Photographer Jeff Schultz has captured the Last Great Race for the last 34 years.
ANCHORAGE – Mushers and dogs weren’t the only ones braving the trail to Nome over the past several weeks: The official photographer of the Iditarod has been capturing the race since 1981.
Jeff Schultz – who’s working on self-publishing a book on the Last Great Race – says there’s one thing he loves about the race.
“The racing, to me, doesn’t matter. I don’t care who wins,” he said. “It’s just going across Alaska by dog team, to me that’s just so romantic and just old school, it’s great.”
He said the draw of the outdoors and the lack of people and pavement brought him to Alaska from California in 1978, just three months after his high school graduation. Photographing weddings, Schultz said he had a plan to make a name for himself when a special guest at a concert he was attending stood up to be introduced.
It was Joe Redington, known as the Father of the Iditarod.
“I thought to myself, ‘Hmm, famous Alaskan, great guy, unique event – I want to photograph his portrait, put it in my studio and then people will think, wow, you photographed Joe Redington?’” Schultz said. “And hopefully that would increase my business.”
Schultz followed up on his plan with a typed letter to Redington, who agreed to have his portrait taken and followed up with a request of his own.
“He said, ‘Well, you’re a photographer, come take pictures for us,’” Schultz said.
The rest, as they say, is history.
For the last 34 years, Schultz hasn’t missed a single race, photographing everything from the ceremonial start to the burled arch and everything in between. One year, the race nearly killed him: A plane crash between checkpoints in 1992 left Schultz with severe facial injuries that required four surgeries, five metal plates and 24 screws.
But the crash didn’t stop Schultz from climbing back into a plane, from where he went on to capture one of his most iconic images.
From National Geographic to Sports Illustrated, Schultz said his trip north more than 30 years ago has opened many doors.
“It was an adventure,” Schultz sad. “That’s what I came to Alaska for.”