April 2023
Interview by Devon Harris
Photos by Stephen Wells

Tell me about your first time surfing.

I dragged this enormous 10-foot board out and the waves were probably head-high to overhead. This was in October at Scarborough Beach, which has pretty fast and steep waves. It took me probably 30 minutes to paddle out and I think I was out there for only one or two waves before I went back in. I was, like, “Wrong time. Wrong place. Wrong board.”

My partner, Jen, was there and she had scored some Heady Topper beers from Vermont. So I’m, like, “I’m just going to sit on the beach and drink these.” I was so shaken. But I persisted and I met some other friends who surfed and slowly learned what I was doing. I think that’s probably the experience that most have. I think 50% persist and are lucky enough to find people that will actually help them, and the other 50% sell their board on Facebook Marketplace and find another sport on land.

Are you from Maine?

I grew up in Richmond, Virginia. After university I was living in Washington, DC, which, for me, was a really soul-crushing place. We made the decision to move to Maine before we had ever really come to Maine. And then we visited during a snowstorm in January and fell in love. The snow was blowing and the roads were nuts and I was, like, “This is enough chaos and variety to keep me intrigued.” It’s been just over 20 years now.

How did you know it was the right place for you?

I never once doubted my move to Maine. It fits my personality quite well, I think. I can be very introverted and self-reliant, but, at the same time, I’m happy to help others when I’m asked. I feel that Maine is like that too. Like there’s this blanket of warmth but at a bit of a distance. I kind of like that space. And, creatively, I have a ton of support here. There are just so many people doing amazing work and willing to help with whatever you’re trying to do.

When were you introduced to photography?

I started with film a long time ago. I have boxes of slides and still love to load the slide machine, and hear the click and whir, and smell the bulb and dust, and all of that. I had gotten away from it over the years, but at the beginning of the pandemic I pulled out my first film camera, which was my dad’s old Nikon FTN. I started collecting film cameras and now I have, I don’t know, I’d call it 70 cameras. Sometimes I wonder if I love the mechanics of cameras more than I actually love photography, but there’s nothing cooler than taking a roll of film, throwing it into an old camera that probably hasn’t been shot in 30 years, and getting results back. Composition and photo aside, just the fact that it still makes something—it’s really cool.

What drew you to photographing surfers?

I realized that there was never anyone out taking photos. Surfers are really vain—and for good reason. In every other sport, there are tons of images of you, right? In surfing, people are so excited to see themselves on a wave that it’s really easy to please people. It’s such a challenging environment that half of the shots you take have water marks on someone’s face, but they don’t give a shit.

I grew up near York Beach but I never went surfing. It felt very intimidating to me. But I spent years sitting on the beach and watching the surfers, and I loved that it was a part of my community. I still felt that I lived in this surf culture, even though I was so far removed from it. From my vantage point, it was just these black dots on the water, and I was imagining their experience. And when I look at your photos, it’s like I get to zoom in, and it’s exactly as I imagined. There are these moments of pure joy and play, moments of insane battle with the elements, and then these quieter moments of what feels like self-reflection or meditation.

I definitely gravitate towards those moments between the waves.

Are you still shooting mostly film?

In the water, probably half of my shots are digital. The old film cameras just have a hard time wanting to operate when it’s that cold. I basically last about as long as one battery, which might be an hour. A lot of times I’m floating in the impact zone and just getting flushed constantly. I feel quite wimpy after half an hour when I can barely feel the shutter button.

What I find I do with digital, though, is really imitate my film practice. Slow, methodical. Have you heard of Ricky Powell, the “Lazy Hustler?” He was a photographer in New York City, with a little point-and-shoot, who just happened to always be at the right place at the right time. He captured some of the most iconic images of the ’80s, as far as the rap scene. He was there with the Beastie Boys and Run-DMC when they were first starting. But he called himself the Lazy Hustler because the guy just sauntered around, took a picture with his point-and-shoot, and that was it. I kind of feel like I’m the same way with my photography—where I want to capture as few images as possible. I’m a bit of a lazy photographer in that way. I love when I’m out shooting good surfers. They’re really the ones doing the art on the board, I’m just trying to capture it.

Tell me about the best day you’ve had on the water recently.

December 19th, 2021. Totally incredible. The light was perfect, the wave was right, the snow was coming down and the camera was set correctly. I also got a spot at Higgins on the road right there on the beach, so I could take my camera, put it away, get a board and come back out and surf.

It’s beautiful when everything lines up like that, from the parking spot to the light.

It doesn’t happen often, but yeah, it could have been the parking spot that really made it.



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