Morgan Maassen is a young photographer and film-maker from Santa Barbara, California. We are huge fans of his work, especially how he communicates female surfing in the most elegant and transformative way. Through his own travels and paid assignments we get a glimpse into the lives of surfing’s elite such as Stephanie Gilmore, Laura Enever and Coco Ho. His photography transports us to the most pristine places on the planet, showing us new ways to look at things. What a beautiful life he leads, almost as beautiful as his images. We caught up with him to hear about his inspirations and what it is about his favourite subject (arguably his muse), Stephanie Gilmore that keeps him producing some of the most alluring photography and films of the 5x world champion.
All photos and films provided Morgan Maassen.
You have accomplished so much at such a young age. How did you get to where you are today?
When I was 13, I injured myself surfing and was out of the water for about a month. Coupled with a mentor program through school, I set out to make a short film about my friends surfing around our hometown. From that point on, I was obsessed with filmmaking, and saved every penny from a plethora of odd jobs to upgrade camera and computer equipment. When I was 16 I left high school to pursue a full-time graphic design job and night-time college education, studying art and anthropology. After several years of that, I quit with the intention of traveling the world, and thought to bring a photo camera along for fun. Within days, I was addicted to photography. Over the last several years, I’ve worked tirelessly to be able to do both photography and filmmaking symbiotically, for both the clients I work for and myself.
You work with Stephanie Gilmore and the best of women’s surfing. How did your connection to the elite come about?
The first professional photoshoot I ever did was with Billabong, as their marketing manager Megan Villa had reached out to me through my website/blog. I was 19 at the time, and utterly floored to be flown to Tahiti to shoot surfing and lifestyle with their girls; up until that point I had only shot my travels, surfing with my friends, and my girlfriend. After that initial photoshoot, I continued to work steadily with Billabong as well as use my progress in the surf community to connect with various female pro surfers. I made a huge effort to shoot women as much as possible, and with a lot of hard work was able to climb my way up to shooting with Stephanie Gilmore.
Talk us through the creative process of working with the girls?
Most all of the girls I work with are close friends and collaborators in many ways. We’re always bouncing ideas off each other, brainstorming new locations and ways to perceive them and their sport. I’d say my work is about 50/50 between being commissioned by their sponsors and being a labor of love, but considering the level of attention women’s surfing is now receiving, finding support for these endeavours is never hard.
What would you say is your favourite photo and what about the shot that you love so much?
Probably this photo of Stephanie Gilmore surfing her single fin in Mexico. I find her to be of unparalleled elegance, and at that moment of time I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better display of surfing by man or woman.
What is it about women’s surfing that inspires you?
I find women’s surfing is fascinating, for it blends both female beauty with the grace of surfing. I think in many cases, women were made to interpret surfing in a far more pristine way than men. While men might push the boundaries of performance surfing, women like Stephanie push style.
Your films are often quite abstract in the sense that they try to convey a feeling, emotion or sense of place rather than pure documentation. What is it that brings this out in your work and how do you translate this visually?
I try to capture what inspires me as well as harnesses my curiosity. I love movement and colours, simplicity and style. When I’m making my films, I just focus on interpreting the subject through those filters, and hope everything falls in place!
You’ve filmed a range of non-surfing related materials. Do you think the diversity when getting outside the surf industry helps define your own aesthetic and bring something different to your clips?
Absolutely – working beyond surfing is an exhilarating challenge! I try to shoot something new and different every day, be it fashion, travel, architecture… and I find that pursuit to come full circle and help me perceive surfing in ways that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to.
Who or what do you take your inspiration from. Are there other artists, photographers or filmers you look up to?
Film, art, music and travel. My life revolves around those various mediums and lifestyles, and all inspire me to no end. I really look up to filmmakers like Gasper Noe, Darren Aronofsky, Werner Herzog and artists like Ashley Bickerton, Wassily Kandinsky and Zio Ziegler.
You were asked by ESPN to shoot Coco Ho for their Body Issue- a magazine issue that celebrates the aesthetic of top athlete bodies. What was your approach to the shoot and how did you balance the contentious issue of celebrating the athletic female form vs. the over exposure or exploitation of women in sports marketing esp. surfing.
When I was asked to photograph Coco Ho, the magnitude of the photoshoot had not translated to me yet. I set out to photograph Coco the same as I always have: playfully, surfing to her usual calibre. In a nice twist of irony, we enjoyed an unparalleled amount of privacy on the shoot, as the support boats/hair + makeup/etc couldn’t come within several hundred meters of us due to the remote reef break we were shooting at. The shoot went off without a hitch, and then blew up several months later when the magazine came out. I rationalize that the Body Issue is a study and celebration of top athlete’s bodies, and the photos that were chosen were purely athletic and in no way sultry.
Any exciting projects on the horizon that you can talk about?
I’m enroute to South Africa as I type this to make a short film on current world number-1 Courtney Conlogue, followed by a trip to Alaska to photograph a yacht sailing through the fjords and glaciers. I’m painfully excited for both! I’ve also started a consortium of my friends & fellow artists called Breakfast, to profile their various pursuits.
Thank you so much Morgan!
Follow Morgan Maassen on his social media pages and website and find out more about his project Breakfast: