Jim Harris: the optimistic adventurer

Artist, photographer and adventurer Jim Harris stays fully immersed. [Photo] Courtesy Jim Harris

Freeskier and photographer Kalen Thorien loves the open road—she even has the word “wanderer” inscribed in ink on her fingers as a testament to her travel inclinations. But like many adventure-driven athletes and artists, her path has not always been a solo one. From her first time packrafting to skiing and learning the art of enjoying the moment, Thorien has looked to photographer Jim Harris, 37, from Carbondale, Colo., for mentorship, inspiration and friendship. She notes his penchant for capturing community from behind the lens and his optimistic take on life are the ingredients that make his approach to art and travel unique.

Jim has not only been a big influence on my growth in the outdoors, in skiing and in how to move in the mountains and appreciate the outdoors, but also in my photography. He has such a genuine and realistic eye for the way athletes, skiers, hikers and climbers move in the outdoors. Going outside with him is always really fun because we’re taking photos and creating stories and content, but we’re also doing incredible journeys. I’ve not only been able to create art with him, I’ve also been able to challenge myself in skiing and hiking—the first time I ever went packrafting was with Jim. He took me down the Grand Canyon. He opened up such a world for me. I wouldn’t be where I am today without Jim’s help and guidance.

Jim Harris woodcut.

We met in 2012, seven years ago. I’ve found that his combination of being genuine and creative is what makes his art special—all of his photos are secondary to what is actually going on. So many times it can be easy to be tricked with imagery, but what he shoots is actually happening—so that authenticity is huge, and his creativity is also amazing.

My introduction to skiing professionally was very extreme. It was jumping off of things and skiing big lines in Canada. But with Jim, he creates a story behind every image, and he was influential in moving action photography away from only portraying extreme sports. He captures more of the “behind the scenes” images than just the gnarly shit. He always finds really cool characters to shoot and tell their story. That opened my eyes to a much bigger world of being adventurous.

Jim is so quick. He moves really fast as a photographer. We’d get up to a line we were going to ski, and I’d be fumbling around and before I’d know it, he’d be up on a cliff shooting down into a couloir saying, “Hey Kalen, whenever you’re ready, you can make a turn down there, and don’t forget to enjoy your skiing.” And that’s what’s so fun. He always comes out with these incredible shots, and we’re having a blast.

Thorien and Harris enjoy the rafting life. [Photo] Courtesy Jim Harris

It’s like skiing with your best friend, but he happens to get killer photos. It’s always about the journey and the adventure, and the content comes second. I think that’s allowed him to be one of the best photographers in the business. He suffered an injury with his paragliding accident that left him paralyzed—that’s everyone’s nightmare. He was lucky enough to regain movement, but he never wants you to feel sorry for him. He always sees the optimism. It was his goal to ski a year after his accident, and he did that. So if people are looking for someone who’s inspiring, he’s someone to check out, both as an artist and an outdoorsman.

One of my most memorable trips with Jim was rafting the Grand Canyon. We were about halfway through, and we were floating through a section where the light was perfect and the water was calm. We were enjoying a few beers and listening to music and all of the sudden, Moby’s tune from The Beach came on. Jim and I looked at each other like, “Oh man, this is a bit cheesy,” but then we just shut up, looked up at the sky and felt so at peace. After the song, we popped up and, without words, just nodded at each other. That’s Jim. He just immerses himself fully in whatever he does and sees the world in such a positive light. Everyone he knows wants to be near him because he elevates experiences.

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