Words by Matt Rott
As the hyper-saturated surf/art/lifestyle market becomes increasingly competitive-thanks in large part to the Internet and the instant access provided by various forms of “New New Media”-practically everyone who is anyone has taken to employing some kind of a gimmick in an attempt to remain relevant and stand out from the crowd. The tough guy image in particular, which has always been present in some form (be it through localism or other such nonsense), seems to be particularly en vogue of late, and as the surf-world is overrun by Bra Boys, Wolf Packs, jiu-jitsu trained enforcers and foul-mouthed, UFC-branded pros who are publicly F(ing)TW, its easy to despair that, discontent with always finishing last, the nice guys aren’t even bothering to show up anymore.
Thankfully, this isn’t necessarily the case-as proven by 24-year old Gold Coast surfer Matthew Shepherd. Shepo-as he is known to his friends-is the nice guy’s nice guy. Incapable of a mean-spirited comment, he respects nature, women, his elders-pretty much everyone he meets. He’s passionate. Humble. Generous. Soft- spoken. Which isn’t to say that he’s a pussy. A carpenter by trade, he knows how to work with his hands. Well-traveled, he is comfortable in a variety of climes and situations, and tends to up the stoke level wherever he goes-even when the going gets rough. Personable and outgoing, he’s equipped with a classic Aussie sense of humor and isn’t afraid to have a good time-you just won’t catch him doing so at the expense of others. In short, he’s nice to have around. The kind of guy you might like your sister to meet.
Shepo also happens to be a preternaturally talented, uniquely-focused, self-taught photographer. Discovering his love for ocean-based photography while visiting friends at their Micronesian dive resort three years ago, he quickly outgrew his Canon G10 and, upon returning home to Australia, threw himself into the study of his newfound art. When he returned to Micronesia for a second visit two years later, he brought with him a duffel bag full of equipment-housings, lenses, a top-notch DSLR body-and a highly developed skillset to match.
Focused initially on coral, reef fish and other underwater wonders, Shepo soon began expanding his repertoire and looking for additional sources of inspiration. An avid surfer since childhood, he had long been interested in trying his hand at surf-photography, and to that end asked me if I’d like to work with him the next time conditions were ideal. With little to no experience shooting surf and weighed down with a bulky scuba housing, Matt took to the water in a mask, snorkel and dive fins, and in just five hours over a two-two day period managed to produce a handful of startlingly stellar images.
Continuously evolving and reinventing himself as an artist, Shepo spent the next year focusing on slow-exposure captures of shorelines, rivers and various other aqua scenes-including Gold Coast surf staples such as The Spit, Currumbin Alley and Burleigh Heads (all waves that he grew up surfing). Transcending the difficulties involved in effectively portraying water’s natural dynamism through an inherently static medium, Shepo’s latest work blends the seemingly un-reconcilable elements of movement and stasis, resulting in surreal images that can only be described as ghostly and sublime.
Although he has won multiple photography awards and had his talents heralded by friends and family for the past two years, Shepo’s natural inclination is towards humility, and he is quick to downplay his accomplishments. As such, public exposure to his work has been somewhat limited. This is slowly changing, however, as Shepo has begun to share his unique view of the ocean, one exposure at a time, through a series of limited edition releases. He is also simultaneously working to ensure that the subject of his art will be around long enough for future generations to enjoy-5% of all sales are donated directly to Sarah Shark, a conservation awareness group emphasizing the vital role old Whitey and friends play in the fragile eco-system that we as surfers too often take for granted.
Where Shepo decides to take his photography from here remains to be seen. In a relatively short period of time he has proven a marked ability to excel in a number of fields of focus, developing a unique style that provides a fresh perspective of Oceania to the landlocked and water-bound alike. Although it may be too early to proclaim this affable photographer a commercial success, one can only hope that this will soon be the case. There are few who are more deserving.