photography

portrait, feature, surf trip

Interview: Fiona Mullen, New Jersey Surf Photographer

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We’ve featured the work of up-and-coming New Jersey photographer Fiona Mullen before, but after seeing glimpses of her new portfolio of work from trips to Indonesia and Australia, we felt now would be a good time for a proper chat.

ICH: Tell us about your trip to Indonesia - who did you go with and why?

Fiona: I first visited Bali in November 2016 - a short 10 day trip to Indonesia that had me itching to go back. This summer I traveled to Australia for an internship with The Mermaid Society, but I decided to dedicate the whole of May to a surf trip beforehand. I wanted to be somewhere close to Australia and cheap to live. Indonesia was the best option. I had no luck finding a surf camp to have me stay as a photographer, so I chose the comfortable route and decided to go back to Bali for the month. I met up with my friend Karson Lewis, who is a longboarder, on an island off Bali. It was nice to spend time with a fellow longboarder and photograph my favorite style of surfing. The trip was intended to be purely for surfing, but while I was there it seemed like we had days on end of flatness or well overhead swells that were more suitable for shooting. I had some seriously humbling swims on this trip! I also spent time battling crowds, dealing with bali belly, allergic reactions, and all the other unpleasant things that come with third world travel.

I now have a love/hate relationship with Bali. The place has changed so much even within the two years since I last went. The crowds are worse, the trash is worse, the traffic is worse, and I cannot see how the place is going to improve with the constant build-up in an already-crumbling infrastructure. Bali is an experience to say the least.

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So, what was the inspiring moment of the trip?

The most inspiring moment was swimming at Uluwatu. I surfed it when it was smaller a few days prior, but it was a whole different beast on this day. I made the long walk down the cliff, through all the restaurants and shops with my housing and fins in hand. I swam while my friend Jake paddled out. Swimming out wasn't bad, but as the tide filled in the sets just got bigger and bigger. Lots of Brazilians, a few locals and others filled the lineup. A lot of guys come up to me and ask for my name and info to buy photos if I got a shot of them. I love people's reaction when I tell them I'm from New Jersey. It’s always a shock to people. Swimming back in was the sketchiest part, getting swept so fast down the sides of the cliffs and timing my exit through the keyhole before I got swept past it to the next beach, which is a long way down!

It was a magical morning. I found out the evening before that session that my grandma had passed away. She had been battling cancer for a year, and I was sad to not be home with my family. The last time I saw her, I was telling her about my upcoming trip to Bali and Australia. I swam out at Uluwatu the next morning, just as the sun was coming up. The whole session switched between sun and rain showers. I came out without a scratch, getting some of the most rewarding photos of my life.

That sounds amazing! For you, what’s the most enjoyable part of your creative process?

The most enjoyable part of photography for me is that you have these unexpected moments. I feel when I force my photography, it's never enjoyable. I hate planning things - it never feels as genuine. On this trip there were various days where I had no plan on shooting, but the stars aligned and the waves ended up being too perfect for me not to swim out. Surf photography can be repetitive, and there are so many people that do it these days, but I have learned that keeping my passion for it alive consists of not comparing my work to others’. Despite the current over-saturation of surf photography, I’m always thinking of ways to create something new and personal to me: I don't want the excitement of shooting surf to dwindle anytime soon!

How come you decided to study PR & journalism at Monmouth, rather than photography?

I started off planning to major in art with a concentration in photography, but I found it too fine art based for my liking. I felt like photography was something I needed to pursue on my own time instead of studying. Public relations and journalism seemed like the most compatible with what I was doing with my photography. I’m constantly collaborating with other artists or companies, and having to write, so a communications degree seemed like the best fit for me. Monmouth is a beautiful campus - just a mile from the beach, allowing me to pursue what I love while studying!

Can you tell us about any barriers you’ve had to overcome to pursue photography?

Being taken seriously as a young female photographer was hard. When I was 17-18 years old it was difficult to find ways to take photos and still make money. Starting out with photographing friends is great, but it could only take me so far. I’ve learned how to stand up for myself and not be taken advantage of. Doing work for exposure is always great, but it makes me happy when people see the value in my work and trust me to do photography work for a company or whatever it may be. You can't break into photography by giving away photographs; there has to be a balance between taking photos for your personal portfolio and photographing professionally. I am still learning all of this.

