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Interview: Alma Surf

The very cool folks in Brazil at Alma Surf Magazine posted an interview and image gallery of my work. They included their choices of some of my surfing images and surf related portraits. A big thanks goes out to Alexandra Iarussi for the interview. It is definitely an honor to get a little attention from Brazil. It is just too bad I can’t read the interview. It’s in Portuguese!

Link: Jay Watson full interview with images.

interview by Alexandra Iarussi

Where were you born?
I was born in Baltimore, Maryland. In 99′ I moved to California, but since I still have a lot of friends and family in Baltimore it is still a big part of my life.

You live now in SF, right? Are you married? Have children?
My wife Jamie and I live just south of San Francisco by 20 miles. It is a good little spot close to the city and not terribly far from the coast. We have a baby boy named Duke Everest Watson. We have both been very busy finding out what this parenting business is all about. So far so good.

How is your relationship with California? What are the things you love and hate most?
California has been an influence on me for my entire life. It is kind of like my mentor and there is enough here to keep me inspired forever. Baltimore is in my blood but California is part of my soul. The only thing that bums me out are the clusters of crowded towns and traffic everywhere. It must have been perfect here at one point. A friend once said it would be paradise if 50% of the population moved somewhere else. Maybe so.

How did you start shooting? I read you went to a college that was more “conceptual” and that it placed the importance on having concepts in images. What was it like learning to construct concepts when shooting? Or was it something that came naturally to you?
I was always painting and drawing growing up and gravitated to photography probably due an obsession with magazines. My instructors in college would never say “oh that image looks cool.” It was more “what does this image mean?” That question really challenges you and forces you to drop the cliche stuff. At first, I had a hard time working in that direction. It was not natural until I started learning art history. Eventually I figured out how to put myself into the work. Now, I mix it up but mainly shoot subjects that are “cool” to me.

What do you strive for the most in photography?
Ultimately I’d like to have prints in the hands of collectors and galleries. If an image is not worthy of hanging on a wall then who cares if it was published or printed in a magazine. It’s nice when an image works for both and fortunately it happens sometimes.

What is your relation to surfing? And skating? Do you practice any of these sports?
Oh most definitely! They are both very addictive. Surfing satisfies that primitive instinct to be connected to nature, and skating is like being chased while someone is yelling at you! It rules.

You told Refueled Mag that the beautiful thing about skating is the friendship among the skaters. In surf, you mentioned the heavy crowd and individuality. Maybe skating gives you more freedom, since it can be done at any place, anytime. Do you think these aspects are transmitted in your photography?
Wow! You are getting conceptual on me with this question. I’m impressed. Well I do see those connections. Photography is like skating in the sense that you can practice a trick and eventually be rewarded for your own effort. However just like surfing, if the conditions are good you’re going to have a much better experience. A good surfer or good photographer can make due in any situation, but poor conditions make the days tougher.

I realized you do a lot of portraits. What characteristics attracts you to people?
People who have accomplished a goal or who are making a difference in the world in their own unique way are inspiring. That makes for a good story or a good photo. I like the heroes and antiheroes. We are all here for who knows how long, so I like being around people who are making the most of it. I also dig the art of portrait work and how the final image can honor the subject.

Who would you like to photograph?
Oh man, there are too many people, but I’d like to shoot anybody with the last name Fletcher or anyone with a mustache.

Do you have an image(s) that you consider your best image?
I like to think those images have not yet been made, but I do have some favorites. It really changes every few months. Sometimes I find something I forgot about or it appears from a group of images I didn’t have time to edit. A few months ago I made a poster of a groom scaling down a cliff with his surfboard. It’s probably a normal day for him, but this kid looks like a crab clinging to a rock. It is nice to see that poster hanging everyday in my kitchen. I just hope that kid is having the time of his life growing up surfing.

Who are your inspirations (idols) in photography?
Sir John Herschel, Thomas Wedgwood, Talbot, and Hippolyte Bayard. They are some of the early pioneers who hardly get recognized. Eadweard Muybridge was a true genius, but it’s too bad he was a murderer.

I read that Costa Rica (Pavones) and Baja Califórnia are places you’d like to visit. What about Brasil? Would you like to visit here someday?
Of course! There would be so much to photograph. You live in an important place on this planet and I’d dig seeing everything from villages in the rainforests to the cities on the coast. I’d get to meet the staff at Alma Surf in person as well as those bandits you have down there named Ciro Bicudo and Jair Bortoleto! Plus I could leave my 4/3 wetsuit at home.


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Jay Watson
San Francisco Bay Area based lifestyle and people photographer Jay Watson shoots editorial, apparel, automotive, corporate, and sports subjects for commercial clients. Published in over 70 magazines.

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