Marketa Jirouskova is an uncommon traveler: she has set foot on all seven continents. An adventurer who tests her own limits in some of the earth’s most remote and challenging locations, this documentary filmmaker-turned-nature-photographer has scaled the heights of the Himalayas and the depths of the Pacific Ocean and filmed penguins at play in Antarctica and polar bears near the North Pole. With her camera gear in tow, she seeks out the pristine, the uninhabited, the remote and unsullied to record the rare – and perhaps disappearing – beauty where few humans have trod.
In “Journeys: Photographs by Marketa Jirouskova,” on display at Glen Echo Park’s Park View Gallery through Dec. 29, the now Arlington, Virginia-based photographer shares a selection of her works, images of snowy mountains and dappled sunlight filtered through deep blue ocean waters. The pieces are a retrospective of some of her most arduous journeys, captured on film with a careful eye for detail, color and light in evidence.
Born in Czechoslovakia and raised in Prague, Jirouskova studied filmmaking, but the still camera was often a companion on her youthful trips. After a successful career as a documentary filmmaker and upon moving to the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area more than a decade ago, she returned to the photography of her younger years.
Jirouskova’s appetite for those challenging excursions to faraway lands was whetted as a teen: “I saw some books with beautiful pictures of high mountains and I always wanted to see them.” At age 42, she told herself, “You have to take your dreams and somehow try to realize them.” That was when she ventured to the Himalayas, which remains her most arduous – and rewarding – photographic and personal journey. “I went first for a short trek of about 10 days, just to see if I would be able to do it,” she recalled. With just one porter/guide, she made it to the Annapurna base camp, one of the highest mountains in the Himalayas.
Nearly a year later, Jirouskova returned for another go and attempted to hike to Everest camp, where she made it up 18,500 feet. “I loved it there. It was so beautiful, like another world. I took my gear: tripod, camera, lenses. …I stayed in the area of Everest National Park for another month,” she said.
There, Jirouskova continued to stake out locations and shoot the stark but stunning landscape. She shot sunrises and sunsets, which meant walking back to camp in the pitch dark. Feeling that the results were magnificent, she said, “I wanted to share the photographs with other people.”
“Journeys,” her show at Glen Echo Park, features nearly 50 images from her travels. Her works are portraits, without people, of nature’s landscapes from the Arctic to Antarctica, from the depths of the ocean to the world’s highest mountain ranges. “I like to photograph colors, shapes, unusual landscapes. I like to see animals and their behavior in their natural surroundings. I look for light, composition, for the subject matter is the most important thing,” she said.
“My eyes are searching for the right composition, which is crucial and, if it’s possible when I travel, I do wait for light,” she continued. “In the Himalayas, I went to photograph the same mountain at different times of day … the light was different.”
Jirouskova’s excursions take time to prepare. “While I did some training [physically],” she said of her Himalayas trip, “you cannot train for the altitude. You can train at lower altitude for hiking, but for the altitude, you have to go slowly. It was the most challenging trip I did.”
“I was not so crazy to go alone, of course,” she added. “I had a guide, a woman guide, then a third person. They helped me with carrying the gear and when I went up higher after sunset, I had to get back down to base camp, so we had to hike two hours in complete darkness. It was good to have someone with me.”
Once asked if she loved hiking, Jirouskova replied, “I like hiking because I have to get somewhere to see the view. I’m not a typical hiker.” Her bucket list has many more places. “I’m sort of reluctant to share them because I might not get to [all of them],” she admitted, “but they’re mainly in the mountain areas or ocean areas – landscapes, nature, parks.” She did say she would be interested in returning to the Himalayas as well as taking a trip to photograph the Easter Islands in the Pacific.
At home in the Washington, D.C., region, her journeys aren’t nearly as demanding. Yet she relishes capturing nature in many of the nearby national parks. “Of course, I like to shoot in faraway places,” she said, “but in the area, I like to go to Shenandoah National Park. I like to go to the National Zoo. And I love to go along the Potomac River. Great Falls is amazing almost any time of the year.”
“Journeys: Photographs by Marketa Jirouskova” is at the Park View Gallery at Glen Echo Park, 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo, through Dec. 29. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily except Sunday. Visit www.glenechopark.org.