Ray Demski’s idea of normal life may be different to yours. Sleeping on a Thai beach for three months with his family at the age of three, then sailing the world at the age of 14 set a different standard for what was "ordinary" for Ray. His early adventures became the formative experiences of one of the world’s most extra-ordinary action and adventure photographers, with clients such as Red Bull, BMW and Adidas queuing up for a slice of the action.
The Demski family’s seven-year world trip on a 45-foot sailboat inspired a lifelong photography adventure for Ray, as his childhood interest in sketching detailed drawings found a new outlet: his first camera, given to him by his father. The early video camera could also take stills and became his new sketchbook for capturing the ever-changing world of his teenage travels.
Sport was also established early on as a core passion, as Ray and his brothers trained in whatever martial arts they could find in the towns and cities they sailed to. "In some way that was also our way of connecting with the local community," he explains. "On one side we were training, but also then connecting with places in a way that you normally wouldn’t as just a tourist."
Talking with Ray about his work, the word "connection" recurs frequently. Whether it’s connecting deeply with an exciting new location somewhere, connecting with the dedicated team he has built around him, or connecting with the athletes he is shooting, connection is everything. It drives him to seek out new ways of capturing how he sees a moment, allowing him to present an image as an athlete himself—an insider—and drawing the viewer into a closer connection with the moment by generating the trademark that sets every Demski image apart: "Intensity. I like to find the intensity in the moment. I like to really push a photograph, to create a moment almost. I like to be there with the athletes in those moments of extreme focus, to make the viewer feel like they’re right there. I like a lot of detail and vivid contrast, powerful action and just capturing those key moments within a culture or sport that from the outside you wouldn’t see."
These aims have clearly been achieved, and Ray’s work demonstrates technical and creative flair to match his passion and insight. Dramatic and unusual lighting is a common feature, as well as fresh angles on what may be familiar topics and subjects. Whether in a commercial studio or on a cliff face, Ray thrives on the challenge of finding new ways of working and makes time for regular trips with friends to gain "fresh eyes" and to make sure he is "seeing the world in a different way."
No Time for Failures
Ray approaches preparation for his shoots with the same discipline required by MMA, Jujitsu, Kung Fu, and the many other martial arts he grew up practicing.
"You have a lot of preparation and planning coming together into one moment," he says, talking about a recent Adidas campaign. "For the shoots with Karim Benzema, Thomas Müller, Arjen Robben, and other top football players we had weeks of pre-production beforehand so that it went perfectly once the athlete stepped into the studio—there’s no time for any failures."
Dual-tethered cameras already running, a double lighting system, with three pre-planned lighting scenarios changeable in seconds. All aimed at making the most of our shooting time with the athlete."
Ray contrasts this "very visible preparation" with the approach required for adventure shoots in what can be extreme locations. The recent Norwegian Ice shoot in cooperation with Red Bull Photography in Arctic Norway was a good example of the challenges involved in achieving such stunning results. Camping in temperatures down to -37 C and shooting ice climbers at night with only two weeks to capture the elusive Aurora Borealis in the background, Ray’s close-knit team and thorough preparations produced some truly unique climbing imagery.