Chapter 1 / Collective
Words by: Courtney Chew
Photography by: Matt Clark
Matt Clark is a photographer, specializing in water photography, based out of New York. His portfolio highlights his relationship with the ocean, more specifically the wave. As a surfer, he is able to get so close and capture an almost intimate portrait of breaking surf, something that not all of us has the opportunity to experience. His work highlights nature in a way that seems to stop time, allowing us to appreciate the details of something that appears to be so simple. His photographs capture the unique beauty of the subject and allow us to connect with the ocean through a new lens, leaving us in complete awe and admiration.
Matt Clark is an artist who inspires us, sharing the same commitment to enjoying and protecting the oceans. Read more about this photographer, ocean advocate and OCIN human, Matt Clark.
@mattclarkoceanimagery | mattclarkoceanimagery.com
CC: How did your story start with the surf, the waves, the ocean and photography? Why the waves?
MC: There’s always been that attraction to the ocean for me. I am originally from Astoria, Queens. You’ve got to imagine a kid growing up in the 80’s in Queens. What the hell does this kid have to do with the ocean? Not a damn thing. The ocean was a dream to me. It represented exploration and adventure. It was mysterious and powerful, the furthest thing away in the world to a little kid.
I grew up in a place that’s very different than the Queens that exists now. It wasn’t some hip part of town that it’s now been transformed into. I grew up with drug addicts knocking on our door looking to score. At eight years old I watched a cop get shot ten feet away from me and saw his partner kill one of the suspects. I wasn’t allowed to walk down the block or leave my yard after that.
It wasn’t until I was fourteen, when my parents got divorced, that I moved to Long Island and finally entered the ocean. The first time I rode a wave, I was freezing cold, covered in seaweed, and physically miserable. But, from that moment I got out of the water, all I could think about was the ocean, and I didn’t stop thinking about it until the next time I got back in. It was over. My old life was washed away, the search was over, a new identity found, my passion unearthed, this destiny set in stone.
CC: You have an insane way of capturing a wave and showcasing its unique form, but also the power and magnificence of the ocean as a whole, through your photography. Run us through what goes through your head when capturing each shot. Do you always plan what you want to capture ahead of time, or is it all fluid and in the moment?
MC: This is where I feel a bit of the artistry of my work comes in. In my experience, there are two parts to what I do. There’s the capturing of the image, which involves quite a lot – everything from the camera, housing and lens that I use, the surf conditions, the location, the concept, the angles, the shot and what filter to use, if any. Then, the second part comes in when I get home and look at the canvases I have to work with. The photograph is the canvas. It’s not entirely blank and sometimes it feels more like a stone to be carved. There’s an image there, but how much work does it need. What do I want to show the audience? Should it be cropped, how is the exposure and does it convey more to me in black and white or in color. Does this image mean something to me and excite me in any way?
Sometimes people ask what’s my favorite image I’ve taken and it’s nearly always something I’ve made recently. Don’t most creators go through a cycle of loving their work, then hating that work and then growing fond or nostalgic of it?
With photographing waves, it’s all fluid, it’s all decisions you make that moment. Waves do unpredictable things and you must adapt in that moment to capture them. My work is a showcase of nature’s beauty.
CC: Does being a surfer innately shape how you approach your photography? What is it about surfing that maybe allows you to see your subject in a way that is different to how others might see it?
MC: It may have been a bit of a curse to be a surfer first and then a photographer after. Being a surfer, what am I interested in? Empty lineups, barrel views, photographs that capture conditions and put me in the place it was taken, and tropical dreamscapes. Great, so I go out and capture that over the course of a couple of years, but then so does everyone else.
In contrast, as a photographer what turns me on? New ways to look at what I’ve seen. I’m amazed that two photographers can look at the same subject and capture something entirely different with the same camera and lens. That’s why it’s art to me.
When I started to take photos I was just trying to capture people surfing in the traditional sports photo sense, but I quickly gave that up because I soon discovered that, to me and for my work, it wasn’t about the surfer. So, that style didn’t last very long. Next, it turned into capturing the moment to give the viewer the experience of being there that day, which meant I shot a lot of lineups from the beach. This was at the time when digital cameras were getting good and fast enough, that shooting in the water with them finally made sense. So I started to capture “looking out of the barrel” shots. That’s the view right? It’s what we love to see as a surfer –coming out of the barrel with a vivid sunset in the background, that’s paradise.
