Drop In On The Devolution

Words by Rebecca Ritson. Photos by Karl Mackie

Retro. A lazy moniker to brand something, probably mainstream, as cool / alternative / niche: retro fashion; retro-music; retro-surf.

It could be tempting to look at the images of Karl Mackie – Cornish surfer, shaper, photographer – and use this simplistic prefix. But it’s a reductive cliché and Mackie eschews them.

Avoiding the usual Mac manipulation, Mackie instead plays with the frame in real-time, behind the lens, in the only medium that can truly showcase the visceral vitality of the waves he shoots – film.

Don’t get me wrong – the democratisation of picture-taking enabled by digital has been, well, revolutionary – but there’s a depressing disposability at its heart. Indiscriminate clicking evidenced in the never-ending flickr stream saturates our visual world with the mundane and the expected.

So de-tag yourself from the digital disorder and take in images of nature’s greatest tangible force, taken on a tangible reel.

Karl considers: “I think overall looking at it someone might suggest I’m anti anything modern which of course isn’t true. It’s really only since the internet made photography so accessible that I really started to think about putting my pictures out there.”

Dodging the hackneyed visual schema you might expect from a surf photographer – the un-waxed board trapped moodily under the surfer’s arm; a surfer carving a wave –Mackie pursues something purer in the space left behind.

His pictures’ curious quality – suffused with light from a different time; from an ethereal source – is largely due to the dark room processes he applies.

So why walk a slower and less reliable road? Where are the positives in negatives?

Well, perhaps the journey – the process and the processing – is part of the point. “It’s like a digital devolution,” proposes Mackie.

A summer documenting his own shaping is testament to his quiet commitment to process above product or packaging; to back-yard industry and artistry without an ego trip.

The resultant images made their way to Noosa, Australia and the Belly Board Exhibition which continues a tradition of using boards as a canvas that began – appropriately enough – in Cornwall in the 1920s.

Exhibiting like this and taking photos of surf and surfing “shot on old cameras using out of date film” is as far as you can get from the image conscious iconography generated by the ASP tour.

In harmony with a photographic technique that champions the art in its original form, so his images capture surf without the modern mayhem. The commerce, the competition is stripped away. Culture, community, Cornwall remain.

Mackie’s the first to exhibit at Seed Surf Co. (Wadebridge, Cornwall) next month under this ideology.

And perhaps this is another reason why the pictures have authenticity: he rides the waves he photographs on boards he makes in a synergy born of Cornwall. His spools of old school negatives of breaks he surfs, decry the corporatisation of this elemental sport.

This is why it’s not easy to label a guy who alongside his photography enthuses about exhibiting his “new hand shaped range of hand planes”.

But whether shaper, surfer, photographer: Mackie’s on the make.

Drop in on the devolution.

For more of Karl’s work, check out his Makers profile at http://beta.korduroy.tv/makers/karl-mackie