CHRIS DAHL-BREDINE CHASES THE LIGHT. “I’m moved by sunrises and sunsets,” he says. “There’s nothing quite like the beautiful New Mexico light, and I just want to be right there in it.” Flying high in his modified two-seat ultralight trike, the 54-year-old Taos resident seeks connection with the landscape below. “When the whole Earth is spread out before you, you can’t help but feel part of something bigger than yourself. New Mexico is one of those places that moves you to feel the world in your whole body. When I see that thing that moves me, that is what I want to photograph.” In 1999, during the final week of the ski season at Taos Ski Valley, Dahl-Bredine climbed Kachina Peak, seeking the last best run of the year. He was about 60 feet above the cliff when the side of the mountain fell away. “I started sliding; the snow swallowed me,” he says. “There was nothing I could do.” Nothing, that is, except reach for something far larger.
THERE WERE SEVEN KIDS in my family. My parents weren’t particularly career-oriented. They saw work as something you do either because you love it or because it’s good for the planet.
WE WERE BROUGHT UP to be freethinkers—hiking, backpacking, just being on the land. We were brought up to see options and opportunities everywhere.
I REMEMBER THE SNOW up to my armpits. I remember trying to grab a tree, but I went over the cliff. I was tumbling head over heels, and I thought, This is it. I’m done.
I BLACKED OUT. When I came to, I was half buried but alive. I’d been totally thrown out of my body.
MY SPINE AND WRISTS WERE FRACTURED, but I didn’t need surgery. While I was recovering, I realized that life can end at any moment, so I resolved to do everything I wanted with whatever I had left of this life.
I ALWAYS WANTED TO FLY. Once I recovered, I started looking around. I checked out hang gliding, but it wasn’t quite right. I found a school in Arizona that taught ultralight.
IT WASN’T EASY. I got into it, but flying was rough. I didn’t like the turbulence.
ONCE I FIGURED OUT that you could avoid all that turbulence by taking off at dawn and catching that early gentle air, I decided that this was my life.
IT’S FUNNY. When I’m on a cliff, I’m more nervous than when I’m flying. Once I’m up there, I go beyond, and I just don’t worry about anything anymore.
IN 2002, I was flying, but I wasn’t so into photography. I’d taken some classes, but it really didn’t mean that much to me.
BUT YOU KNOW, I get up there at 5 a.m. and that first light …. oh, I was blown away.
I GOT A LITTLE POINT-AND-SHOOT. Digital at that time couldn’t get me what I wanted, so I stuck with film for many years. Little by little, I learned, got better equipment, and learned more.
WHEN THE WHOLE EARTH IS BELOW, you realize it is you, that you are a part of it and it is a part of you.
WATER IS BIG FOR ME. I love to run the river. I got a pack raft recently, so now I can fly with my boat and get to some special places no one else can reach.
WHAT’S NEW TO ME is my cinematic camera. I can put it on my trike, take off, and get a high-quality cinematic video, the kind I’ve always imagined.
THE THING ABOUT FLYING is that it takes you out of your thinking mind and puts you into your feeling body. When your mind stops thinking, you know you’re in touch with something bigger.