But, from there, I told myself that I needed to go back to my roots, sold my digital equipment and went back to film. I hated it. I can tell you what miserable is. It’s waking up at 5AM to put on a 3/2 wetsuit UNDER a 5/4/3 wetsuit in an empty, dark, and frozen parking lot in New York in February. And I did it so many times. I hated every second of it, and that’s when I knew it wasn’t the direction I wanted to go in. I remembered why I was doing this in the first place. It was to create and to enjoy the art I was creating, and this medium wasn’t working for me the way I wanted it to. So I went back to digital and really started to explore capturing waves for their beauty and dig into my relationship with the ocean. I’ve come to a point now with my work where I don’t put pressure on if the viewer does or doesn’t like what I put out there. I put it out there for me.
CC: OCIN exists to connect human beings to our most open, free and positively impactful selves to motivate actions that will better our collective future, our communities, our earth and our oceans. What does this mean to you? How do you think we can be better at supporting each other into really living into our most open, free and positively impactful selves?
MC: Conversation. This can be through words or, in my case, translated through the work itself. To me, artistry is about conveying a feeling, sharing it, and inspiring some sort of connection. Whether it’s a feeling of inspiration, anger, fear, glory, duty, respect, etc., something will move everyone, it’s just a matter of finding it, and inspiring others to talk about it. Is it about protecting the world’s oceans and sea life? Is it about stopping the destruction of ecosystems? Is it about fulfilling a feeling of duty to the giver of life and lifestyle? For me it’s about highlighting the ocean’s beauty, and showing that without it we wouldn’t have something so amazing to enjoy. I wouldn’t have the inspiration to create nor would I have the career I have.
Surfing is my way of connecting with the world, it’s not just sport to me.
CC: Being a fellow ocean lover, what do you want your images to tell and share about the ocean?
MC: I work to express my relationship with the ocean because I’m lucky enough to have a relationship with the ocean. Surfing is my way of connecting with the world, it’s not just sport to me. You’re riding nature when you surf, and you just can’t connect more than that. I can’t make you experience what I’ve experienced, but I can do my best to translate it for you through my art. Through my photography, I try to make you feel the chill, taste the salt, watch the dazzling light reflect off the face of a wave. I try to make it feel like you were there.
CC: It’s a disheartening fact that we’re seeing this beautiful ecosystem hurting before our eyes. What can we do to protect our oceans and take action against the growing concerns that are facing our oceans today?
MC: The ocean is ours, both collectively and individually. It’s our responsibility to care for it now that humans have become what they’ve become. We’re the guardians of this planet now...but unfortunately we’ve also become the destructors.
You’ve been given this power over every other life-form. Now wield your power with great responsibility. If you see trash on the beach, it’s your responsibility to pick it up and drop it into the garbage. I don’t give two shits if it’s not yours or if it’s a long walk. Do it. You’re responsible the moment you see it left there, feel some pride in the duty we have to not only enjoy, but protect and clean our earth. You’ll feel great! You owe it to the ocean and this planet to keep it clean and to care for it. Every time you walk on the beach, pick up some trash. Live a greener life. You’re evolved! Become evolved!
CC: What is your purpose for creating - why do you do what you do, and what do you hope your community takes away from you and/or your work?
MC: In a way, there is no reason. It just is. I create. IT must be done. It’s me. From illustrations to painting to writing to photography. I have found an outlet through my art and I see it as a privilege to use and share it.
Some Rapid Fire:
Where is home? New York.
Where is a city or a place that you love to visit and makes you feel like home? Everywhere can feel like home. It’s the company that makes it that way.
What’s a song or musical artist that gets you feeling like your most your most open, free and positively impactful self? Of anything, music has been the most important. I could never give you just one song. Here’s a few I put together quickly...
1. R.E.M. - Nightswimming
2. The B-52’s - Dance This Mess Around
3. Cat Stevens - The Wind Yeah
4. Yeah Yeah’s - Modern Romance
5. Mogli - Two Lungs
6. Nena - Irgendwie Irgendwo Irgendwann
7. Dan Deacon - When I was Done Dying
8. Elliot Smith - Miss Misery
9. Jenny Lewis - Just one of the guys
10. The Kinks - Strangers
11. The Bangles - In your room
12. Shout Out Louds - 1999
13. Yalira - The Very Best
14. Japandroids - The House that Heaven Built