The art of illusions - Looks beneath the white lies of Mickeys photography, during a week lost in the Atlantic with Fergal Smith, Tom Lowe and Patch Wilson.
Look at perfect waves in magazines, or watch a surf movie. You'll see shot after shot of stand up barrels, huge hacks, aerials and turns. Photos and videos leave impressions on us, they inspire and conjure stories. Images capture moments. Right or wrong; each moment hints at a tale that is imagined and translated by the viewer.
From the minute these images were pressed, judgments were made. I'll bet the first thing you did flicking through this mag was look at the photographs. For as long as surfing has been business, professional surfers and photographers all over the world have manipulated our judgments, publishing single frames of made or un-made barrels, landed or un-landed airs. As with all photos ever taken, they only capture A MOMENT. They don't tell the real story. The photograph can lie.
This article is not unlike any other, so take from it what you will. If we can't be that person in the picture, we experience our own interpretation of it, second hand. We do our best to suspend disbelief and join in vicariously for our own taste of the event.
Read a book, watch a film, or talk to somebody about almost anything, you'll try and relate by imagining how you might have dealt with a similar situation. Every day on our friends' facebooks you see them partying, surfing, dancing or whatever. The point is the photos posted make suggestions about their lives that viewers pass judgment on.
It’s a good thing, makes you ask questions. It’s the same with surf photography, it provokes similar questions. It's so easy to imagine that if you were in that frozen situation you would be ripping, would have pulled in earlier, pushed harder off the bottom or top. But the reality is that if it looks head high its double over head, if it looks heavy its psychotic.
The shots from this particular Atlantic mission are classic examples of how photographs lie, create an illusion of perfection, and don’t tell the whole story. A one week chart, a new culture, three girlfriends, 25 surfboards, one boogie, three London market musicians, 6 Mac books, 4 guitars, one mandolin, three rent a cars, one lovely landlady and a cartoon of UM BONGO.
Fergal, Tom, Me, Mick and Patch have been friends and traveled together for many years. We visit the same spots around the same time of year, have similar tastes in waves, food, wine, coffee, music and life. I hope the photos tell that story.
What you can't tell is that one of us had come from the job centre in Cornwall, two from four feet of snow in Co. Clare, one’s been in situ alone for months already, and one had travelled from some other Atlantic nowhere. You can’t see what they have sacrificed to be here. The love, money, work, the opportunities, just a few of the things surrendered to be surfing, to be there in that moment.
The atmosphere in the water when we are together is super exciting and honest. We all know the others level of surfing, when they are pushing themselves, when they are scared, stoked or gutted. We pull each other up, wake each other up, and occasionally break up and make up.
You cannot see the thought behind this trip. The chart that needed to be absolutely perfect. The resulting undesirable swell direction. The wind one compass point off the mark that ruined most sessions. You can't see the hellish rip, the nightmare paddle out, the angry locals or taste the morning coffee. You can't feel the cold breeze or hear the thunder in the night., the apprehension, the thousands of years of culture, hundreds of years of humanization, blood, sweat or tears. You can’t see the cleanest streets or the town with the drug habits, the smile from the pretty barmaid or the old man's nod. The history, the reasons why, or the ecstatic expression on a friend's face when he pops off the shoulder.
I suppose it’s a beautiful thing, to take from the image what you want. I'm just saying read between the lines a little, look past the guy in the wetsuit. Surfing can be majestical or philosophical, often both, an escape, a lifestyle, an art or a job. It can simply be a laugh with your mates or an excuse to be alone.
The truth behind this flawless looking right-hander is that the barrel wobbles, it slabs wildly through every section. It's heavy and you can't see that or feel the consequential tension as we sit in line and wait. If you don’t pull off in time or don't make the barrel, 15ft sets break wide, washing and dragging you for hundreds of meters along the rest of the point.
Your arms are sore, back aches and feet are full of urchins. Your head is full of images of barrels and wipeouts. Fergal struggles to put these memories into order, Patch has bad knees and heart palpitations, Lowey thinks too much, I don’t sleep at night and smoke too much. You don’t see that. Rivie (Mickey’s girlfriend) makes the most epic veggie food, takes the most beautiful cloudscapes and is the force behind good in us all. You don’t see that. You don’t see the hours of scouring the Internet, the Skype calls, the waiting, the broken boards, the training, the sun burn, the loneliness, the arguments, drunkenness, compassion, understanding, the love or hysterics.
All great artists create to create; not to tell the whole story but merely to illuminate a particular aspect of it. Some of the most beautiful, bewitching and innovative pieces of art, writing, music and photographs are experiments. To be a successful artist you have to be brave, to give it a go, to walk the line, you have to dance. Mickey’s photographs dance, his angles and colors are on the leading and bleeding edge of surf photography. He is the most amping and exciting person to be around when the waves are on. You don’t see that or hear his hoots.
Is it possible to see the full true story in a photograph? If it was would we still like or even take them ourselves? Is that the reason? Does it entertain us on a deeper level, our brains reaching out for the truth? Does it give us hope? Can we subconsciously put ourselves into the image and really imagine what it feels like? Does our imagination run away with us? Does it even matter? It's certainly art, it's incredible.
Some people see life through images, some through sounds, some like to taste, drink or feel. It’s a wonderful thing - variation, the different spices of life. Audiences take and make their own meanings of every artistic endeavor. Artists merely cast their ideas to the world and let them run free. Long may they continue to do so.