Natalia Boltukhova / female climber

This amazing image shows a skilled climber and an onlooking audience impressed by her actions and athletic abilities. Focus is on her physical strength and her facial expression, without anything else interfering with the picture.


Natalia Boltukhova, Russia/USA

pedalpowerphotography.com

Born in Russia, currently living in USA, Natalias favorite places on earth are all the ones she hasn’t been to yet, in other words- More than one! Her upcoming adventures include climbing and road-tripping in the south of Spain in May, as well as the yearly Parkour Gathering at Gerlev, Denmark this summer, and the Women’s Parkour Jam in Seattle. Natalias hopes for the future of the industry are simple: equality and respect.
 
When and why did you get in to photography?
“I had been exploring photography on and off throughout my childhood, mostly through my dad’s passion for it. Back then it was all black and white, occasionally color, and real film with all the magic elements of the home bathroom darkroom: from the nervousness of messing up the film development, to the impatience of rinsing the photo paper in the running water, or the excitement of the image slowly, magically, appearing on the paper – shadows first, then darks, then lights. All in that unforgettable dull red light.”
What made you get in to action, extreme or adventure sports?
“From a sports perspective, I’ve always been very active physically. Growing up have tried everything that was available to me: figure skating, gymnastics, high diving, track, xc skiing. I never stopped.
From the photographic perspective, getting into the sports came first, then photography followed.
I have always liked how “mountain biking” sounded. Say it: Mountain. Biking.
Trails, rocks, roots- just the two wheeled vehicle powered by you, the feeling of freedom, of going fast, of danger, adrenaline, bruises, scratches, wind, rain, laughter, pushing boundaries, and exploring places.
The actual competitive sport of mountain biking turned out to be far more intense and training-heavy though, but paid off with wild rides and pushing myself farther than I would have on just my own. It also reaffirmed it to me that while I am undeniably competitive, I simultaneously absolutely detest competition. Go figure.
Then came rock climbing, and shortly after, a photoshoot for a magazine introduced me to parkour which remains the discipline I focus on today.
What’s your worst/best/most intense moment related to action sports?
Pretty much any jump you “break” in parkour. Terrifying, empowering, and exhilarating all at once.”
 
What/Who is you favorite initiative, project, professional, leader, athlete or brand in the action sports sphere?
“There are too many people to list, but the spirit of not giving up and the ability to get back up after failing.”
 
What do you think of the lack of role models for girls and women in male dominated areas?
“It’s not only the quantity of the role models, it’s the quality. It’s about what those role models represent and which values they teach. Somehow, the qualities featured, both involuntarily as well as voluntarily, revolve around being pretty and feminine- which also translates into fragile, weak, and unable to sustain herself on her own- which, traditionally is attributed to the level of attractiveness connected to the very strong and very independent, male.  That needs to change.”
 
How do you see women evolving in the action sports scene?
“I have been witnessing the ongoing struggle of female cyclists in the U.S. trying to get equal payouts at races, all the while noticing a significant increase in the racing field at amateur level as well. A big part is played by the social aspect: women seemed to enjoy being in the same struggle of the race together, which bonded them rather than pulled apart through competition. Cheering for peers in different categories also presents a big bonding element.
Generally speaking, as I see it in climbing and parkour alike, the more women who see “regular” and “this could be your neighbour next door”- women go out and train hard without having the stereotypically prerequisite body or background, and more importantly, witness them progress through that very training- the more they become motivated to try it out themselves. “If she could do it, I can too”.  Basically it translates into “I don’t need any prerequisite to start training”.
The competition between the gyms trying to get more clients in, especially with the growing popularity of the many diverse disciplines there, also seems to allow more women the access to what just recently seemed like a TV show only – spartan races, crossfit workouts, running, etc.”
 
Do you have a feature or body part that you have been self-conscious about? Do you think low self-esteem in girls and stereotypes in media are connected?
“I remember that in high school and in college I was really sensitive about having “smaller-than-average” boobs. Engaging and trying to excel at many of life’s opportunities, some physical, some not, slowly eliminated this factor from my consideration. Not that my breasts became magically larger. My outlook changed.
But I definitely connect the girls’ self-esteem to the stereotypes shaped by the media, which is, in turn, shaped by what traditionally is considered to sell the best. And through stereotyping the female body and female character, the media is simultaneously stereotyping the males as well.  According to the media, all the males are attracted and looking for the same traits and the same physical features in a woman: fragile, unable of hard physical work, maybe she sometimes does yoga, and has that “perfect” 90-60-90 measurements. Therefore, the message to women is that they need to excel at one thing only in life: attain this very image to increase their attractability for the opposite sex. Obviously, to even be able to procreate. "Evolution at its best"- Yeah Right…”
Is there a difference in how women and men are portrayed in the action sports industry?
“There was this obnoxious webpage circulating not so long ago, with Top 10 or whatever other number of hottest female pro cyclists. They were judged by men, not on their skill level or competitive ability, but on pure shape, form, and prettiness of the face. Commentary revolved, predictably, around how big or small their boobs were, if their teeth were perfect enough, and so on..
I’m sorry, but I have never come across webpages that rate pro male cyclists based on the size of their male reproductive organs or face proportions – If any mention of the physical appearance of their bodies is ever made though, it’s usually in direct relation to the actual sport: the size of the quads with respect to the rest of the body, or sport-specific tan-lines, etc.
 Let’s open Sports Illustrated. -Oh, what a surprise, not that many women, if any at all! I guess women don’t play sports then. Or maybe they just don’t play hard enough to be featured?
Another in-your-face difference in the media, especially in advertising, is which sport males and females are usually depicted in, to represent “a physically active person”. 
Weight lifting, high intensity running and hard training is for men, and some stretching (in an attempt to picture yoga) with same flailing trail running is for women-  who predominantly also look radiantly unbothered, as if they just woke up. Ahem. They are supposed to be working out? -That involves pained faces, sweat, grimaces, and the show of effort, which is plentiful in male sport representation.”
What would you say to people who want to get in to action sports, but think they might not fit in?
“The impossible is often the untried. In the worst case, if you try it and fail/feel it’s not for you, two things will happen.
1. You know you have done at least something to attain what you wanted, and came to the realization it’s not for you (versus having to second guess for the rest of your life if you could have attained it or not without ever trying).
2. You might get up and feel up for the challenge and keep trying.
I don’t see a downside in either one.”