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Photographer of the week—Fran Miller

Sometimes I look at a picture and wonder if I am the only one feeling like I do – hypnotized. Captured in a different world and suddenly surrounded by a peacefulness that is unexplainable. Taking a picture is something anyone can do, but sharing a moment through a photograph is something harder. New York, this is your call – find your way out of the city and go lose your mind into the work of Fran Miller, a talented photographer based on the Gold Coast of Australia. She’s having an exhibit at the Rockaway Beach Surf Club in NY and you wouldn’t want to miss it!

There’s something that seized our attention at first glances and it was the serenity coming out of her photos. Following her muses, which are some of the best pro surfers of the moment, into world-class waves and shooting them while dancing on a wave bring you back to the basic of surfing – having fun with your friends. Focusing her work on women, we can easily see how talented women are nowadays and be proud of it, encouraging a new revolution of strong women, able to do anything and beat any scary waves. 

We recently talked to her about her visit to the States, her photography and her main focus while shooting. 

You are actually in the USA, travelling from California to New York and now have your own solo exhibit at the NYC Women Surf Festival. How do you feel about that? How did the founder of the festival got in touch with you? 

To be honest, I am still in disbelief. I feel so honoured that anybody recognizes my photos and artwork. Sometimes it is nice that it is not just your mum who says that you are doing a good job. Though I must add that I’ve been working really hard at what I do for a long time so I do appreciate this recognition.

I got an email from the director of the festival, Davina Grincevicius, who had seen my photos online. She told me how much she liked my photos and that is where it all began.

How are the waves compared to the ones you have on the Gold Coast? Is it your first time in the States? 

It isn’t my first time in the USA, but it is my first time in New York. At the moment it’s summer here, so there isn’t a lot of swell in NY. I’m told the best season here is winter, which makes it difficult right now to compare the waves to my home break at Snapper Rocks. I’m very lucky that on the Gold Coast we have absolutely world-class waves, but I must say, yesterday I had an absolutely beautiful session at Rockaway Beach, surfing by myself on a completely uncrowded wave in clean conditions. I walked away from that session as happy as I do from any session at home.

You are doing photography as a full-time job, which must be amazing to live off your passion. What do you love the most about being a photographer, and what is the most challenging aspect of the job?

Photography is my outlet for my creativity, which I believe is one of the most important things in the whole world. It allows me to explore my thoughts about what is going on around me, and the truth is that it’s great mental stimulation.

The easiest part for me is having a vision and creating an image. I find that to be very natural. The difficult part is all the many little things that are part of the job. Carrying around large amounts of gear. Swimming in difficult conditions. Answering emails. Chasing invoices. 

Women are a big part of your work and it seems like you have a huge collection of talented muses. What is your main purpose while shooting? 

I am extremely fortunate to have some of the world’s best surfers as my muses and I find that it is definitely a compliment because they appreciate my work. I am a big believer in supporting women’s surfing, firstly because I love to surf myself, so as a female surfer I would like to see all female surfers afforded the same opportunities in surfing as anyone else.

My purpose is to showcase that surfing isn’t just merely the act of performing crazy manoeuvres (although I do appreciate that). I believe surfing is a lifestyle that can be enjoyed by anyone from a young high performance short boarder to an older lady cruiser. I want to address the deeper contexts about life and I use surfing and the ocean to do that. An example of this might be taking an up close image with a lot of noise and movement, where you can’t even tell who the surfer is, in order to reflect upon the craziness that we experience in our own lives. Or, on the contrary, to take a distant image with a solo figure to reflect calmness and tranquillity. I like to convey mood through my images.

Photography isn’t always easy, and especially with social media nowadays, everyone can call themselves a photographer. How did you get involved within the surf industry? Was it a challenging task or your different style has been seen and loved automatically? 

The truth is anyone can call themselves anything, but I always feel that high quality work tends to be recognized.

What many people might not know about me is that as a young person I was on the Australian Snowboard Team and was sponsored by many of the same brands that are also part of the surf industry. So, since I was a teenager, I have known magazine editors, photographers, Brand Managers and many amazing athletes. Both the snow and surf industries are extremely closely linked and because of this I have always had an understanding of how it works. The biggest change in that time has been the explosion of social media because in the past, magazine editors had primary control over the promotion of the entire industry, whereas these days you see a lot of people self promoting. The challenge always exists in that high quality work requires time, dedication and commitment to create. It is never easy to be good at anything but having an artistic style that is different has certainly differentiated my photography and that style has become appreciated over time. And these days, people tell me that they have noticed other people starting to imitate my style.

You are now living on the Gold Coast, but you are born and raised in Sydney. What made you move? 

I like warm water!

In your bio, you mention that you want to leave the viewer with more questions than answers. Can you elaborate on that? 

This refers to my purpose of exploring a deeper context in life through my surf and ocean imagery. For example, sometimes you see a lot of aggression in a person’s style and when I capture that aggression, I am prompting the viewer to ask what is that person experiencing and why? Where does this aggression come from, what experiences have they lived to influence their style that much? Or, if I capture an image of a muse surfing late into the night, I am asking what drives a passion so deep that a person will surround themselves in this vast body of water at an hour when most people are sitting at home watching TV. To me, my photography is about encouraging thought.

What’s on your last memory card? Anything exciting that we will be able to see soon? 

Actually the last thing on my memory card is a session of photos from inside the shaping bay of Josh Martin, son of the legendary shaper, Terry Martin. Together we built a mid-length board using the original Terry Martin templates for the Gerry Lopez Lightning Bolt Single Fin. I documented the process, which is a beautiful observation of handcrafting a surfboard. With a lot of boards coming out of factories these days, it was incredible to experience the art of surfboard shaping and I am very thankful to Josh Martin for that.

Any funny/scary story related to shooting at sea? 

I recently went on a trip to a beautiful island near my home with Ivy Thomas, one of my favourite muses and a close friend. We went to a secluded bay where there was no-one out surfing except for Ivy, with me in the water shooting. The water was so clear you could see for what seemed like forever into the distance. Suddenly, from the beach I could hear someone calling my name, “FRAN! FRAN!”, and pointing out into the distance. I turned around and I saw a shark swimming towards me. It was reasonably shallow and I was standing up to my chest in water. Ivy was close to the rocks and she climbed out, but I was in the middle of the bay and had nowhere to go. Of course I did the only logical thing as a photographer, which was to dunk my head under water and prepare to take a photo of my death hahaha. I lifted my head out of the water and saw the shark suddenly divert itself away from me and swim out into deeper water. And I didn’t even get a photo!

Do you have any advices for young photographers?

The most important advice I can give is to find a style you enjoy and take thousands upon thousands of images to perfect your skill at it. There is no point in imitating other people, you have to work at being the best version of you. And most importantly, you can do it.

If you can’t go to her exhibition, follow her on Instagram
Otherwise, have fun in New York!
302 Beach 87th Street, Rockaway Beach

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