Peace’s favorite charities, Protect our Winters, whose mission is to “engage and mobilize the winter sports community in the fight against climate change.”

To see more of Embry Rucker’s work, visit his Web site.


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