Imagine you’re standing on the ledge of a 40-story building. Hot air presses against your shoulders. The wind races through your hair, down your spine. Maybe you wonder how you’ve managed to fend off vertigo. You’re equal parts terrified and exhilarated. And then you look down. That’s where Jason Paul, parkour pro and Red Bull athlete, hangs by his fingertips. He doesn’t look worried—in fact, he’s smiling. So why should you be worried? You extend your camera. The shutter releases.
“You know it’s going to be a good shot when the majority of photographers wouldn’t dare shoot where you are. Not to mention it’s probably somewhere your viewer wouldn’t dream of being, either,” says Emily Ibarra. For seven years, this self-described California girl has been on a whirlwind tour, following professional parkour—or freerunning—athletes across the globe with her camera. Precarious positions are nothing new. She’s shot freerunners tiptoeing on the rafters of empty stadiums, doing hand-stands on overpass ledges, and performing backflips in front of the Singapore marina. Rooftops, rusting airplanes, and abandoned swimming pools might as well be her office.
Over the past two years, Ibarra has found herself in Bangkok with increasing regularity. After meeting the gravity-defying Team Farang—Pasha Petkuns, her boyfriend Jason Paul, and Anan Anwar, a Thai celebrity turned extreme athlete (a fourth member, Shaun White, got into a motorbike accident and returned to Australia to recover with his family)—while the guys were filming a video in Los Angeles, Ibarra has “tagged along, or vice versa, and we’ve never quite left each other.” She adds, “We’re maybe too close. I know their snoring schedules and messy habits.”
Team Farang is constantly searching for higher heights, wider gaps, angles that no one else has ever envisioned. And so, then, is she. Working predominantly in digital—“I love playing with older point and shoot 35mm and disposable cameras, [but] I have a bad habit of over shooting.”—Ibarra has produced countless series of slick action shots featuring Anwar, White, Paul, and Petkuns in iconic spots, from outside the Erawan Museum in Bang Na to the City Pillar Shrine in Rattanakosin.
Yet despite the dangerous nature of performing and shooting these stunts, Ibarra and the guys manage to keep an eye on well-being. “When we’re shooting on rooftops and ledges it can be dangerous, but they know their limits,” she explains. “I’m only shooting professionals. I communicate with them beforehand, [and] we tend to work fast and with precise directions.”
Ibarra currently spends three or four months of the year in Bangkok, and already she sees endless potential, better shots awaiting in the deep recesses and narrow channels of this sprawling city. “We come home after a long day of shooting, feeling overwhelmed [thinking,] ‘Did that all just happen?’” she says. “There is so much texture and structure that you never know what’s around the corner.”