Most people only dream of the exotic locations that freelance travel photography columnist Bob Krist has visited in the years he has been working at his profession. A celebrated witness to the changing landscape of the world, he has visited seven continents, 151 countries, and 50 states for such prestigious publications as Travel & Leisure, National Geographic Traveler, Popular Photography, Endless Vacations, Smithsonian Magazine, and Outdoor Photographer magazine since 1986.
But when the 64-year-old, who will show and discuss his work at the Acme Screening Room in Lambertville on Saturday, August 20, has time to dream about a great place to visit, he dreams of his family — wife, Peggy, and sons Matthew and Brian — the familiarity of his New Hope home, and the Jersey Shore. And he’s never been to Disneyland.
Born in Jersey City to a father who worked in the food industry for Swift & Co. and a homemaker mother, a British war bride who met Krist’s dad in England during World War II, Bob Krist had no photography influences in his early life. But there were “a couple of writers” in his mother’s family background.
“I’m a Jersey boy,” says Krist, “and the Jersey Shore is a beautiful place we like to visit. LBI, Seaside. But I also like Iceland, Italy, India, Mexico. I like a lot of places.”
He’s been stranded on a glacier in Iceland, nearly run down by charging bulls in southern India, and knighted with a cutlass during a Trinidad Voodoo ceremony. The only place he doesn’t want to revisit is Afghanistan. Why? “I was there in the 1970s. It’s too dangerous. You can get killed there,” he replies.
He always comes home, though. It might be corny to say so, but that’s where his heart is. “I miss my wife, my kids,” says the 20-year Bucks County resident, “But I could live in a Cornish fishing village or San Miguel, Mexico, or the South of France.
Ironically, it was New Jersey that helped launch his photography career.
It began at the Hudson Dispatch in Union City, at a pre-social media time when print journalism and the photographers who were an essential part of it were in their heyday. He had gotten interested in the profession through his school and college newspapers, though he also was interested in theater. So he took headshots of actors while taking a year off to tour with Berkeley’s Theater Company. His travels to Amsterdam and London came in handy since it gave him more experience for a reporting job that began with a three-week period in August filled with fires and accidents, at $140 per week.
“I moved in above my parents’ garage. I was so broke I thought I would pay off some credit cards and ended up spending five years at the paper. But I didn’t want to spend my life in Hudson County,” says Krist. An assignment to cover the Jersey Shore fell to Krist, who was able to cover it like a pro.
His subsequent travel adventures have not gone unnoticed. In 1994, 2007, and 2008, Krist won the title of “Travel Photographer of the Year” from the Society of American Travel Writers. In 2000 he was honored at the Eisenstaedt Awards for his National Geographic Traveler photo essay on Tuscany. His books include visual explorations of the Caribbean, Bucks County, New York, and the Low Country between Charleston and Savannah.
But times have changed for the seasoned traveler, and he has a blunt assessment of what challenged his profession: The smartphone. Now everyone is a photographer, he says.
“My profession is totally devastated,” he admits. “It’s very hard to find work. Nobody’s reading newspapers. So I went to video. It’s a much bigger market. It’s like being a buggy maker just before they came out with the Model T. I’m in a profession that’s under siege. I go months in between assignments.” He made the switch to video “three or four years ago,” Krist says, and illustrates his journey on a vivid personal blog.
There isn’t much the white-haired, blue-eyed, bearded man who describes himself as looking like Santa Claus hasn’t experienced. But instead of toting home bags of souvenirs over the years, Krist says he gave up buying them 20 years ago. And there is no pile of special clothes waiting in a corner to be packed into his favorite suitcase, no favored pair of shoes that will be soothing on the feet after climbing the ruined steps of an ancient monument or hiking along mountainous landscapes. He doesn’t even hang his own photographs in his house. A duffle bag, two carry-ons — one for his computer and the other for his camera and its backup — is what he allows himself. The rest happens between him and the vista or people in front of his lens.
“Travel means being without anything familiar, stripped of your usual crutches, and being completely and always a stranger,” he says.
On Saturday, August 20, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Krist will bring his stories and some short videos to the Acme Screening Room, 25 South Union Street in Lambertville. His appearance will be part of a fundraising effort to renovate the screening room, which specializes in independent films and documentaries, often accompanied by Q & As with directors. Tickets cost $15 for Krist’s videos and 90-minute Q & A session or $60 if a ticketholder wants to add the Acme’s Supper Club dinner to the night.
It is Krist’s third appearance at the 76-seat, non-profit theater — billed as Hunterdon County’s only indie cinema — and he wants to help raise funds for the $50,000 capital campaign that will pay for upgraded seats, sound, and overall theater space. A higher capacity popcorn machine and a larger screen also are in the plans with the campaign already reaching half of its goal. A former supermarket, the Acme serves as a courtroom by day. That leaves only the weekend for the Acme to show its films.
Krist’s appearance comes after a year of recent exploration. His short films, an offshoot of the new turn his visual work is taking, include a piece on artist Robert Beck; a look at an obscure, back-country Cajun Mardi Gras; a journey to Mexico, its rodeo, and Christmas rituals; a voyage from Tahiti to Easter Island; and, finally, a trip to Maine. His last appearance was a sellout.
Earlier this year he presented the 17-minute “A Thousand Autumns” about a young Icelandic farmer who carries out the tradition of “rettir,” the annual movement of herds of sheep and horses from summer pasture to autumn grazing through a spectacular but unforgiving terrain, at the Trenton Film Festival.
Needless to say, Krist is no ordinary traveler. Over the course of his life he has been a professional actor, a contributing editor at both National Geographic Traveler and Outdoor Photograph, and hosted “Nature’s Best Photographs,” a 13-part series for Natural Wildlife Productions. His coffee table books include the 270 pages of photos titled “Tuscany.” Done in collaboration with best-selling author Frances Mayes, it spent months on the New York Times’ bestseller list.
Krist became an award-winning photographer of note, enjoying fame and making a good living, until two things changed his life. His youngest son, Jonathan, 19, was killed 10 years ago in an auto accident on the night before he was going to take a six-week hike on the Appalachian Trail with his brother. In his memory, the Krists have established the Jonathan D. Krist Foundation, a testament to the young man’s love of nature and of music. There are two “Music with a Mission” projects — one to collect band instruments for underserved schools and a second to build wells in Africa. Another Foundation priority, the James McBride Teaching Award, is an unrestricted $1,000 award that recognizes excellent teachers in under-sourced communities.
His oldest son, Matthew, teaches history and music, and middle son Brian has “made it big in the tech world” in San Francisco. Wife Peggy, the “creative thinker” Krist met in college, holds down the fort at home. Jonathan, whom Krist describes as a “do-gooder,” lives on through the continuing efforts of his foundation, including at the Foundation Academy in Trenton.
Ask Krist if there is anyplace he would like to go, and he mentions Brazil and Greece. Luckily he likes “everything” when it comes to food, at least he did until he reached his mid-50s.
Now enjoying a “little love affair with black-and-white photography,” Krist suggests three key elements to great photographs: great light; story composition; and a sense of the moment. He uses a Sony RX IV camera, having switched from a Nikon five years ago. But the world-class photographer says the best camera is “the one you have with you.”
But these days the elder Krist operates in a totally different landscape from the one that originally took him around the world — video.
World Views, New Short Films by Bob Krist, Acme Screening Room, 25 South Union Street, Lambertville. Saturday, August 20, 7 p.m. $15; $60 with Supper Club. 609-483-5457 or www.acmescreeningroom.org.