An Interview With Gray Malin

The good folks at Sperry invited me on a little jaunt to Paris last week to celebrate an exciting collaboration with Gray Malin. Sperry is the inventor of the boat shoe and with a launch party at Colette it would have been churlish of me to say no. Summer is a matter of weeks away and in recent years boat shoes have moved beyond a trend into a classic summer staple. But you have to be careful with staple items because more often than not ‘classic‘ can turn into just plain ‘boring‘. This is where Gray Malin comes in. His glorious aerial photography shots which captures the essence of scorching hot days on the beach and epic seascapes are are applied to Sperry’s shoes in a marriage of everything that is great about summer and fashion. 

Collaborations are ubiquitous nowadays but more often than not it’s a high street retailer offering cheap versions of high-end designer clothes. In this case the collaboration is both meaningful and organic. Malin’s art is the perfect subject for Sperry’s shoes and this is what collaborations should really be about. I sat down with the lovely Gray Malin and asked him a few questions about his art, the collaboration and what makes him tick.

How did you get into photography?
I got into photography through my family, my Grandfather loved cameras and that really rubbed off on my Dad. In High School I discovered the darkroom and that’s when I really started to take a liking to it, it was almost natural. I had a great eye for composition so it seemed that working in photography was inevitable for me.
When did you start making the aerial photography that you’ve become so famous for?
The aerial photography is my best known work, but I have quite a few other bodies of work shot on the ground. The first body of work that really helped to launch my career is called Prada Marfa. I grew up in Texas and as a family we would often go to a small town called Marfa which is in west, west Texas. It’s a place for artists and it became famous due to Donald Judd moving out there in the 70’s. Prada lent its name to two artists who built a very small Prada boutique on the side of the highway. It’s not open to the public, it’s permanently shut but it looks like a real Prada store. I went out there to see it and really became inspired by the humour so I created a series around the shop using local cowboys, a donkey and other fun props. At this time the internet was really starting to accept the idea of artwork online and through this combination of fashion and humour and pop culture it really helped turn my passion into something that people were taking seriously. People wanted to hang my photographs in their homes and on their walls. It helped me start to think about making work that people wanted to hang in their homes. I started to think how can I top this series? One day I had made the screensaver on my computer a picture that I had taken looking down on a swimming pool from a hotel room I was staying in. The image was an aerial shot of hundreds of people, people swimming and lounging on chairs. I’d been looking at it every day for six months as my screensaver then one day I thought “Oh my gosh this is what I should do, I should make more images like this“. I loved looking at it so much so that’s really how the aerial photography came about. 
What other photographers do you admire? Are you inspired by other forms of art like films, music and books or is it always visual art?
It’s impossible to go on Pinterest and not become inspired by something. I find inspiration in the craziest of places, you always need to keep your eyes open because you never know. I always go to Art Basel in Miami and just wander around and look at the art from all over the world. Sometimes it’s a famous artist and sometimes it’s someone brand new. In High School I loved the work of Andre Kertesz. I enjoy work that is conceptual, something that makes you think about things differently. I always appreciate a sense of humour, and I like it when art makes you feel positive versus anything dark. I love what Slim Aarons did in his lifetime, he captured this completely beautiful time when life was just perfect. Richard Misrach has a new series out which is great. I have a huge coffee table book of his that I look through at least one a month it’s just fabulous.
What made you want to work with Sperry?
I’ve been wearing Sperry’s my entire life really. It wasn’t something my parents bought me or anything, I discovered the boat shoe and I thought it was so comfortable. I could put them on in the morning and wear it into the evening. When I started travelling I realised you can really only bring one or two pairs of shoes with you in a carry on suitcase. I was doing aerial shoots and for these I have to turn my body and lean out of the helicopter to get the right shot and the perspective I want. When I started this in 2011 I think Instagram might have been around but there wasn’t so much social media. In 2013 there was, and I took an image of my feet over the beach and it gave perspective to how high I was. I was wearing Sperry boat shoes and sure enough the lightbulb went off and I thought what if I could put my imagery on the shoes and then we could create a whole campaign where the feet are hanging out of the helicopter with the image on the shoes, over the actual inspiration for the image. We reached out to Sperry and they loved the idea. We had very similar passions, Sperry is very passionate about the sea and I’m clearly passionate about the ocean and the beach so it was truly an authentic collaboration from the beginning. 
My next question was going to be “Will you be wearing the shoes yourself?”, but you’re actually wearing them right now. Do you have a favourite style?
Actually I like them all, I really do. Since I’ve been wearing boat shoes for so long it’s a dream to see my work on the actual boat shoe. I want to frame all the shoes like art and put them in my office. 
Are there any other fashion collaborations on the horizon?
There are many collaborations on the horizon but none of them are public yet. I’m actually working on my own first product which is going to be beach towels. An artists edition series of luxury oversized beach towels hopefully coming out for the Summer.
So what’s the next big artistic project for you?
I’m off to Bhutan to work on my next project but it’s top secret. I cant say anymore than that but it’s very exciting. 
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