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He’s the vanguard of aerial photography, with images adorning everything from celebrity homes and J Crew stores to swimming trunks and boat shoes. LA native Gray Malin shot to fame in 2009 with the Texas-based Prada Marfa series and subsequently became known for his signature bird’s-eye views of colourful coastlines. His passion for beauty and wanderlust has taken him across the globe from the snow-capped Swiss mountains to Bolivian salt flats. And through a skilfully angled lens, this shutterbug has captured the art of travel.
Malin’s vibrant style endears him to exciting, high-end brands. As part of his latest collaboration with Le Méridien, he has flown across the world creating artwork for hotel guests to enjoy including photographic key cards and merchandise. The Follow Me video project couples dreamy stills with behind-the-scenes footage from shoots in destinations as diverse as Bhutan and Barcelona. The latest installation entitled The Art of Living juxtaposes sleek mid-century modern furniture with the azure waters of Bora Bora. To catch a glimpse, head to Le Meridien lobbies worldwide where they will run 24//7.
We caught up with Gray Malin on his last trip to London:
How did you fall in love with photography?
The first photo that inspired me was The Fork by André Kertész which I saw at a small gallery in Paris. I fell in love with its composition. I’d always struggled in art class. I couldn’t draw. But when I found photography it was simple and geometric. I was terrible at algebra but always got an A+ in Geometry. You can see this love of geometry in the patterns I create. I can’t just take a photo; I have to find the balance and it is all about composition. One of my signature traits is not to crop or alter an image afterwards – I like to crop on camera.
Have you always had faith in yourself as a photographer?
It’s probably very personal but when you publicly come out of the closet, you have that confidence forever. You feel invincible.
What makes a successful photographer?
Success comes from authenticity. The closer you do to what you believe in and love, the closer you are to success. You have to be a risk taker. Take my shots of donut floats for example. I love donut floats. I always sit on them at the beach. And that’s how they became built into my projects. When you hit that authenticity, your audience gets it. It’s like they know you.
How do you begin to visualise a project?
It’s a tonne of research. It can be really overwhelming. As part of the Dream Series, I shot a load of coloured sheep in Australia. That took me six years of trying to A) convince myself that I could do it and B) doing all the research. From sourcing the right vegetable dye to finding a third generation sheep farmer who couldn’t believe that that American artist was coming to his farm in the middle of nowhere.
Does the destination inspire the idea or vice versa?
It’s push and pull but the idea is what it’s all about. With, for instance, the sheep, I really wanted to shoot in Scotland but I couldn’t find the right contact to do it there. But at the end of the day it wasn’t about Scotland, it was about a whimsical dream. It came together in Australia and right in the middle of shooting a double rainbow shot across the sky as a herd of sheep were running underneath. That was one of those moments when I thought “I know I was meant to make this image.”
How did the partnership with Le Méridien come about?
Le Méridien approached me. The brand loves all things culture, food, art and music. It was looking for a partner that emulated a Catch Me If You Can, Sixties vibe – an era that I’m constantly drawn to. As an artist, it was wonderful to work with a company that operates on a global scale and yet allowed me creative freedom.
How did you choose Barcelona, Bora Bora and Bhutan as your destinations?
I happened to be going to Barcelona with my husband and paid a quick visit to Le Méridien’s property. It’s the most beautiful place, a nice escape from the city. Up on the roof, I looked down at the hotel’s giant pool and envisioned it filled with lifesaver-type floats. They loved the idea.
Bhutan is an emerging area; it’s young king is welcoming new visitors whereas before it was quite closed off. I was attracted to the area because my dad visited around ten years ago. I remember all his photos from the Himalayas and thinking it was so cool. Shooting there was such a culturally rich experience; the monks I met had never seen balloons or helium. I hope my art encourages people to visit.
The landscape was what drew me to Bora Bora; I was inspired by the mountains.
Where do you consider the most photogenic destinations in the world?
St Barts: Before I visited I thought it was going to be a whole load of hoopla but it wasn’t. It’s truly stunning. Grand Saline beach is the most beautiful beach I’ve ever been to in my life. There’s no boats in the water and totally natural. It’s a life-changing place which makes you think about the planet.
Cape Town: This is my favourite city. I’d live there part time if I could. I love its outdoors element – it has the beach, the wine country, and the animals are lovely. The city itself is booming.
Rio de Janeiro: The beach culture here is beautiful and something you can’t find anywhere else in the world.
The Hamptons: I love that it’s this all-American beach. There’s different sides to it and there’s something for everyone.
A dedicated exhibition featuring a retrospective look at the partnership will take place in Le Meridien Piccadilly, London. The exhibition will launch on 5th October to coincide with Frieze London Art Fair.
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