Shutter Speeds: The Extreme Photography of Toshi Kawano

Toshi Kawano didn’t expect to visit Whistler, didn’t expect to stay in Whistler and certainly didn’t expect to become one of the resort’s most sought after winter sports photographers. Civil engineer turned photographer, Kawano’s story of success revolves around the ineffable spell that Whistler casts on its visitors.

Toshi Kawano is originally from Tokyo where he worked as a civil engineer—a far cry from a photographer of extreme winter sports. How did he arrive there in the first place? Quite by mistake. He thought visiting a North American city would be an opportunity to improve his English, as it was the common language spoken in his office. He planned a ski trip and in 1995 visited Whistler. At this point, he had never even considered photography as a profession.

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His trip to Whistler lasted approximately a year and a half where he worked for Whistler Blackcomb as a ski-tuning technician and lived the typical ski bum lifestyle. His girlfriend, who later became his wife, accompanied him on this trip. She had come over to Canada a few weeks earlier, leading many of his friends in Japan to think he was following a girl, a fact he still denies.

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So why Whistler? “The mountains. I somehow chose Canada and somehow chose Whistler. I’m not really sure how, it was just a lucky decision.” He stayed for one more winter before heading home.

On returning to Japan he took a job at a publishing company, which would later prove invaluable to his career as a photographer, as he met many contacts at some of Japan’s top snow-sports magazines. These connections gave him the opportunity to try his hand at photographing snow sports.

Armed with only one camera and one lens, he returned to Whistler—this time to make it his permanent home. Kawano honed his craft and now takes some of the most unique and stylized action photos on Whistler Blackcomb. In fact, when the mountain decided to re-brand their promotional material, his photography dominated their campaign.

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Recently his work has been compiled into a large-format art book, Top of the Pass: Whistler and the Sea to Sky Country, which photographically tells the story of how Alta Lake became Whistler, the world-class ski resort it is now.

December 2007 marked his tenth year since landing in Whistler. Although Whistler is his first love, where he still currently shoots most of his photos, Kawano and his wife now reside in Pemberton.

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