Artist Interview: Josh Kimball

While immersed in college life at UC Santa Barbara, Josh Kimball began shooting images of anything and everything with no formal training and a basic SLR. Soon after graduating, a few of his images ran in leading publications, and what began as a hobby soon became a career path as dozens of national and international magazines, books, calendars and websites collectively published several hundred of his images.

Josh accompanied Cyrus on his first Under the Sun trip to Australia, helping as an extra hand for Cyrus as well as shooting stills of the ensuing trip. Below you’ll find a selection of Josh’s photos from the trip as well as some words about his experience down under as well as bit more about the man behind the lens.

Under the Sun DVD and original motion picture soundtrack are now available in our store.

How did you get connected with Cyrus for Under the Sun?

Well I guess it sort of started when I was living in Cardiff back in 2003. I had managed to snag an internship at SURFER MAGAZINE in the photo department, and I had an assignment to shoot some portraits of Cyrus for possible general usage. That happened, and that’s how I more or less got to know him. Later on that year I moved up north to Central California for a change of pace, but still made frequent trips down south for photo-related business. I’d often find myself hanging out and shooting photos with Devon Howard, an incredible surfer and all-around good guy who happened to be very well connected in the surf industry. Devon knew of my aspirations with photography, and mentioned that Cyrus was possibly looking for an assistant for a long trip he was going to be doing. I had sort of lost touch with Cyrus, this now being late in 2005, but the prospect of doing a trip like what Devon mentioned was incredible. Devon put us in touch, and after a few months of planning logistics, I was tagged to be Cy’s assistant on a trip to Australia. It goes without saying that I was completely thrilled with the opportunity.

Talk about your involvement with the film? What parts were you there to photograph?

My role was essentially twofold: to be of general assistance to Cyrus, and to provide still imagery when possible of the trip in general. As far as helping Cyrus went, I did everything from helping lug around some of his gear, to driving vans while he filmed out the window, to videotaping his interviews with guys like Dave Rastovich, to name a few tasks. All around general assistance basically. Cy also needed me lend my skills with the still camera to hopefully provide general fodder for future magazine and website use to promote the film. It was a good arrangement, and while I knew I’d need to be there first and foremost as his assistant, I relished every chance I had to get to shoot stills.

Any memorable moments from the trip? What stood out for you?

Wow. Too many to count, and in each of the Good, Bad, and Ugly categories. It was a pretty heavy trip in a lot of ways. I flash back on the good, and have a blur of memories of flying to a new country, being locked inside sapphire tubes shooting photos of amazingly talented surfers like Rasta, of getting to know a bevy of new people, of the gorgeously pristine New South wales and Queensland beaches, and of just having the opportunity in general to be able to travel and get paid to do it. Pretty unreal for a guy who’d only been pursuing a photography career for a couple years.

Cy and I also experienced some massively difficult times as well. Talk about a crazy day. I had just dusted a roll of film out in the water on this flawless day of gaping barrels at a northern NSW reefbreak which Rasta just owned that day, and ran up the beach and back to the car to get more film, all jacked up as I knew I probably had just shot the best surf-action photos of my life. All giddy, I approached the vehicle, saw the side window smashed in, and my heart sank. With a quick look I knew most of my photo gear had been snaked, and I didn’t see much of Cyrus’ either. Fucking sucked. We tried to deal, but you can imagine the hassles of dealing with insurance claims while overseas, finding new gear, etc. A couple weeks later, at a different beach, after Cy had purchased thousands of dollars in new gear, someone broke into a different car we were using and took all his stuff again. We probably had something on the order of $60,000 USD in photo and video equipment stolen from us within 3 weeks.

But it’s one of those things where I feel time heals all, and so 5 years later as I reflect, the thievery plays a minor role in my mind, dwarfed by the generally positive and amazing experience that the trip was.

When did you know that photography was going from hobby to career?

Well for years, there were good signs that progression was there, although a photography career’s a tough row to hoe, so it often felt like constantly moving two steps forward and one step back. Progress, albeit slow. Getting chances to do things like the UNDER THE SUN trip and subsequent other trips and magazine work really got the ball rolling for me though. It has been a sort of leap of faith, and again, at times mind-blowingly difficult, but I just kept believing in my ability behind the camera and that sort of got me through a lot of rough patches and doubt and those sorts of things. It’s the kind of career where I’ve learned to look at it on a year by year basis – long term – as opposed to day by day or month by month and not getting caught up in the ever-present series of peaks and valleys. This has helped immensely. I recently heard a great quote that “everything takes forever”, and I find that a sort of mantra for the experiences I’ve had in the 8 years I’ve been pursuing it as a career. It takes time. But it was more of a series of events rather than one huge breakthrough for me, which I suspect is how it is for most folks in photography or other visual arts.

