Although photographer Maggie Marsek grew up in Wisconsin, far from any salt water, her connection to the sea began early on with visits to both Florida and California. After attending Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, she moved to San Diego and was quickly surrounded by the beach culture and more importantly, surfing. Maggie found herself capturing the true lifestyle around the sport while continuing to develop her expertise in the craft of photography. By utilizing film, she takes no short cuts, instead creating saturated and grainy images, bringing a dream-like appearance to her photographs.
How did you get started in photography? Any formal training? Or just learn as you go?
I remember running around with a 110mm camera when I was little. I can’t say I was one for composing, but rather snapping endless shots of my cats, dog and people passing though my field of view.
I began photography classes in high school, and this is where I fell for it. I was just enamored by the process and craft of photography. I then went to study photography at Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, GA. I graduated from there in 2002, with a BFA in Photography, after learning the history of photography and gaining a deeper understanding of all aspects of the field. I had hands-on learning how to shoot everything from products and commercial work with artificial lighting in the studio, to shooting people and architecture in available light. I learned to process my own film and prints in the darkroom and about various film types. I shot with 35mm, medium format and 4×5 large format films and cameras.
What drew you to wanting to shoot surfing and the lifestyle behind it? And what else do you focus on shooting besides surfing?
In high school I worked on some projects shooting water -freezing movement was fascinating to me. In Savannah I began shooting skateboarding, freezing action, and later began shooting surfing, which incorporated the water movement and action. I loved the idea of stopping the action of such a fast paced sport.
After college I came out to San Diego I found myself surrounded by surfing. Casual, mellow long boarding and fast paced short boarding were everywhere. I began to experience how surfing was more than just a sport, it was a way of life. I loved how not only people’s days but also their lives revolved around surfing. It was like their daily vitamin, or ritual. This surfing culture has specific tools-surf boards, for the variety of waves and conditions. They have have their surf rigs – cars and trucks they take them to where the surf is. They drive from a hour inland, up and down the coast, and they camp in cold, wet forests or dusty & dry desert-like dunes when on a perfect wave mission. I love documenting this vast, cool culture that I never had exposure to growing up in Wisconsin.
When I am not shooting surf lifestyle, I shoot weddings, portraits, and editorials. I’m also pretty passionate about food photography so I incorporate that into recipe posts on my blog.
You now also work in a photo lab. How has that helped enhance your understanding of the craft?
I’ve been working in photo labs for the last 8 years and have been really lucky to see literally all subject matters captured on all types of film. It has really enhanced my passion for the craft and deepened my love for the process. Something, an experience, will be shot on film and then taken out of the camera. Then that experience travels in a capsule, a film canister or spool, to chemicals that process it-making it come to life. Now it is tangible, it can be scanned or printed making it visible. There it is. A positive or negative, color or black & white, it is a record of that experience shot weeks, days or even moments earlier.
I’m pretty lucky, and it has been a wild ride. I have been really fortunate to scan the film of so many photographers I admire, that’s probably been the most rewarding part. I’ve gotten to see film of new places, new faces, new tricks landed in skate sequences and portraits of world class surfers who just won another world title… even before the photographers who shot it get to see it.
Working in a photo lab has really taught me you can always learn more about photography. I don’t mean by shooting the newest, and most expensive gear and editing with the latest software. I mean by shooting with the camera you have and learning how to capture your subject in your way. Shoot in a way that shows people how you see the world around you.
I have seen some of your work around where you literally stitch photographs together. Tell us about your process of adding even more of your personal artistic touch to your work.
I started by stitching photos to card stock for impromptu Birthday cards. I thought it transformed my images from photos to art.
Stitching my photos together is way to look at them in a new way. Some of my images can be bold and have an impact on their own. Some images might not say much on their own, but when pieced with others a story may be introduced. Images I may have previously overlooked are resurfacing and being used in collages because they fit in some way. Whether is the the subject in photos, the colors or the over all moods of the images, stitching them together let’s me look at them differently, as a whole. The stitching itself is the tactile connection. You can see how I am physically putting these images together; it adds some texture and variation to my work.
You also enjoy body surfing and mat surfing. What’s the draw for you? And how do they help you understand the ocean more than traditional surfing?
I find myself more comfortable closer to the water’s surface. Mark Cunningham said something about body surfing along the lines of: “It’s a way to be in the wave rather than on it.”
Riding a surf mat, well…it’s just unbelievably fun. That’s the point of it all isn’t? – to have fun. I’m finding both methods are helping me to learn better placement and get me more comfortable shooting in the water.
What can we expect to see from you next?
For my second piece with them Urban Outfitters commissioned me to do a collage, that will be available on-line and in stores in February! I will still be making art and stitching up new collages, and I’d love to have a show in 2012 if the right space were available. As always, I’d love to collaborate on pieces and projects with other surfers and artists.
To stay up to date with Maggie, check out her social networks: