My name is Mike. I grew up outside of Philadelphia and didn’t surf for my first time until I was 17. In the 8 years since then, surfing has taken my life and shaped it into what it is today. I graduated from Brooks Institute in August 2009 and have been shooting, traveling and exploring with my camera ever since. The ocean has shaped me not only as a photographer but also as a person and I am proud to represent the action, waves and people of the sport of surfing through my work.
1. What is it about your photography that you strive to make special and unique?
Everyone sees things a little bit differently. That’s what’s so interesting to me about photography. Two people can pick up the same camera, stand in the same place and point it in the same direction, and end up with two completely different images. I see things my way, a way no one else sees them and to me that’s special enough to want to share. If there’s one thing about my work that I strive to make special, it’s creating those moments when someone sees an image of mine and goes “hey, is that a Mike Smolowe photo?” That’s the ultimate for me, the thing that keeps me coming back each day.
2. What makes you passionate about photography?
I am passionate about photography because of the freedom it gives me to be myself. I can pick up my camera and do whatever I want with it. There are no rules or restrictions to follow which allows me to express myself however I want. As I said before, I love how two people can look at the same thing through the same camera and create completely different images that are equally powerful. That’s what makes it all so alluring to me. Getting behind the camera and seeing something through new eyes and then portraying that through my work. Someone can open my portfolio and get a glimpse of who I am, how I see things, what inspires me, just by looking through my images.
3. Who and/or what has influenced your photography and why?
Above all surfing has influenced my photography. I grew up outside of Philadelphia and didn’t surf for the first time until I was 17. Within a year I was living in Wilmington, NC surfing every day and within a year of that I was in Santa Barbara attending Brooks Institute. Somehow I ended up at the beach with a camera in my hand and everything just kind of fell into place and off we went. That being said, without the support of my family I wouldn’t be where I am today either. I am very blessed to have amazing parents and friends who have stood by my determination to be a photographer from day 1.
Aesthetically speaking, I am influenced by every image I see. I spend a lot of time looking at other photographers’ work and drawing bits and pieces from each image. A color palette I like here, a unique lighting set up there, a drawn out pose from a post on that new blog; I am constantly being influenced. A quick list of photographers and visual artists I greatly admire and draw inspiration from on a daily basis are: Mike Piscitelli, Jeremy and Clair Weiss, Margo Moritz, Embry Rucker, Henry Cartier Bresson, Todd Glaser, DJ Struntz, Michael Muller, Art Brewer, Chris Chrisman, Crista Leonard, Adrian Myers, Wolfgang Bloch, Pat Stacy and everyone else!
4. What dreams or aspirations do you have for your photography?
I want my work to make people feel the way I feel when I get excited about seeing an image for the first time. I remember walking past a window at an outdoor mall in San Diego last year and saw this image of a guy and girl on a motorcycle shot by Mario Testino for Michael Kors watches. I must have stood there for 10 minutes, taken 10 photos with my phone, and texted them to 15 people in my phonebook. Pete Frieden’s morning line-up of Lances Right had the same affect on me. I want my images to strike that kind of happy chaos in people. However that happens, whether it be shooting big ad campaigns or self-assigned guerilla missions to the Galapagos, I want to affect peoples creative minds in a big way.
Creatively I have a lot to offer, and until I am handed the opportunity to prove myself, I will keep creating my own through my personal portfolio, adventures and travels. I am hoping this contest propels me into a position where I am given the chance to prove my surf photography to the world.
5. If you were the recipient of the grant, how would you use the money to further your photography career aspirations?
In the 6 years I have been shooting, I have yet to go on a trip with pro surfers specifically to document them in an editorial manner. I have gone on plenty of trips, set up on a shoestring budget with friends, sleeping in tents and traveling by bus, but due to always having to make enough to live through other means, have never had the opportunity money-wise to get on a trip with anyone of any worth(surfing talent).
If I were the recipient of the grant I would get on a trip to prove myself. If that meant being a second shooter and paying my own flight and board, I would. I am very confident that given the opportunity my work will speak for itself. Put me on that trip, even if it’s a camping trip two hours north and I will show the surfing world what I am made of.
6. Where do you see your career in 5 years?
In 5 years I see myself shooting. In 5 days I see myself shooting. My goal is to create the opportunities necessary to show the surfing world what my work is made of. If that puts me on a boat in the Mentawais in 5 years then perfect and if that puts me in Newport beach shooting a portrait for an advertisement then perfect. I want to continue on the path I am on. I feel great about the progression of my work and am excited to see what tomorrow brings.
I have so many ideas and goals and each shoot leads me a little closer in a direction I’m excited to be going in. I want to make a difference to people and I want the world to see my work. In 5 years I want my work to be to a Follow the Light entrant what Todd Glaser’s is to me. What Mario Testino’s is to me. What Michael Muller, DJ Struntz, Nate Lawrence are to me. In 5 years, hell today, I want to be making a difference.
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