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Young artist channels his passions into photography

Hans Brunk captures the work of a street artist in Paris’ famous Montmartre district.

Hans Brunk captures the work of a street artist in Paris’ famous Montmartre district.

— During his mere 20 years on Earth, Hans Brunk has managed to build a competitive ski life, wreck it several times with knee injuries, graduate two exclusive high schools on two continents, teach himself several musical instruments and pick up an associates college degree in a language he had to learn in two years.

And in the middle of it all, the Midwest transplant discovered that a simple camera could help him see past the Olympic dreams he had sought since he was 3 years old. And in true humble style, getting this information from the young photographer himself was nigh impossible, but his parents and mentors were willing to speak up.

“A lot of athletes become one dimensional,” said Han’s father Lars Brunk. “He was sidelined from skiing several times during his formative years, but he managed to channel his passion into photography.”

The Brunks moved Hans to Steamboat Springs at age 13 when they realized his slalom skiing ability outpaced their Wisconsin lifestyle. After two years at the Steamboat Mountain School, he moved to Sweden on a visa to ski competitively and attend high school.

It was when he came back to Steamboat Springs to continue competing and finish his American high school that a family friend suggested he wrap up his hours with a photography class.

“That’s when I really messed my knee up for the first time … senior year in Steamboat,” Hans said. “Some people get injured and bummed out, sit at home and eat chips.” Fortunately for Hans, photography was a type of therapy.

“Everything changed when the injuries started to pile up. My ski career was closing. Photography was there to catch me,” Hans said.

Hans’ first photography teacher was the well-known art photographer and educator Karen Schulman.

“I would say that you don’t often come across 17-year-olds that have that much insight into any art form,” Schulman said.

She was thrilled he took his last high school class seriously and with passion.

“I’d give him an assignment, and he went out and developed a personal vision,” Schulman said.

Not one to sit around feeling sorry for himself, the always-independent Hans took his first camera and started traveling while dealing with injuries.

Hans said he took the usual “touristy” photos in Belize — mountains, palm trees.

“I set up this shot of the beach and a palm tree when this lady came to sit down underneath," Hans said. "She sold blankets.”

That’s when young Brunk realized that this worn, brown lady holding her colorful blankets brought his photo to life.

A street photographer was born on the beaches of Belize.

“Ironically I hate the city,” laughed Hans. “I love the country and Steamboat, but there’s so much in the city. It’s turned into my best photography.”

As featured artist of the month for Steamboat’s First Friday Artwalk, Hans will be displaying a body of work at Harwigs restaurant, 911 Lincoln Ave.

The black-and-white photos deal with what he calls varying amounts of negative space.

“We start in man’s concrete jungle and finish in mother nature’s canvas,” Hans explained to the Artwalk committee.

The exhibit includes a delightful photo of a fashionable young girl in tennis shoes watching a Paris painter at work, a rain-soaked Gondola in Venice where each raindrop stands out in as much details as the boat’s carvings, and on to desolate photos of an old Steamboat barn and a lonely post drowning in a sea of sand in Australia.

Luckily for Hans, his parents always taught him that success isn’t just measured by an Olympic medal.

“We always taught him that ski racing is really about learning life lessons,” said Lars Brunk.

It’s a lesson Hans has taken to heart as he hopes to pursue a masters degree in international business in Europe.

“Being 20, I have absolutely no idea what I want to do with my life," Hans said. "I want to go back to Europe and study, bite off small chunks."

But photography remains his passion.

“I’d love to be a professional photographer," Hans said.

No doubt, Hans’ passion for life will see him through his adventures. He’s managed to make it to the finals of the Photographer’s Forum Magazine’s Best of College Photography during the past two years.

Hans will be at this Friday’s March 3 Artwalk to talk about his photography in the upstairs of Harwigs from 5 to 8 p.m.

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