“B/W vs. Color, Film vs. Digital, Goofy vs. Regular, the spirit of competition is high in the Premium Zone! A collaborative project by friends, photographers, and snowboarders Benjamin Littler and Joshua Poehlein, Premium Zone takes you along on their first journey to the Land of the Rising Sun. A historically low-snow year meant good light, strange spots, street rails on pow boards, and lots of Onsen time.”
That’s the short of it, according to Joshua Poehlein. The long of it is that “Premium Zone” is a photo project borne out of two riders’ dream trip to Central Hokkaido, Japan, for the second half of January, 2020. They aren’t professionals in front of or behind the lens—Poehlein works in the Seattle art world, while his companion and collaborator on the trip Ben Littler is a bartender in Salt Lake—but both possess a keen eye for capturing life in the mountains and ride with a confidence bred through decades of dedication to time on snow. From Furano to Higashikawa and further north, then to Otaru and Niseko, the pair set out to capture something meaningful to them and share it with the world—a personal passion project intended to inspire. The result is a long-form dedicated website that is tactfully designed to capture their exploration and nuanced stylistic contrast, which you can see at premiumzone.us. We’ve cherry picked a few favorite images below to whet your appetite. Without further ado, we’ll present a selection of photos from each of the two along with a description of the project in their own words.
Ben and I had never been to Japan. Like most snowboarders, we had always wanted to, and we had consumed our fair share of videos, photographs, and magazine features extolling the deep snow of Hokkaido. Based on advice from several friends we laid out an itinerary that took us all around the island. As photographers we wanted to make something, but were intimidated by the prospect of making it unique, and something people would actually want to see of non-pro snowboarders in Japan. So, we put some parameters on it.
We each brought one camera with one lens. Ben shot Kodak Tri-X 400 black and white film on a Nikon L35AF, and I shot color digital on a Fuji X-Pro2 with a 23mm F2 lens. It’s a bonus that Ben is goofy and I’m regs. The idea was always to do something longform, focusing on the travel aspect as much as the boarding. We’d present two competing/complementing points of view of the same trip.
We showed up in mid-January ready to ride waist deep pow, and it just wasn’t there. I’m not saying there wasn’t good snow, but it took legitimate work to find. This was sort of a blessing though. It meant we got a lot of sun, and we rode spots we wouldn’t have otherwise.
I had been wanting to do a trip to Japan for quite some time, and had a few friends picked out that I felt would be a good fit. Josh was always at the top of that list, so when he told me he was planning to go I was ready. We bought tickets early and just waited. No turning back and no budget to rearrange flights. Both of us being photographers, we knew going into this that we would need to create some sort of project. We aren’t professional snowboarders, so it needed to lean heavier on concept and creative photography. As our departure got closer, we had broken it down to the idea of duality; black and white vs. color, film, vs. digital, goofy vs regular, and how our different approaches to photography would complement one another.
We made close to 2,000 images during our almost three-week stay in Japan. It was interesting being side by side with someone day in and day out creating photographs. I’ve never worked this way before, and I’m so pleased with the end results. I am extremely proud of what we made and am happy I was able to do this project and trip with one of my favorite photographers and best friends.
I grew up in Syracuse, New York and it was strange to feel so at home in rural Hokkaido due to the farmland, rolling hills and deciduous trees. Everywhere we went we found new and exciting experiences on and off the board as well as some extremely kind and welcoming folks. I won’t go into detail about our experiences because they are unique and special to our trip, but I do hope this project inspires others to dive head-first into something exciting.