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Into the mind of Aaron Chapman, freelance writer and photographer

Writing is a bit like surfing: addictive, impossible to control and enlightening. It consumes you, entirely. You can’t help but become obsessed by it, from the moment you wake up in the morning until you go back to bed at night, it remains on your mind. The idea of writing something worth sharing; the ability to make people feel something through your words and experiences. Throughout it all, some of those writers stand out, such is the case of Aaron Chapman.

Aaron appeared on my radar when I read an article he had written about the Australian surf photographer, Fran Miller. Curious about his work, I started reading some of his other pieces, which, if I am being totally honest, aren’t enough online. I wanted to read more from him, but also, I wanted to know more about the man itself.

Aaron writes about personal experience, his travels and surfing with poetic prose and complexity. In only one sentence, he can transport you to a whole new place. His writing is powerful, honest & unique; getting tired of his stories or poems isn’t even an option. Writing is an art and Aaron masters this art extremely well.

Still curious, I’ve emailed Aaron a few questions about the role of surfing in his work, his past pieces and his photography.

You have a style that stands out from the crowd, combining poetry with poignant subjects, which allow the reader to feel instead of just think. Two of your text moved us particularly, “One more Christmas” and “Hanging up the Boots.” Are you playing with fiction in these two? How did you find the inspiration to write something like that? This is simply … beautiful. 

One of my lecturers once told me that through poetry, we can translate the world around us. That’s something I’ve never let go of and something I try and implement into all my writing despite the more formulaic and structured styles of journalism. But I think my literary background has provided me with the ability to achieve a good balance between the traditional elements of storytelling like ambiguity, showing instead of telling, and more journalistic styles. Formula and structure don’t need to be fixed boundaries. I like to step outside of them and write according to how I feel and because I need to. And that’s why I wrote these two pieces “One More Christmas” and “Hanging up the Boots” while doing a writers in residency program through my university and the ABC. “Hanging up the Boots” is about the path that led me here. I used to play semi-professional rugby, but got injured a bunch of times and eventually quit. As for “One More Christmas” … I wish I was playing with fiction. It’s a list of things I couldn’t voice and felt it was much easier to hide behind the pen. So the inspiration for these pieces are pretty clear and in the end, I needed to write them and I can only hope they can be of help to people in similar situations.

It’s difficult walking over cobblestones with two ill-equipped legs. And after Europe, it was America and then India. International travel disinfecting the wounds made by broken dreams.

Hanging up the Boots

When have you decided to work towards a creative field like writing and photography? Was it always clear for you that you were meant to be in a creative field? 

I’m sure some of my rugby buddies are still in disbelief that I write poetry! It was never clear. I didn’t do too well at school because I was so set on rugby, but once I quit, I began travelling. I went to Europe with friends and then did a couple years in America working and cruising coast to coast in a creepy Dodge van. I wrote. I kept dot points, day to day accounts of my journeys about what I ate and what I saw. Progressively it became more flowery. My notepad was on the centre console and I used to write while driving and then rewrite them again at night as prose poems. I’ve still got those Moleskin journals and I cringe every time I open them!

Through your photos, we can easily see that you travelled a lot. Where did you go so far and which country surprised you the most? 

There are so many amazing countries out there and the experiences had and the lessons gained in each are different yet equally invaluable. I have so much love for America. The friends I made there are lifelong and the country itself is so romantic, each state being culturally different, a country of its own yet unified by the red, white and blue. But I can’t go past India. My wife and I spent three months there moving from place to place. As cliché as it sounds, India is and always will be a place associated with finding oneself.  

You’ve published your work on various publications to publish, from Pacific Longboarder to Blank Gold Coast to Noise Medium. Why are you generally focusing your work on surf-themed stories? Where does this passion of surfing come from? 

I’ve always surfed. After living in Noosa and now living in Kirra on the Gold Coast, I’ve been surrounded by surfing culture. The surfing community interests me. The people interest me. And these publications have been a great platform for voicing my thoughts. Truth be told, the literary industry is a tough one to crack. I think every writer imagines they’ll write the next Harry Potter and live happily ever after but the sad reality is that the average Australian author makes around $12,500 a year. This doesn’t deter me. I’ll try to write a novel when an idea comes. But in the meantime, why not write about something else I love? I’ve worked with lots of people and interviewed the likes of surf photographer, Fran Miller and surfer/shaper, Jun Kurahashi. It’s not work. People like Fran and Jun are now my friends. I get to see them doing what they love which inspires me to do what I love. The inspiration pours out and punches the keyboard for me. 

This is a hard question, but if you could think about every piece you wrote in your life, which piece of writing is your favourite? 

Tough question. Both my mother and mother-in-law reckon my wedding speech was pretty good! I’d have to say all my favourites are unpublished. There’s a lot of poetry, a lot of which I’ve been writing lately that I think is some of my best work. I’ve got a short story or two I really dig, one is being published later in the year. It really depends on how I’m feeling. Reading and writing is all about timing and mood. Sometimes you just completely capture everything about how you’re feeling in that moment. Different poetry resonates with people at different times.

We could say that your pictures are as intense as your words, raw and taking us out from our comfort zone. What kind of camera do you use and how did you develop your skills? 

I like to take photos to fit between paragraphs, or to write around the photographs. You don’t take a photo of a mountain and then write, “It’s a mountain.” We know that. We can see it. And this approach allows me to convey the feeling, the notional, to instil ambiguity and trust the reader and viewers to make their own decisions and draw their own conclusions. I’ve got a Canon 7D and an old Canon EOS500 film camera as well as a couple of toy cameras. Some of my favourite photographs have been taken on Holga 135s and disposables. I think it’s the lack of settings on these cameras that helped me develop as a photographer by encouraging me to pursue those raw moments. Right place, right time. With digital, the moment can be gone before you’ve adjusted the shutter speed.      

Studying on the Gold Coast in a Bachelor of Arts with Creative Writing & Literature Majors, what are your goals for next? Any big projects/adventures coming along for you? 

I’ll be graduating in a couple months, so I guess the next step is to find a full-time job. Hopefully one that allows me to combine my passions. But my goal is to keep doing what I’m doing and never lose sight of why I’m doing it. It’s been a very busy couple of months for me but it’s all paying off. The next issue of Pacific Longboarder will have some of my writing and photography. I’ve been working on a photographic/art collaboration with artist/designer friend, Jay Jermyn. There’ll be some more words in Blank Gold Coast on that and an exhibition next month at a local art space. Jay’s been a huge help to Sleet (@sleetzine), a project myself and best mate, Grant Dostal have undertaken to showcase local artists in hope of building toward a greater artistically cultural future in our town. So, there’s plenty happening.  

Want to read/see more from Aaron Chapman? 
Visit his website, his Instagram or read his articles on Nouvelle Vague.

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