Was writing natural for you or was that something you developed to add to your repertoire as a photographer…sort of becoming a self-contained traveling, surf journalist?

I’ve got to be honest that writing, for me, was definitely nowhere near as natural for me as working with the camera. The latter seemed to flow often
effortlessly, whereas I found writing to often be quite a chore. I could write somewhat well, but it just took a lot of work for me to be able to compose, say, a word vehicle for a magazine article than getting the photos themselves. And I used to be so damn serious with my writing. So serious with a sort of whimsical take on things that, looking back, doesn’t always provide fun reading. A great surf journalist Steve Barilotti once read a rough draft for a mag article I asked him to peruse and give feedback from, and he, as nicely as possible, tore it a new one. At first it stung, but he gave me the best advice I’ve ever had for composing articles: have fun with it, and more importantly, make it fun for the reader. Employ humor. You don’t need to try and save the world with an article in a surf magazine. This helped a ton, and really working humor into pieces and dropping the serious edge I think made my writing a lot better. But again, although I can do it and have done so with a degree of success in being a “self-contained” surf-journalist, I definitely still don’t feel like I’m a natural-born writer.

How has your photography changed over time? Are there any techniques that really changed your approach?

It has actually changed almost 180 degrees in a lot of ways now compared to my pursuits while working on UNDER THE SUN. After basically getting burned-out on the surf industry, which can be a pretty soul-sucking place in a lot of ways, I wanted to shift from magazine work to print sales. I just really liked the idea of producing pieces that actual people would want to put in their homes, not images of teenage surfers that will run on the advertising-based, meat-market-foundation of most of the mainstream surf-magazine world. But, I chose a poor time for this sort of re-invention, the end of 2008. With the last of my major magazine article money trickling in, combined with the global financial meltdown around that time, selling prints was a recipe for disaster as that’s one of the first things on most people’s chopping blocks when they’re in dire financial straits themselves. I got clobbered. Photography as a business and career had to be suspended for most of 2009 as I took up random part time jobs to survive. I moved to wine country, worked the insanity of a harvest doing 12-15 hour shifts for 2 months straight every day, and used the money to buy a large format printer. Best investment I’ve ever made. With the financial climate somewhat better than when G.W. left office, large format fine-art prints have been my focus, and they seem to sell.

The photography has changed to sort of cater to the printmaking side of things, and I’m getting a lot more joy out of shooting landscapes and general ocean scenes, the sorts of subjects that lend well to making prints big enough to consume a lot of real estate on someone’s wall at home.

Who has been your biggest influences in surfing and photography?

Well with surfing, I might have to give the nod to Dad. He surfed as a younger man, and was the one who originally encouraged me to go rent a soft top surfboard on a family vacation to Carlsbad, CA some 17 years ago. I got bit by the surf bug real hard, and it was pretty much his doing originally. As far as influential surfers, I’ve always had an affinity for traditional longboarding. I just love it. So I obviously studied so many of the surfers in that vein: Dora, John Peck, Devon Howard, Jimmy Gamboa, Joel Tudor, to name just a few. I love shortboarding too and can do it decently enough, but I’m a traditional longboard guy through and through.

With photography, a huge influence for me has actually been Dan Merkel, especially when it comes to print sales. I’d always appreciated his work, both in the surf-world and in shooting landscapes, and I had the chance to meet him as he randomly approached my booth at an art show I did in Santa Barbara a few years back. He looked my prints over, told me I had a few good ones, but that if I wanted to make a career out of fine-art photography print sales, that I really needed to consider my subject matter more closely and think: ‘what would people want to put in their homes’. It was unsolicited advice, and it stung a bit as he more or less told me my stuff wasn’t quite there. But like what Barilotti told me with my writing, it’s been some invaluable advice and I’ve already been able to put it to use, by shooting images of landscapes and ocean scenics that both have meaning to me, but also seem to be the types of things that folks with big walls want to cover them with.

For more of Josh’s work check out his website – http://joshkimball.com/

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