Leaning Out of Helicopters: Lifestyle, the Gray Malin Way

Gray Malin is cold. Not like he was in Sydney.  He’s trekking across the snow and watching a glacier the size of a Manhattan skyscraper detach itself from a precarious cliffside and slide off into the icy ocean depths. 

He’s got a high powered lens, but this one right here is an Instagram post for the ages.  In National Geographic, such a scene would remind him of the imminent perils of global warming. That is, at home in his Los Angeles photography studio with a cup of (iced) coffee in hand and National Geographic sprawled out leisurely before him, such a scene would remind him of the imminent perils of global warming.  In a phone interview months later, Malin will discuss the insight into the natural world, its myriad interactions with humanity, given to him by this trip, decorated as it now is with such sublime spectacles as collapsing glaciers, and memorable episodes like Penguins scuttling up to play.  He’ll expound upon the importance of protecting and preserving the planet, how he felt like a modern day Columbus traversing the undiscovered and the unreached extents of the globe, and the appreciation for natural beauty the lent by the trip. But right now, all of this is a reminder of how cold he is.  This adventure is one single thing in Malin’s career, a single trip, that will soon turn into a spectacular album, which will in turn will become something else: an inspiration inciting others to stop wasting time and set out on their own adventures, into their own uncharted expanses.  Antarctica is, in his own words, definitely not a destination meant for humans.

Sydney, on the other hand, is. Gray Malin spent New Years day hanging out the side of a helicopter over Bondi Beach, taking aerial shots of vibrantly crowded shorelines filled with beach-goers who celebrate the holiday with the same gusto Americans throw in to their Fourth of July festivities. Later, he will imprint those shots onto a line of men’s swimwear, which will spur his own artistic renown as well as inspire a line of women’s bikinis (on their way in a little under a month now).  Sydney is the culmination, and most recent iteration, of Malin’s wildly successful photographical techniques of aerial shots and human expanses and topographical canvased splotches of lifestyle. And travel, of course. Travel is both a passion and a pastime for the L.A.-based designer/photographer that he’s woven into his career in magnificently modern and accessible ways. His boyhood flirtation with Kauai developed into a lifelong love affair with the paradisal island, and remains his favorite destination to this day, while Cape Town, South Africa, Palm Springs a couple of hours southeast, and even various hotels in L.A. are also the sight of Malin’s lens, alongside Spain and Rio and Bolivia.

He needs only chapstick and his Instagram account to trek into the foreign and the unfamiliar to set about taking the shots that he’s become known for.  While Instagram is often the end-all be-all of the creative aspirant, for Malin it is a springboard to bigger things.  If you can Instagram it, chances are you can do a whole lot more with it too, like

put it on the back of an iPhone 5/5s case (seven different shots, seven awesome covers), or print it onto those swim shorts, a collaboration with men’s luxury clothing line Orlebar Brown that sold out entirely: every pair, everywhere.  Even better, it can be painted onto a surfboard (they’re totally rad).  These objects of everyday lifestyles, the paraphernalia of passion and ingenuity, are subjected to other uses in turn, one thing turning into another thing that becomes something else along the way.

At the beach is where Malin’s eye in the sky captures its most recognizable and familiar portraits of human life, of moments he wants to live in.  His favorite series is even called À La Plage, and includes the Bondi piece alongside other beach-scapes like Coogee, Barra, Rio De Janeiro, and Miami, all of which showcase the exciting random configurations of the aquatic lifestyle, the swimmers, the loungers, the colorful umbrellas and towels, and that evanescent barrier where the sand melts into the turquoise waves.  Like a satellite camera, Malin can then zoom in on certain features, enlarging those quadratic boundaries to create individual pieces of art from one larger source, one thing becoming another.  A terrifically high resolution, magnificently random array of red umbrellas photographed while leaning out of a helicopter over a beach in Rio looks like a cross section of a human vein, red blood cells next to bone next to tissue.  And yet, hone in on the red umbrellas and you have a scatterplot of human authenticity, from which patterns–multiple, pick your favorite–arise and propel randomness into the scope of clarity.  But really, multiple patterns is just a kitsch interpretation of total randomness, so instead, let the picture hang in the living room while you picture yourself on that very beach, under that very umbrella . . . easy to do, after nought but a few seconds spent gazing at any Gray Malin print from the À La Plage collection.  A long-width beach photo turns into a closeup of a sandbox with red polka dots, which becomes a person’s private getaway and perpetual daydream.  One thing turns into another thing that becomes something else.




