Jeff Schultz has begun his 39th year as the official Iditarod photographer and he is trying something new this year. Schultz is putting together “Faces of Iditarod,” a photo essay project intended to capture the various stories along the trail, from an official volunteer to a random villager.

“The people who are involved in the Iditarod are just so unique and this event is so unique. I don’t call it a race. It’s an event,” Schultz said.

Schultz said that two factors drove him to engage in this endeavor. He said the first and most prominent motivator is the people involved in the Iditarod

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“All of these people come from all over Alaska and everywhere else in the world and they all have stories to tell,” Schultz said.

Schultz has been the official Iditarod photographer for nearly four decades. He said the second factor that got him on this project was the desire to shake things up. He said that after all this time shooting the Iditarod, he found himself in creative rut.

“An Idita-rut is what I call it, doing the same thing over and over. I do the same thing every year. I love doing it but it starts getting old,” Schultz said.

About a month ago, Schultz invited his two photographer friends, Matt Waliszek and Andre Horton, over for dinner to discuss creative ideas. They suggested starting an Iditarod version of the Humans of New York, a photo essay project where each subject is photographed and shares their story. It’s like a vignette or snapshot of someone’s life. Schultz friends suggested taking the people he interviewed out of the “Iditarod background” to put the focus on the person rather than any other distracting elements.

“So that’s got me excited this year,” Schultz said.

Schultz said that the most difficult part of this endeavor will be lugging around this extra equipment (which includes a gray backdrop and studio light) to each checkpoint in subzero temperatures.

“That’ll be interesting to see if it actually gets pulled off,” Schultz said.

Each subject has and will have the same background and format. Each person that Schultz photographs and interviews will have their own page with a bio and audio snippet of their dialogue. Schultz said that his wife Joan is transcribing each interview.

Schultz has already posted 28 stories from volunteers to the Faces of Iditarod website. This is an ongoing project that should keep Schultz busy his entire time on the trail. He said to expect “all walks of life” showcased in this project.

“We’re doing this all along the whole trail- every checkpoint I can get to. That’s the beauty of it. We’re going to be able to hear from just a spectator in Nikolai that maybe has lived there all his life or maybe a school teacher who’s just been there a couple years, and why are they involved in Iditarod,” Schultz said.

Schultz said that he is planning on interviewing about 10 subjects a day for his new project on top of his existing duties as the official Iditarod photographer.

“The ultimate goal is to show people in the world just how unique this Iditarod event is and it’s because of the people. I mean certainly the dogs have a role in that. It’s the people that pull this off. I mean going a thousand miles across Alaska with so many different occupations or disciplines that need to be there, pilots, veterinarians and checkers. It’s just amazing. The world is a great place because of Iditarod,” Schultz said.

Schultz said that he also plans to photograph the sled dogs for this new project. The subjects in his Faces of Iditarod website will be split into three categories, humans, dogs and all. After he photographs the dogs, he will interview the mushers to learn about their furry companion’s personalities.

Schultz said that he knows someone at just about every checkpoint. He said the very nature of the Iditarod has a way of bringing out random acts of kindness from people even the ones who aren’t officially involved in the race like the various villagers on the way to Nome. He said that he looks forward to witnessing these moments that each year.

“Somebody pulls into a checkpoint, they have a broken sled or something like that or someone needs firewood, whatever it is. People that live there willing to pitch in… Suddenly this guy who just happens to live there is now working on this musher’s sled, helping them out,” Schultz said.

Schultz said that he’s a religious person and each year he ventures into the Alaskan wilderness for the Iditarod, it’s a spiritual experience for him.

“I believe in God. When I’m out there it’s like a big cathedral,” Schultz said.

Schultz photographed the pre-race activities ceremonial start in Anchorage on March 2 and he will shoot the restart in Willow. After that, he’s back on the trail.

To view the Faces of Iditarod, visit: www.schultzphoto.com/faces-of-the-iditarod-2019

For more information about the Iditarod, visit: www.iditarod.com

Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Jacob Mann at jacob.mann@frontiersman.com

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