Since his mum put a disposable camera in his hands as a child, U.K. expat surf photographer Mickey Smith has spent his life on the unglamorous side of a slew of lenses. He has a rare talent: He transfers what his uniquely discriminating eyes perceive into images the rest of us can understand and appreciate.
Relentless Energy's Short Stories competition charged artists with illustrating the company's slogan, "No Half Measures." Smith is the epitome of full force. The 30-year-old, who currently resides near Lahinch, Ireland, tackled the formidable task of auto-examination with his film Dark Side of the Lens. Dark Side was originally supposed to represent the voices of surf photographers as a group, he says, but it wound up being more personal than that. "It is really hard to make an honest film that examines yourself and your life without being biased or feeling like an idiot when you watch it or listen back," Smith says. "It was a challenge, to say the least."
It may have been a challenge, but Smith is not one to shy away from those. Shooting in the conditions that have made his name in the surf community is a massive feat, and yet he seems to thrive on it. "It’s a real set of skills and a different mentality. Heavy waves are different from other waves in that there is so much water moving and a lot of consequence. It’s a real challenge in itself, making sure you’re in the right spot when the wave of the day comes through. It's a weird, funny ol' game, for sure–I love it."
Smith says that surf photography is interesting, because there is such a wide variety of specialties and niches into which photographers fall. "There's guys who just shoot in the water, in heavy waves, and that's what they do," he says. "And then there's guys who shoot beautiful lineups and stuff like that, and that's what they do. And then there's guys who do it all. It's just a really specific thing."
It's also innately different than most other photography gigs. "Especially for the guys in the water–it takes such a different kind of head."
A common misconception about surf photography is that it's about the photographer. "You've got to bear in mind that the surfers and the waves are the reasons that we're out there," Smith explains. "It's about making sure that you're in the right place at the right time, documenting the right waves and the right people surfing–it's all about the people surfing and the waves themselves, and you're just kind of involved in that, trying to document that as best you can. It's more like documentary photography."
For Dark Side, he summoned his strength and decided to document the documentarian. The result is a very intimate, very handsome surf film, with a non-surfing focal point. "It's really strange opening up like that," says Smith, "but I did it for my sister. She was always so proud of me and always wanted to know more about what her brother did, so I tried to show her and also show how much she inspired me."
Smith also credits his supporters with helping him power through the sometimes daunting 3-month project. "People have been so kind to me and Willy, sending emails and words of encouragement. It really helps [to] keep you pushing forward when things get tough, so I want to say a huge thanks to everyone for their support. There are always improvements to make, of course, but I feel comfortable with it being seen, and that's all you can do at the end of the day–you’d never release anything otherwise!"
He ultimately feels good about the film, and well he should: He emerges as an inspirational figure who triumphs behind his magnificently well-suited instrument. The camera, as it turns out, really, really likes Mickey Smith.–Casey Butler