Derek Diluzio, 32, makes a living as an adventure photographer, a job that grants him the freedom to live wherever he chooses. After honing his craft for seven years in Jackson Hole, WY, Diluzio and his fiancé, Sara, swapped the Grand Tetons for the Blue Ridge, and made their home in Asheville North Carolina. I spoke with him about his work, and why this adventure sport enthusiast, after cutting his teeth in the West, chose to settle in a medium-sized city in the Southeast.
"There's an intrigue around Asheville," says Diluzio. "People know all about Jackson Hole and the places out West, but when they hear about Asheville, they want to come visit. They've heard just a little, and they want to see what it's about."
Such intrigue is apparent in Diluzio's images, which depict a landscape of both splendor and restraint, lush and rugged but lacking the severity of Western landscapes. They evoke an atmosphere that's invitingly mysterious, almost coy: a setting sun bleeding over layers of purple hued hills. The black silhouette of a mountain biker, ariel and crisp against the tepid palette of an early, snowless winter.
Originally from New England, Diluzio was drawn to Western North Carolina right out of high school. He studied recreation management at Appalachian State University in Boone, then worked as an international travel guide until he became far more interested in photographing the journey than in leading it. In Jackson Hole, he pieced together restaurant jobs while shooting with Corey Rich and James Balog, big names in the adventure photo world.
But the same notorious photographers that mentored him had the potential to stifle him in the business realm. "They all live out there, and it's hard to get work out there when you're competing with the Jimmy Chins of the world." After seven years, he was burnt out on skiing, and dreaming of a warmer climate where he could mountain bike year round.
Another consideration in his move to Asheville was the cost of living. As a resort town, Jackson poses a serious challenge to the middle class. Diluzio's goals of buying property and pursuing his work without the hinderance of a 'day job' seemed impossibly far off. "I needed to find somewhere that could offer the same opportunities- only way more affordable. Asheville fit that formula."
In the two years that he has lived here, Diluzio has enjoyed a community that is supportive of- but not saturated by -photographers, and an endless array of biking locales, out of which he refuses to choose a favorite. With hundreds of trail miles within an hour of his home, he lets his mood dictate his daily ride, from the long easy downhills of Bent Creek, to the all day epics of Pisgah and the granite slab of Dupont.
If you're wondering, as I did, whether Asheville truly offers the same opportunities as Jackson Hole with regards to adventure photography, Diluzio would be proof that it does. He and Sarah own a roomy house on the edge of Richmond Hill Park, and he supports his active lifestyle entirely through shooting for, among others, Patagonia, Bike Magazine, and Cane Creek.
The elusive nature of this rolling, forested landscape presents a challenge even to the most seasoned photographer. "It takes more than just driving fifteen minutes into Grand Teton National Park," says Diluzio. "You have to work harder to get the good shot."
But for someone possessing the talent and dedication needed- Diluzio is usually up before dawn- this challenge translates to less competition, and more virgin territory. "I enjoy looking for new locations and new features which may or may not have ever been shot before. It’s a never ending quest."
And in Asheville, he says, "I have found nothing but success."