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Cutting Room: Cover Peripherals

Variants and permutations of Trent Mitchell’s 27.1 cover shot.

Light / Dark

Hunting for an actual, gloss-print cover-photo in a cloud of digital shrapnel can be a tricky prospect. The image that appears on the new issue of TSJ—two swell bands converging in a graphic, oceanic moment—came through as part of a larger submission from Trent Mitchell’s Unbound series. As the Australia-based photographer explains, it was the result of an experiment that carried him outside of his normal role as a surf and commercial photographer, while still engaging with the ocean. Check out the gallery above for more shots from Unbound, and read the interview below to learn about Mitchell and his photographic process.

We obviously were drawn to the cover shot as a single image. It’s a photo surfers can relate to without it exactly being a “surf” photo. But you’ve been working on a collection of these?

Yeah, the work started as an escapist re-exploration for me. I was going through a creative block and, like any artist, I needed an outlet to clear my mind. I wanted to find out why I do what I do, to tap into a deeper level of creation with my work, and learn what drives me as a person and as an artist. In retrospect, I can see I was relearning to create without expectation. I fell back in love with the sea and started to see it differently. I was rendering familiar seascapes in unfamiliar ways, and I started articulating how I felt through a series of photographs.

Was there a moment when you realized something like this was definitely divergent from your other work?

The nature of it is totally divergent from any regular surf or commercial work, so there was no real moment of realization I had while creating the photos. I just wanted to work on the periphery of photographic limits, and not document things as they appeared to me.

“Every time I shoot for images like this, I don’t really care if I get nothing. It’s about the practice and the risk. I’d rather try new things and get no results than have my work become predicable.”

How does that affect the process for you technically?

For the commercial work I do, I take fewer risks to make sure I’m capturing the creative needs of my clients. I’ll spend more time risking the shoot for something a little more obscure or unfamiliar, but only after I’ve captured work I know the client will love. But the process for my personal work is completely risky. I use techniques and light that almost make it impossible to achieve technically perfect images. I’ll be intentionally way off the mark and sometimes I come ashore with nothing interesting. Others times, the elements will align and I’ll have trouble selecting the best shots. Every time I shoot for images like this, I don’t really care if I get nothing. It’s about the practice and the risk. I’d rather try new things and get no results than have my work become predicable.

Are there also similarities, where surf crosses over and feeds this project, or vice versa?

There are definitely crossovers—having your timing and positioning correct, all while being ready and in the moment. The surf knowledge of spots, with favorable swells, winds, and tide, all count in capturing these kinds of images. I was working during dusk and dawn when the light is low and reflective. I would shoot around the phases of the moon too. Locations became secondary as the series developed and I could see patterns emerging in the work. Light, color, and expressions of energy became the focus, although one location in particular, as seen on the cover, became my obsession. The setup produces unique, tessellated patterns in the sea when two waves collide and cross over each other. The energy and point of intersection intrigues me. I’m interested in exploring why humans are drawn to the sea and in rendering this concept in a series. Whenever I release the shutter, I feel one step closer to finding answers. I could watch the rare formations for hours. It’s the one location that really became the centerpiece of the series, since it could provide all the elements I needed to express myself.

Read More Unbound