Dark Room, Bright Outlook: Cold Water Surf Photography

Dark Room, Bright Outlook: Cold Water Surf Photography
Note to readers: You’re lucky to have caught Alex Mires in between catching waves, processing film (yes, like in a dark room), and trading smiles with girls walking past.
Alex, tell us about yourself.

I’m a 26-year-old dirtbag surfer and a surf and lifestyle film photographer! I currently live in Portland, Oregon. It’s a beautiful city surrounded by everything an outdoor enthusiast could need. I initially fell in love with Portland four years ago when I moved from northern California. That’s when I started both my surfing and photography career. Photography was my means to document adventures in my new playground, the pacific northwest.

It's a gorgeous area to document! So how did you get into photography?

It started with a desire to make videos, but I ended up taking more stills than motion shots. So my best friend lent me a small point and shoot camera which I used for a few years. At that point, he inspired me to start shooting film on a 35mm camera which became my new-found love. I can’t stress enough that my reason for doing this is my friend Dylan Fematt (@dylanfematt). He inspired me to create and express myself through photography. I owe him that.

That type of friend is great to have. So tell us about your “first date” with photography. What inspired you to make the jump and start trying something new?

I feel like I've had many! So I'll talk about my “first date with surf photography.” After doing my research and getting help from Dylan, I decided to get a Cannon WP-1 (it's a waterproof film camera). I lived three hours from the ocean at this time. But eager to shoot; I called one of my good friends who I knew would drop everything to go to the coast with me. We packed the car up with a roll of Tmax 400 and headed west. That was my first date! The unfortunate beauty of shooting film meant that I didn't get to see those photos for another two weeks. But when I did, I fell deeply in love.

What’s led to your decision to keep shooting surf photography instead of a safer subject?

People always say, especially about the Oregon coast, how dangerous it is swimming and surfing. When I tell people what I do, I get the usual comments about sharks, rips, big waves and any other spooky thing you can imagine. These are all real dangers, yes, but knowledge is power when it comes to being in the Pacific. You have to understand your limits. Once you know your limits, you can approach them. That’s when you feel alive. I try not to let fear define me. And I sure as hell am not going to let fear stop me from doing something I love.

No one should. What keeps you shooting film instead of digital? How would you say it affects your relationship with making photos?

For me, digital has become too heavily influenced by post-processing among other things. With digital, you can hold down the trigger, rapid-fire shots and then sift through hundreds of photos, find one, edit it and try to reflect what you saw. It’s all art in my eyes, and I respect digital photography one hundred percent. However, I feel that my relationship with photography needed to be more intimate than that. Film makes me slow down what I am doing because the instant gratification of taking a photo is gone. It makes me take note of the emotions of the moment and how I am going to portray it. When the moment isn't right, I have to put the camera down because I have a limited number of shots to take. I think shooting film makes me a better photographer in general.

Film is a whole different beast for sure. What’s the first film picture you remember looking at and saying, “Hey, I’m not that bad after all"?

It was the first roll of black and white I shot of my friend surfing. I remember getting back the shots and they where nutty! Being my first roll, I knew I would only get better. The photos did well on Instagram too, which made me feel like I was doing alright in the photography world. Weird how that works.

Take us back to one of your favorite days shooting.

It's hard to pick just one; I’ve had many perfect days out there. There were a couple of days over this last summer when the waves where pumping, it was sunny, and there were a lot of guys and girls ripping. Those days are fun because you can tell surfers love to be in front of the camera. And you know no one braves the elements to photograph them often (sometimes ever). They want their picture taken, and I want to take their picture, so it works out. Mostly everyone is out there just having fun, laughing, stoking each other out. Those days are the best no matter if I got good shots or not.

That's symbiosis at it's finest. What kind of lessons have you learned from photography that might help readers live a full life?

One of the biggest lessons I've learned is knowing when to put the camera down. Sometimes I feel like we spend so much time trying to go out and get content that we lose ourselves in the process. We forget why we fell in love with photography in the first place. When you are in the surf, city, forest, or wherever, and you come across something beautiful I encourage you instead of picking up your camera to stop and enjoy the moment. I think being more aware of these moments can make a world of difference. It did with me.

Well put. It’s clear that you’re stoked to get outside and shoot. What about photography inspires you to keep at it?

Two things. One is progression. Every time I go out I try to get closer to what I want my photography to look like in a few years. I am my biggest critic, so comparing and analyzing my photos drives me to improve. The second reason is to document some of the greatest moments of my life. It will be tight to look back on it fifty or sixty years from now.

We'll need to do a follow-up article in 60 years. Tell us about the Cold Water Club. What are you looking to accomplish with this?

My friend Dylan and I started it as a hub for the niche of cold water surf photography. It's a community for cold water enthusiasts to share their stories and pictures. As of now, Cold Water Club is a young grom waiting for its path to be molded. It has been sick to be able to connect with our local community and people around the world that share this brutal passion. I'm not sure what the distant future holds for Cold Water Club, but I can say that we have exciting things in the works for 2019.

We're looking forward to seeing the progress! It’s always tough as a surfer to watch perfect waves roll by when you're in the wrong position. So what keeps you shooting instead of surfing?

Honestly, there isn’t much that will keep me shooting if the waves are firing! You have to remember that when you're shooting film, you only have 24 or 36 shots to take. So I try not to get out of the water until I finish the roll. That commitment has made me accept the fact I will miss waves. There will always be more waves though. I'll be alright.

That's deep. How would you say photography impacts your mental health?

I think it isn’t so much about the pictures themselves that have benefited me mentally, but that photography forces me into places I’ve never been, and I share those experiences with others. Photography has taken me to mountaintops where I have had surreal moments with friends that I'll always remember. It's plunged me into the ice-cold waters of the northern Pacific, only to put a smile on my face. And yes, it has given me the opportunity to look back on all these cherished moments. I can see all those places I have been, the people I’ve met, the moments I have shared and be proud, thankful and happy. I can admit it has changed me for the better.

What’s your mission when you go shooting these days? The fame, the glory, the money, or…?

I mainly do it for the chicks; girls think its cool. I'm just kidding! I do it to be in the water. Having pictures for Instagram is fun, but at the end of the day, I just want to get wet!

You can't beat that. What’s next for your photography career?

I don’t know what's next, to be honest. I want to shoot more and have fun. I have an idea of what I want my work to look like, and I won't stop until I get there. But most of my photography goals are wrapped up in Cold Water Club right now. So you can look forward to seeing excellent content there!

Anything else you'd like to include?

The only thing I'll add is my source of inspiration for surf and photography. Dylan Fematt (@dylanfematt), Wouter Struyf (@wouterstruyf), Megan Barrett (@meganshootsfilm), Coko (@cokoif), Victor Bensusi (@bensusi)

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

You can find me on Instagram: @alhabitat

Or hit me up on youtube. In 2019 I'm going to start vlogging and doing videos again. Youtube.com/alhabitat Get stoked!

I am finishing up the website for Cold Water Club so you can find us on Instagram: @coldwaterclub

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