Of course, beaches mean surfers, and surfing, the sport which always seems to transcend barriers from art, to athleticism, to spirituality, to music.  Malin, an avid surfer, cold-emailed Almond Surfboards after finding one of their hand-crafted, hand-shaped, hand-painted boards on Instagram.  That email led to a rendezvous in Newport Beach, and that initial meeting became a more or less perfect collaboration between the two artist labels that produced the new line of Gray Malin branded Almond surfboards.  Malin’s artwork belongs in any one of a number of places, which include a beach bungalow and swim shorts, but most assuredly, his art belongs on a surfboard.  Almond, on the other hand, with its slew of sixteen different board designs, crafts these things with an unmatched eye for custom detail.  Imprinting surfboards with Malin’s photographs creates a kind of theoretical fabric of superimposed planes of vision, an Eastern-esque leveling effect whereby the birds-eye view–inaccessible to human eyes without the aid of modern technology–is now gliding at the level of the ocean, across its waves; under which surface a whole other topographical view-in-potential–the three dimensional volume of the Sea–is itself obscured to the human eye by the shimmering reflection of the surface glean.  Malin’s artwork on the back of a board makes the inaccessible “eye in the sky” accessible, and that specific aquatic application of it to a surfboard, intuitively echoes that which is inaccessible from below as well.  Great art, after all, transcends planes of thought and brings the obscured to light, the heavens to the earth, and vice versa.  Malin’s pieces intrude upon lived reality in this way.  The Bondi Beach shoot, for example, captures idyllic modern tropical life from an abstruse angle and fabricates a snapshot in which high resolution and angular irregularity work in harmony to present humans, in the end, with a view of themselves that they’ve perhaps never been privy to.




Like an out of body experience: oh yeah, that’s what we all look like, when we’re playing at life together.  Hey, now we’re on a surfboard, gliding across the waves.  And don’t look now, but there’s a whole other world down below, that’s just as obscured from our vision as we our from ourselves.




Things turning into things that become other things.  A high school interest in photography back in Dallas, Texas turning into a Photography and Marketing degree from Boston’s Emerson, turning into a gig in the film industry as assistant to Paramount Vantage’s President, leading to Los Angeles, leading to a last ditch no holds barred all-in creative spurt to give his one true passion a go before putting it on the back burner, leading to his toddler of a studio that’s now three years old, leading to the recently launched GrayMalin.com and the Gray Malin brand. And a sold out line of swim wear. And his famous Prada Marfa shoot. And À La Plage.  The surfboard collaboration with Almond.  Bondi Beach, Sydney. Antarctica, with those friendly Penguins and big-ass glaciers.

For Malin, photographs are modern day escapes, vacations from “normality” into Normality, that channel excitement to the extent of enticing us to live in that escape–to perpetually vacate the world of mediocrity simply by waking each morning with the potential to get away, the potential for a getaway, on the top of our minds.  Seeing the possible in the apparent, the vacation subtly inherent to each day, is the first step towards a lifestyle of fulfillment. The Sydney shoot is a direct approach to this type of fulfillment, the human portrait, lifestyle, canvased and framed, for our viewing pleasure. Even in his Bolivia photo shoot Malin taps into the same aesthetic albeit with no humans present, tossing beautiful quilts and multi-colored spheres and fluttering shapes into the air, snapping photos of them as gravity pulls them back down to earth.  The same canvas, different subjects, the same effect.  The shapes and colors and fluttering declines that give personality to the Bolivia shoot, are the primal subtext of Bondi Beach and Rio, where the shapes and colors are human and sentient.  In the Malin pieces, actual life is unneeded in the attainment of lived life, and the fabricated is as much an inspiration for adventure as the genuine.

Each photo Malin takes is inviting an escape into lived life.  His is a lifestyle of permanent vacation that on the surface looks no different from ours, just day to day lived existence decorated with the fact that he sees the paradise in the mundane and isn’t afraid to bring it out into the light. This philosophy turned into his website, which is structured around passion, inspiration, adventure, and lifestyle, each of which is a thing in itself that is intimately linked to the next.  Passion leads to inspiration, inspiration is only satiated by adventure, and adventure manifests itself in the greatest occupier of our time: lifestyle.

Gray Malin’s recognition of his passion inspired a journey that led to a lifestyle, and the fruits of that lifestyle allow others to share it with him, and in turn inspire them to stop wasting time admiring others for their achievements while relegating yours to the realm of imagined–not lived–life.  The journey becomes an adventure, which for Malin might look like a walk through Cape Town’s wine country; spending a weekend in Palm Springs; maybe pulling over to the side of Highway 1 to snap a shot.  Life itself becomes saturated with opportunities big and small, which eradicates mundanity and draws a direct line from passion all the way through to lifestyle.  The new line of surfboards, for instance, which represent Malin’s passion, skill, and application for and to photography, are just the latest of his refusal to waste time, of his forceful rendition of his passion into physical reality, the uses for which are vast, the potential effects, inspirational or otherwise, numerous.  One of those boards would look awesome on the waves, or simply hanging above a central fire pit–perhaps that Malin himself designed–adorning the living room of a tropical beach bungalow on Kauai.  Take a pic off center, with an actual surfer in mid-shot out on the waves, and the sunset etherealizing both.  Blur the edges and hit the X-Pro II tone, and you’ve got one hell of an Instagram post.

Photography by Gray Malin