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Yes - it’s a steep learning curve! You’ve often focused on coastal communities and surf culture. What do you find compelling about the ocean and surfing as a subject matter?

My time in Australia and New Zealand this summer reminded me why I spend so much of my time, money, and creative effort photographing surfing. I like to stay true to what I love and the water is where my mind is, so my photos reflect that. For my internship with The Mermaid Society, I lived with Sally (the founder) and her family after only meeting through FaceTime calls. It worked out perfectly. I had always dreamed of traveling to this end of the world, where surfers and ocean-minded people make up such a big chunk of the population. Coming from the northeastern US, where surfing year-round is almost unheard of to the average person, it was pretty cool how so many Australians prioritize surfing and time spent in the ocean in their lives. New Zealand was a quick solo mission - I rented a car and drove around the majority of the north island in a week. The place seems so raw and geographically distant from the rest of the world. The feeling is hard to explain, and I tried to capture that in the photos I was taking there.

So, what's the next big adventure you're planning and what would be a dream photo to come back with?

After doing a sailing trip in Australia, I am eager to get on a boat again. I am currently reading Swell by Liz Clark and it is really making me want to hop on a boat somewhere off Mexico and sail down the coast. I’m dreaming of a photograph that encompasses everything great about the combination of surfing and sailing!






Big thanks to Fiona for her time and the photos she shared with us here. To support her work, check out the new print store on her site!


portrait

Zak Noyle

Even if you don’t know who Zak Noyle is, there’s a good chance you’ve seen some of his photographs. They’ve been published by ESPN, Transworld Sport, National Geographic and the BBC, not to mention in surf publications including The Surfer’s Journal and Surfer

At just 31 years old, Zak’s career has already included a meteoric ascension to one of the most hallowed positions in surf photography: Zak is now the Senior Staff Photographer at Surfer and he regularly takes on assignments to travel and shoot with some of the best surfers in the world.

We caught up with Zak to learn more about his work and what drives him. He talks very fast - almost breathlessly, sounding like the CEO of the hot new startup that is basically his life, excited to share his story and his plans.

Zak's journey into photography was catalyzed from a young age by his father who was a commercial photographer and who passed on some of his wisdom and a few tools of the trade. Zak began shooting photos in his single digit years and by high school he had had his water photography published in magazines like Sports Illustrated and Transworld Sport, where he took a full time job after graduating. At the age of 25 he started working at Surfer and now combines his day job with running his own photography business and a seemingly endless string of brand collaborations with the likes of water housing company SPL, surf company RVCA and swim fin company DaFin. 

“I grew up on Oahu and I came out of a swimming and water polo background. I had a natural swimming ability, but I hated it. I hated swimming laps and I used to hide in the shower. It’s come full circle now - swimming and learning that discipline has been important.”

Becoming one of the world’s top water photographers means becoming one of the world’s top swimmers by pre-requisite. The playing field  for taking groundbreaking surf photographs is most likely in the path of a 20 foot breaking wave, half a mile off shore and bobbing a few feet above a sharp, potholed reef.

“You want to be prepared,” Zak told us. “I swim 3-4 times a week. I swim a lot of laps, half of them with swim fins on to train to have my feet comfortable in fins. I view myself as an athlete now, so I need to be in optimal shape. A bunch of my friends are doing underwater breath holding training and I want to get into that too. In the end it’s the ocean and you need to respect it!”

Although the list of his achievements is frighteningly long already, Zak pulled off something of a career highlight at last winter’s Eddie Aikau Invitational in O’ahu. Pummelled by 30 ft waves closing out Waimea bay, Zak swam and shot the historic contest for 8 hours straight, capturing through his actions and photographs a truly memorable moment in surf history. 

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The Eddie Aikau ran on February 25th, 2016 in waves that were so big the safety of the contest itself was called into question. That’s pretty rare from the organizers: ‘The Eddie’ demands a minimum of 20ft waves before it will even run, honoring the fearless lifeguard and surfer in whose memory it is named. 

“I had never swum into 30 ft waves but I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t think I could handle it,” Zak explained. “A lot of the times with waves, it’s strength and training and the experience that keep me calm. I knew physically I could do it, but mentally you have to be calm.”

Aside from the endurance required for this feat, Zak also truly understands the media demands of the modern surf audience. When The Eddie runs, O’ahu basically shuts down for the day with crowds of thousands gathering on the beach to watch. For those who can’t be there, internet livestreams, social media and TV broadcasts let people tune in from around the world. 

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Zak shot the Eddie on his DSLR in a water housing, but he used his iPhone from the water to wirelessly send the images he was capturing to the Quiksilver social media team. From there, they could combine them with the TV broadcasts or upload them to be shared on social media. “In between the sets, they need something else they can use to keep the excitement going,” Zak explained, “so I could send that to them from the water with my phone.”

We asked Zak how he had prepared for the day. “I had water and snacks packed and ready to go on the jet ski, but I actually didn’t eat or drink anything on the day. I hydrated heavily the day before with electrolytes and water. I packed extra batteries and a bought an extra phone so I could transfer the sim card if my iPhone died,” Zak told us.

With literally no food during the 8 hours he spent in the water, we wanted to know how Zak managed to keep shooting. “I was just fueled by adrenaline on the day. If the surf is good you have to shoot conservatively. You don’t want to have to go in and change your memory card because you might miss the shot!” Zak continued, “I was so mentally spent for days afterwards I couldn’t do anything. I didn’t even look at the images for 3 or 4 days - I just gave the photos to my agent.”

We asked if Zak took any major beatings out in the water that day. “I was nauseous with adrenaline and I did get completely worked. I got worked to the point where I had my hand on my rip-cord, but I didn’t want to inflate it, get dragged in and miss a wave. I’d waited seven years since the last Eddie Aikau Contest ran and I wasn’t going to miss a single moment out there. I wanted to be in the water, and just enjoy it. I have a photo of when all the skis came charging in on that closeout set and I just dived as deep as I could under the rolling whitewater. I had to dive 25 feet to get under that. It was pitch black and I couldn’t tell which way was up. That was a 2 wave set. If it had been a 5 or 6 wave set, I would be washed in on the rocks. For sure,” Zak laughed. 

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We were thrilled to meet Zak and see him participating in the RVCA artists program at the Unsound Pro event in Long Beach. His level of stoke, energy and enthusiasm seem boundless and he talks as if he’s only just getting started. Watch this space!

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Words by Ed Thompson

Photographs by Julien Roubinet

feature

James Katsipis - Three Frames

James Katsipis, or "Catspiss" only to his closest friends, has a photographic sensibility rather more delicate than his nickname. He is truly dedicated to the craft of photography and has made a name for himself as one of eastern Long Island's leading lensmen. We asked him to share three of his favorite shots from the many years he has spent documenting oceanside life on Long Island and would you know it, he sent us a bonus shot we just couldn't keep to ourselves. Over to James for the back stories. 

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"The winter brings deep blue and shimmering silver tones to our line ups. This is my take on an early morning surf check at out local break, Ditch Plains."

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"Historic winter storm Juno hit the East Coast on January 27th 2015. There was a total travel ban across New York, but we knew the waves were going to be pumping. A few brave souls ignored the ban and fled to the ocean to be greeted by perfect, overhead, barreling waves. It's all about dedication to the love of our sport." 

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"Every surfer knows this perspective: the paddle out, waiting to take the first duck dive and get their first head-freeze to determine how cold the water actually is that day. This was one of the coldest days swimming I can remember. My hands were so cold they actually felt like they were on fire. I was shaking my hands underwater to try to get the blood to circulate in my fingers. The only way I could tell I was hitting the shutter was to listen for the sound of the camera firing."

BONUS SHOT

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"It has been said that the Montauk Lighthouse is our Eiffel Tower. Nothing is better than swimming out off the coast of Montauk and seeing it from a perspective you just can't get from land."

Many thanks to James for digging through the archives to share these beautiful shots. Head on over to his site to see more of his work. 

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Words by Ed Thompson

Photographs by Julien Roubinet

feature

Mike Nelson - Three Frames

A couple of times now we've convinced local photographers to dig into their archives and share a few of their all-time favorite images with us. Last year were stoked to share selects from Matt Clark and Fiona Mullen who also told us about the extraordinary circumstances that sometimes lead up to making a really memorable image. 

We're kicking off 2017 with another photo series, this time from Long Beach lifer, Mike Nelson, one half of the duo behind Unsound Surf Store. 

