When you look a the list of israel’s top exports, ski photographers are probably as far as you could get from the top of the list. That’s because there’s just one: Guy Fattal. The 26-year-old is regarded as one of the most promising up-and-coming photographers to grace the pages of ski magazines the world over. But the journey from the Holy Land through one of the ski industry’s most competitive media landscapes was far from being an overnight sensation. Hailing from village of Har Adar in the hills west of Jerusalem, Fattal didn’t have the geographic convenience of a ski hill within driving distance. Like many who grew up in snowless suburbs, Fattal owes his first sliding experience to a family ski trip. That came at age 11, when his father looked up an old friend from a student exchange trip to France during his own youth. Ancelle Ski Resort was where a wide-eyed Fattal first experienced the sensation of sliding on snow.
“I fell in love with skiing that week, it was the most amazing thing I’ve ever done,” he says, talking over the murmurs in a busy Whistler coffee shop. “When I returned to school the next week, I cried so much because I had no idea when I was going to ski next.”
That week-long vacation to France turned into more or less a biannual tradition for the Fattal family, fueled by Guy’s adolescent enthusiasm.
“My father would always look for the lowest-priced accommodation so we’d end up staying in a tiny concrete apartment in the French Alps with my father and siblings crammed into one room,” he recalls fondly. “It was never anything fancy, but we’d just go out and ski from when the lifts opened until closing, every day for a week.”
Back at his home in Har Adar, Guy’s second, more creative passion was blooming. At age 13 he took an interest in his sister’s camera (a gift from their uncle), experimenting with the features and vehemently researching online photography forums every day after school. Fattal proclaimed to his parents it was time for him to start shooting with a real digital SLR, offering to pay for half the cost and the rest being a parental investment in his artistic future. His parents reluctantly accepted after about a year of badgering, believing the camera would just be another fad hobby that he would soon tire of.
When Fattal first laid hands on the second-hand Nikon D50 that would become the tool of his trade, he knew his relationship with photography was anything but temporary. With the countryside of Israel at his door, he began to clock up the shutter count and hone his craft.
“Israel is such a small country, but you have a little bit of everything; landscapes at first like hills and forests, Biblical deserts in the south, mountains to the north and the crazy textures of the Mediterranean Sea and Dead Sea to the west and east,” he says. “I would also shoot urban settings like nstreets and colourful markets.” call of duty
While Fattal’s aspirations of skiing and photography were at their pinnacle at age 18, like for every Israeli youth, the time came for his mandatory military service. Israel is considered one of the most patriotic countries in the world and military service is embraced by all classes, creeds and Jewish denominations. Men must serve for three years (women serve for two years), which for Fattal meant hanging up the skis and putting down the camera until he was 21.
It was a period of rapid growth for Fattal, learning to deal with incredibly stressful, nerve wracking situations as well as the basic and advanced training that all IDF soldiers are expected to pass with flying colours. So it was little surprise that his first stop after being discharged was to go skiing again, this time with friends in Grandvalira, Andorra. the passion resumes
During his season in the Pyrenees Mountains between Spain and France, Fattal found his groove with skiing and photography while enjoying the relative luxury of cheap rent and affordable beer. He crossed paths with the CEO of an Israeli tour company and after presenting a portfolio of his work to date, was soon offered a position of in-house photographer. The experience shooting all aspects of ski resort marketing was invaluable, but as the seasons ticked by he was already looking to spread his photography wings even further. It was during the following summer, while bartending at a restaurant in Tel Aviv that Fattal experienced his next epiphany.
“I was serving drinks to an American guy at the bar and he had a copy of the Skiing Magazine Photo Annual in front of him,” recalls Guy. “We got talking and he could tell I was really excited, so he left the magazine for me. I still have that copy with KC Deane on the cover, shot by Grant Gunderson.”
The following winter of 2014-15 Fattal negotiated a reduced schedule with the Israeli tour company to allow him to pursue ski photography full time, to hopefully one day land a cover photo himself. After connecting with Austrian freeride crew Sinkflug, Fattal travelled to resorts all over Austria and northern Italy taking photos while the athletes skied and filmed.
“I convinced these guys to compete with me at the King of Dolomites, which all comes down to one winning photo after two days of shooting,” says Guy. “All I wanted to do was compete, there were 13 teams so I didn’t think we had the greatest chance of winning. We ski toured for hours and found the light hitting a ridge perfectly and our skier Dorian Konrad hustled out there as fast as he could before any other teams could hit it. I knew straight away that was the shot.”
While a considerable milestone, winning King of Dolomites was yet another springboard in Fattal’s still-young career. It wasn’t long before he caught wind of a photo competition in Whistler called Deep Winter, a high-pressure, slideshow event captured in just 72 hours. One of Fattal’s biggest influences in photography, Jordan Manley, had won the Deep Winter “King of Storms” title three years in a row. After attracting some attention from event sponsor Arc’teryx for his recent win at King of Dolomites in Italy, Fattal secured an invitation and was on his way to Whistler the following season. a new home
It took two tries for Fattal to win Deep Winter, but those seasons firmly cemented his love affair with Whistler and the powder plantations of the Coast Mountains. Now grappling with the reality of a photo career and the split between editorial passio projects and commercial bill-paying gigs, Fattal has relaxed little in his ongoing mastering of light.
“When I go through challenging moments – which happen every day in this career – I go back to that night of standing on the podium at Deep Winter, time and time again,” says Guy.
“There’s always self-doubt circulating in my mind and I ask myself: ‘Am I good enough do this, to pursue this passion and survive?’ Then I look back at how I’ve made it happen all with my own two hands. How many people can say they realized their dream like that?“
Like many skiers that grew up in snowless suburbs, photographer Guy Fattal owes his first sliding experience to a family ski trip to Ancelle Ski Resort in France. Guy’s father had been part of a student exchange there during his youth and stayed good friends with the host family, returning years later with his own family, including a wide-eyed and curious 11-year-old Guy Fattal. While most career ski photographers learned the art of the turn itself before picking up a camera, Guy Fattal did it the other way around.