Ray Collins photographs the ocean and its waves as you may never have seen them before. He has an eye for capturing split second moments that challenge the viewers perception of the ocean and leaves a sense of awe at the beauty it can create. We caught up with Ray while he's bunkered down at home on the Coal Coast of NSW, Australia to ask him about the inspiration and process behind his latest collection of images, "Fleeting Perspectives".
How have things been going during the Coronavirus lockdown? What have you been doing with your time in isolation?
While acknowledging the absolute tragedy this pandemic has wreaked all over the world, and the constant news updates on deaths etc, we’ve experienced a lot of good things too! On a personal level it has been a season of refinement I feel. My wife and I have just been living small and worrying about what we can control in our immediate circle of influence. We’ve been expanding our cooking repertoire which has also meant eating pretty well.
It sounds like the virus interrupted some of your launch plans for the new series. How have you been able to adapt in the current climate, or are you putting things on hold?
It was originally slated for a physical release with exhibitions ready to go in Australia, USA/Canada and Mexico. COVID-19 obviously put an end to that so I figured the hard work was already done, I just needed to put it out into the world. I’m supposed to be in Mexico City at this very moment actually, giving talks and having a huge outdoor installation featuring the waves from this series. In regards to adaptation during these weird times, I’ve been a guest on some really beautifully made podcasts. Learning a new medium of communication has been refreshing and kept me occupied.
This new body of work has a strong theme running through it and has a different look and feel to your past work. Can you tell us how the concept for Fleeting Perspectives came about, and the inspiration behind it?
I spent 2019 thinking, planning and executing this series with the aim of pushing myself and my photography into unfamiliar and uncomfortable places. The actual photography side of the project ended on 1st Jan, 2020 (on which the last two of these images were made and thus completing the series). To get new perspectives, I challenged myself to use some of the longest telephoto lenses available (from 400-1000mm) with the aim of establishing a sense of uncertainty and to challenge our understanding of scale.
Was this project something you decided early on, “I want a series of 11 photos”, or did it evolve into this over time?
It’s safe to say it was a bit more of a Goldilocks scenario - trying not to have ‘too much’ or ‘too little’, because you don’t want to lose impact by over or under explaining things. In another universe it may have been either 10 or 12 images but in the end, I went with one of my favourite prime numbers. I think originally there were 200+ images for consideration. That was rounded down pretty easily to 36 images, and then the hard part of culling down to 11.
Were you looking for particular kinds of waves and conditions specifically for this body of work?
Yes! Totally. I was solely focussed on the largest storms that I could commit to shooting for a year. I had my eye on weather charts for a few different locations and tried to be on standby for any extraordinary swell events at the chosen locations.
What ties each image of the series together is the commonality of refraction. When a sudden disturbance of transmission occurs to a wavelength from a structure with more density, whether it’s a radio wave, a sound wave or in this case an ocean wave it will break up the predictable patterns to form nonparallel wave systems. This perpendicular energy then reflects energy at varied angles, often reversing the energy back towards its original source. The disturbances that proved to be the most photogenic were found at the base of steep cliffs and barely submerged mountains.
There are a few images in this series that you were able to shoot from a helicopter. What’s it like to shoot big waves from a helicopter and how close are you getting to the waves?
It almost feels forbidden to be honest. Like a human being wasn’t meant to have that experience. To be hovering over such large swells and feeling the air pressure change as the waves surge, stand and roll underneath you is really hard to adequately communicate in words. It’s like looking down on a chessboard and being able to move anywhere on it, rather than being locked in the single dimension of shooting from the beach, or even from the water. The spray was coming into the chopper, as we had the doors off and you don’t realise how much adrenaline is coursing through your body until you’re in bed that night. I love using drones, but nothing beats experiencing that vantage in person in my opinion.
In its simplest form your subject is always water and light. It’s also something that you have no control over. How do you mentally plan for something you have no control over?
Over and over again, the ocean has taught me to surrender. Whatever finished objective I may be carrying at the time rarely pans out like planned. You can only do so much preparation, the final and most important ingredient is luck! I do believe we can have a huge influence over the percentages of good luck occurring, but we never have total control. It’s often a frustrating concept when you’ve invested thousands of dollars into a strike mission somewhere but I guess you just keep trying to walk forward, and keep trying to learn.
When do you know you’ve got a shot that will make it in a series like this? Is it when you’ve hit the shutter, or do you have a review process you go through?
The opening shot, I knew at the time of shutter depression that I was at the right place at the right time and I was capturing a moment unlike any other. That has happened probably less than 10 times in 13 years. For the rest they didn’t reveal themselves until looking back after the fact.
You live in a pretty special part of the world (definitely some editor bias here) and have access to many great waves not far from your home, what still inspires you to travel and chase waves around the planet?
How amazing is home? I can truly say that when the world is in chaos and turmoil it’s like getting a warm embrace from Mother Nature when you’re wedged between the mountains and the sea like we are. I always imagine the indigenous Australian’s feeling the same thing over the thousands of years before us. Truly sacred and special. Variety is the spice of life though. For me, I need to feel different colours, energy and light. Each place that I shoot whether in the Pacific, Atlantic or Indian Ocean has a distinct feeling all of it’s own and I feel it’s my purpose in life to communicate Planet Ocean to people who don’t get to experience it for themselves.
You can view more of the Fleeting Perspectives series on Ray’s Instagram, and Website.
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