With Plenty of Props, the Photographer’s Photos are One-of-a-Kind
Written By: Elizabeth Nutt Gray Malin’s Photos are Fun from the Top Down Gray Malin
Photographed By: Taylor Lewis
“I hope to make viewers feel joy! Whether it’s a photograph of somewhere they’ve been or somewhere they dream of going, I want people to stop, take a second look and then smile.”—Gray Malin
The beach image is universal: white sands, blue waters, and pops of color found in everything from surfboards and umbrellas, to bikinis and beach toys. Artists—from French impressionists to modern-day plein air painters—have sought to recreate its beauty, standing on the shore in close proximity to crashing waves and gulls. But photographer Gray Malin, on the other hand, saw the beach through a different lens—one high up in the air, above the scene he wished to capture. He is famous for his aerial photographs, but perhaps more so for pushing the boundaries of what is possible when it comes to artistry. Subsequently, he has changed his viewers’ perspectives entirely on an age-old image that he has single-handedly reinvented.
Gray is an artist who fell into his craft early. As fate would have it, his grandfather possessed a beautiful collection of cameras; the hobby was passed down to Gray’s father, too—who, according to Gray, always had a camera in tow. While Gray was in high school, he discovered his own passion for photography, which has defined and shaped his life ever since. “I don’t remember exactly the first time I shot but it was definitely when I was a youngster. Then, I first discovered the dark room in high school. The experience was addicting, watching my images slowly come to life in the developing trays, ” he recalls.
He attributes much of his success today to his high school photography teacher, Janis Hefley, and his post-college mentor and fellow photographer Aline Smithson. But Gray’s passion for taking photographs undoubtedly played a role in his garnering of worldwide recognition. He has, so to speak, always seen the world through his camera lens.
Gray discovered aerial photography, for which he’s widely known today, almost accidentally. During his first flight over Miami, Gray glanced out the window, and was awestruck by what he saw. “My attention became transfixed on the beach. From above, the people with their umbrellas and towels create patterns that are eye catching and unique in that they are mere moments in time that can never be captured again, ” he says. Though he had photographed swimming pools from above, the experience over Miami gave him a new idea: to capture beaches all over the world from the vantage point of a helicopter.
Gray has spent the last five years traveling across multiple countries, spanning six continents. But it’s been no easy journey. The process of taking aerial photographs is difficult—if not outright dangerous. But Gray finds it exhilarating, intoxicating, even. He shoots, with a Canon EOS 5 DSR, from a door-less helicopter at varying altitudes, depending on the legalities and weather conditions at each location. And Gray finds pure joy in the fact that he doesn’t know what to expect from each place until he has perspective from above. “I think that a lot of times people assume my aerials are shot with a drone or perhaps simply created on a computer, but it’s really me going up in the helicopter and leaning out the side to find beautiful timeless imagery. I couldn’t imagine doing it any other way, as the vision truly comes alive from above for me, ” he says.
Gray garners inspiration from his travels, and Camps Bay Cape Town, St. Barts and Bondi Beach are among his favorite beaches in the world. As for his favorite location in the world to shoot? South Africa. “I can’t get enough of this country. The geographical terrain is so beautiful, from its stunning beaches to luscious wine country to the arid Sabi Sands. It’s a photographer’s dream as there are endless moments to capture, ” he says.
Gray’s most recent travels took him to Bora Bora, and he’s photographed a litany of other exotic locales. But his most memorable photographs to date were taken in Palm Springs, California at one of his favorite hotels: the Parker. According to Gray, during the first night he spent at the boutique hotel, he found a burst of creative inspiration. “I immediately began imagining this series with its incredible cast of magical characters, including the Giraffe Lifeguard, a Lion in his paper crown, a Camel porter, or the Tiger lounging at the spa. The fact that I’ve been able to make this idea a reality, not once but twice, is almost as surreal as the series itself!” The second Gray Malin installment at the Parker hotel is one of his favorites to date.
Fortunately for fans of Gray’s, he has released his first monograph, titled Beaches, which features never-before-seen images captured in more than twenty cities around the world. Beaches also incorporates photographs from his prized À la Plage collection—his largest aerial series. Flipping through the pages of the book, viewers will glean not only a glimpse of Gray’s adventurous lifestyle, but also a rare—and beautiful—view of the world. “I hope to make viewers feel joy!” says Gray of his work. “Whether it’s a photograph of somewhere they’ve been or somewhere they dream of going, I want people to stop, take a second look and then smile.”
Gray’s Top 3 Favorite Photographers: Slim Aarons, Gaston Ugalde, and Massimo Vitali
Native Knowledge: Advice for aspiring photographers (or for those who are simply looking to improve their photography skills): “Follow your instincts and shoot what inspires you.”
“My attention became transfixed on the beach. From above, the people with their umbrellas and towels create patterns that are eye catching and unique in that they are mere moments in time that can never be captured again”—Gray Malin
Popping bottles in inner tubes? Yes.