Mike's photography is truly rich, showing off the accumulated wisdom from uncountable sessions and endless hours spend shooting and surfing the length of New York's coastline. Yet, his work is so full of passion, excitement, color and drama, you might think he'd only recently picked up his first camera. Mike possesses a quality often found in truly talented artists - the ability to produce accomplished, professional work and yet somehow hold on to the childlike wonder at the subject of inspiration. In his own words, Mike talks us through three of his favorite shots below. 

"Long Beach NY, sunset. Sometimes its just nice to get away from the crowd and watch Mother Nature do her thing. This photo was taken a couple months ago during one of our hurricane swells here in Long Beach, NY. The photo is not cropped or edited at all, just the way the big man upstairs wanted it to look. And it's perfect…"

"Winter storm Mars, 2016. Mars was a significant swell and even though the conditions were challenging I was lucky enough to get a couple great shots. This one in particular is a shot my good friend Vic took with my secondary camera body, I asked him to hold it while I set up my bigger lens in a “sheltered” area near the boardwalk in Long Beach NY. He snapped a couple of photos as I tried to track Balaram Stack out in the water. Kinda cool how it came out and I think it really embodies what we all go through here in NY during the winter surf season." Amen - Ed.

"Sam Hammer, NJ. This photo was taken two winters ago. All of us up here in NY and NJ seem to chase the wind on any given swell event. New Yorkers are always running down to Jersey as soon as those flags turn westerly, and likewise when they swing around to the North all the Jersey boys migrate the other way. Given our somewhat stagnant NY Metro traffic, this can often take 2-3 hours each way. For me that time is spent with images like this one of Sam Hammer running rampant through my head. When I finally walk over the dunes in New Jersey, this is what I'm hoping to see."

We highly recommend you avail yourself of a few minutes checking out some more of Mike's work on his website. 

Get our latest on this project via Instagram

Words by Ed Thompson

Photographs by Julien Roubinet

portrait, feature, surf session

Fiona Mullen - Three Frames

Finding surf photography that goes beyond the classic barrel and beach shots is a rare pleasure. Waves themselves and the act of surfing can be so visually compelling that the bigger story gets lost, but one photographer pushing to find new angles and narratives in New Jersey surfing is Fiona Mullen. We invited Fiona to send us three shots and tell us the stories that led up to each one. We're stoked to share the images and their stories with you here!

Bradley Rain

Bradley Rain

"On a gloomy day in early June, some of my friends were surfing the jetty down my street. I put on my spring suit for the first time of the season, hopped on my bike, and headed for the beach. While swimming I saw these clouds coming from the distance and knew something crazy was about to happen. Lighting, thunder, hail, and rain all arrived at once. The waves turned on and the few of us that were out there were just amazed by what was going on. Even though it might not have been the biggest day of waves, I still got some of my favorite images ever. The solitude and subtle moments of surfing are what I love to capture the most."

Bradley Sunrise

Bradley Sunrise

"When there's waves in New Jersey, most of us are up at dawn to check the surf. This means endless sunrises, watching the sun rise above the horizon from the water. Every year, there are those select few mornings when the sky does some amazing things. This specific morning while waiting for the tide to change, we experienced the most colorful sky I had ever seen- with a rainbow and even lighting out in the distance. These moments make getting out of bed in those early hours so worth it. Being in the right place at the right time is what its all about. Not everyday in New Jersey is a perfect day for waves or weather, but when those days do come around we appreciate them that much more."

Long Branch

Long Branch

"The combination of fear and adrenaline before swimming out on big days like this always makes me question what I am about to do. With three feet of snow on the ground, straight brown water, and perfect barrels, I knew I had to document it. The passion and dedication surfers have in New Jersey is like no other place. People who don't do it think its crazy and most likely they will never understand why we go out in below-freezing temperatures. I think a little bit of craziness and adventure seeking is only healthy; life would be boring without it."

To see more of Fiona's work (highly recommended), check out her Instagram.
For our updates follow @icecream.headaches.

portrait, feature

Matt Clark - Four Frames - Part II

Following on from Part I earlier this week, here's the second installment of four photos from Long Island Photographer Matt Clark. 

Jesse Joeckel - Greenbush, Indonesia

Jesse Joeckel - Greenbush, Indonesia

Matt was shooting at a shallow, left-breaking reef in Indonesia when, by chance, he turned to look back at the beach, risking a closeout on the head. Jesse kicked out of a wave at the same moment. “I shot the sequence,” Matt explained, “and when I dumped the memory cards to my hard drive on the boat, I saw one that just captured this weightlessness, balance and tranquility that seemed special.”

When Matt returned home to New York and edited the images, he found the image more powerful when it was rotated through 180 degrees. “Finding this being, suspended in time looked beautiful to me,” Matt told us. “Often I won't find the most beautiful moment until months and months later when revisiting my work. I spend a lot of time looking for these moments and editing them over and over again until I feel satisfied.”

1998 - Long Beach, NY - Tom Zaffuto paddling out

1998 - Long Beach, NY - Tom Zaffuto paddling out

Aged 14, Matt took this photo of his friend Tom paddling out to bodyboard Long Beach. The photo was taken with a disposable waterproof camera. He submitted the photo to Bodyboarding Magazine and they ran it in the reader photos section. “I felt a duty to represent the place I was born and raised and felt as if I needed to prove to the world that you can be a surfer/photographer from New York,” Matt told us. “Nearly 20 years later and I'm still here doing it.”

To see more of Matt's work, check out his website

To keep up with our latest news and stories, hit us up on Instagram

feature, portrait

Matt Clark - Four Frames - Part I

This week we're excited to share four photographs by Long Island photographer Matt Clark, and the story behind each one. Through Matt's tireless dedication he has gradually carved out a niche for himself on the water's edge. When we interviewed him for the book, we sat in his lounge and scrolled through his library of photos, entranced by a colorful, hypnotic display of the beauty, power and variety of the ocean. We love his work and we hope you will too. 

After Hurricane Sandy, Long Beach, NY - Rob Bielawski

After Hurricane Sandy, Long Beach, NY - Rob Bielawski

“This is an image of a friend named Rob Bielawski after Hurricane Sandy,” Matt explained. “The cold, harsh concrete, the debris in the sand, the lack of sky - it's very urban. I love capturing images where the surfer is unidentifiable. When I used to look at surf imagery growing up, my favorite images were the ones I could imagine myself in, and I can't imagine myself if I can see someone's face.”

6 months after the storm hit New York, the shattered boardwalk had been completely dismantled, leaving only a concrete skeleton. Matt was on the beach shooting another swell when someone walked between the pillars, briefly creating this dramatic framing. Matt took note and took an opportunity the very next morning to re-frame the shot with a friend. “It’s an unidentifiable urban environment,” Matt said, “but you know the surfer is going to escape the weight of the world by going for a surf.”

October 23rd, 2006 - Long Beach, NY - Nor-Easter swell from the roof of the Jackson Hotel

October 23rd, 2006 - Long Beach, NY - Nor-Easter swell from the roof of the Jackson Hotel

Matt planned this image months in advance and his diligence was rewarded. This photo scored a double page spread in Surfing Magazine, hailed as iconic by the magazine’s photo editor, Steve Sherman. “This was a defining moment in my photography career,” Matt told us. “It was the first image that ran as a featured photograph in a magazine as large as Surfing.”

Matt had envisioned the image in sketches made months before he took it, so finally creating it and having the photo published showed that real dedication pays off. “I had illegally scaled the fire escape of this building with a backpack full of camera gear to scout out the position,” Matt explained. “Pulling myself up the final ladder, my nerves were on edge. This was 5 years after 9/11 and I imagined the police and FBI being called about a sniper on the roof.”

The day Matt scouted the shot, there were no waves to speak of, but he took note of the angle, framing and the lens he’d need when the moment came. 

Sure enough, that day came. A Nor-Easter rolled into New York with howling NE winds, building swell and ominous grey skies. “I spent some time photographing from the beach and thought to myself: ‘I may as well go shoot from the roof of this hotel.’”

Rather than climbing the decrepit, rusting ladder in the rain, Matt convinced a janitor in the hotel lobby to take him to the roof. He lied to the janitor, pretending he’d left a lens cap on the roof the day before.

“He said ‘no problem,’ but he’d have to accompany me up. I did my best to tell him I would be fine, worried he would  watch me the entire time and only give me a minute to shoot, but he insisted.” Matt managed to bluff his fictional search for the lens cap for a full ten minutes, shooting photos of the waves from the roof as he went. He snagged this shot of a wave breaking across the gap between two buildings just as the janitor lost his patience. “In my illustration months before I drew a perfect A-frame, but this seems even better. I love lefts.”

Stay tuned for Part II later this week. 

Check out a few more of Matt's photos we'll be featuring on Instagram this week.