The art of falling
Before you wince at the pain that you think Kerry Skarbakka faced at the end of this fall, relax. Skarbakka is a performance artist whose trademark images show him plunging from everything from stairs and a ladder to a railroad trestle, buidings and more.
Using his experience as a rock climber, Skarbakka, 38, learned how rig harnesses and wires to hold him in place. Photographer and girlfriend Trace Kwit, 32, captures the images of Skarbakka in mid-air. Skarbakka says it takes him about 10 to 15 tries to get the stunts right.
Shoots & ladders
Skarbakka has been injured while staging the falls, but says it happens more when he performs live than it does while he's taking the photos. This photo with the ladder resulted in his most painful injury -- a fractured rib. He has also separated his shoulder, hurt his back and sprained his ankles.
This photo isn't just an illusion -- Skarbakka actually jumped through the flames, burning his eyebrows and eyelashes in the process. Luckily, he greased himself with aloe vera gel before the stunt so the rest of his body remained unscathed.
Skarbakka said his most difficult and terrifying leap was done from a 700-foot railway trestle. "The bridge is rickety, condemned ... we just show up," Skarbakka said. "[The image] was created as an environmental statement against corporate greed."
Head over heels
For this stunt, Skarbakka was held up by a rope as he rolled down and grabbed the bike's handlebars, giving the illusion that he was flipping over the bike.
Images of Skarbakka's stunts have sold for more than $5,800. He has been building his portfolio with falling photos since 2002, and is now a budding star in the photography world.
A Pennsylvania native, Skarbakka has exhibited his work around the world.
Skarbakka titled this falling series "The Struggle to Right Oneself."
Taking the plunge
The daredevil cites philosopher Martin Heidegger as his inspiration. "Falling has its meaning for so many people," Skarbakka said. "Once you let yourself go, there may be more space in there to be open to other possibilities."
The fall guy
Skarbakka was slammed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and families of the 9/11 victims for these 2005 photos of him falling from a building. He said that he received death threats as a result of the images.
Just for art
"I was going to illustrate people in crisis," Skarbakka said of the photos. "It's for art, it wasn't for the purpose of imitating or mimicking anyone from the towers. I never tried to do anything that would be misconstrued."
Skarbakka says he's a thrill-seeker, and that he models in all of the photos because it's hard for him to find someone else to do it. In addition, he says, "It's fun for me to make the work. I'm behind the camera in the beginning and then I'm in front of it."
After the fall
In addition to setting up and modeling for the falling photos, Skarbakka has worked on several other photo projects including an underwater series called "Fluid," and documentation of his mother's death from cancer.
In 2004, ArtReview chose Skarbakka as one of ten outstanding young photographers from around the world who "look certain to shape the medium in years to come."
The performance artist is currently working on a series of fight photos and says that he's experimenting more with video.
Life over art
"I don't want to kill myself for my art," Skarbakka said. "I'd rather make a nice living and have a family."