“I’ve always kept that ‘job’ motivation in check though, if I was doing it for money not love, or getting caught up in all the weird vibes ‘work’ can bring to something you love, I’d be risking the pure joy of getting to do what I do, and that’s not worth any amount of money.”
In life there are certain images, words, films, sounds and chance encounters that forever alter ones self-awareness and perspective on life. The first time I saw ‘Dark Side of the Lens’ it was one of those moments that changed my perception of how I personally wanted to live my own life. Every time I watched the short-film, chills ran down my spine and Mickey’s words / images triggered a very real ‘awakening’ in myself of how a life can truly be lived. I loved the words and film so much I was compelled to dig deeper …
Mickey, I have watched Dark Side of the Lens probably ten times now and I become re-inspired every time I watch it. When did you write the words for the short-film and did you ever think that they would resonate with so many people?
Well basically I wrote a lot of these words when my sister Cherry died last year. It hit me really hard and she has always been a massive inspiration to me, and I feel like some of her personal magic came out through the film. I’ve been blown away by the way people seem to connect with it man. You know it’s just speaking from the heart, being honest, and talking of simple things that I care about. People seem to be able to relate to that. Folks have been so cool to me this last year, sending emails of encouragement and supporting the projects.
With your mother always ‘encouraging you to open your eyes and heart to the world and make up your own mind from experience,’ how did your Cornish upbringing change you?
Well my Cornish upbringing was very ‘strange’ in some ways and very ‘normal’ in others. It’s a funny part of the world where I grew up, lots of off the wall characters floating around. People say ‘all nuts fall to the bottom of the bag’, well that’s definitely true in West Cornwall. My Mum and sister supported me to pursue whatever I was passionate about always. As long as I was responsible for my own actions and looked after myself as best I could, they were never doubting me or telling me to sort myself out and conform to anyone’s expectations except my own. So I was out the road playing music in bands from the age of 10, and I was travelling the world when I left school at 16, working any old jobs, getting by, documenting experiences and living out every chance of adventure I could.
You said, “I never set out to become anything in particular, only to live creatively and push the scope of my experience for adventure and for passion.” That is one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard, when do you think you got to a point in your life where you realized you lived specifically for your adventure and passion?
I remember just not wanting to waste my time doing things I wasn’t interested in. I feel very lucky to be alive, I have draw of energy and a strong lust for life from that. I have always trusted those feelings and followed my heart with them I guess. It’s just always been my way of existing in the world, spontaneity and adventure leading me onto the next encounter and experience really. I’m not one to plan much, I’d rather get stuck in, figuring it out, learning and making life up as I go. When I was 19 I made all my ‘important’ decisions for a year by the flip of a lucky dollar coin. Learning to trust that things will work out kind of set the tone for the rest of my life I guess.
How has your Celtic blood made you who you are today?
Well personally I’m not one for jingoism as first and foremost I’m a firm believer that everyone is connected and we are all citizens of the world. You can’t ignore the effect the place you grew up had in shaping your sense of the world though, and whether it’s a negative or positive environment you learn alot from your youth and the places and people you spend time with. Those wild coastlines I grew up around have a distinct feeling about them that I recognize in certain other parts of the world, and in the eyes of certain people I meet. Its a familiarity thing, a connection you can’t explain but can feel. The West coast of Ireland is the most homelike place I’ve been lucky enough to spend time in outside of Cornwall, it feels like part of me somehow, or I feel like part of it at least. Travelling a lot more than anything has made me realize how similar we all are really though, and how our shared pasts and futures are all intertwined.
Do you question whether each time you suit up to photograph a surfer that it may be your last?
If you’re talking about losing interest in doing it, I never really think about that, I just go with how I feel, but if you’re talking about death to I would probably give you the same answer, you wouldn’t leave the house if you worried about things beyond your control like that.
You refer to the ocean / sea as a lifelong wise old classroom teacher … Why has the sea been not only your teacher but your classroom?
Well if you think about it, the ocean offers everything you could ever want in a classroom, but also offers you the lessons to learn for life while you’re out there.
You said, “If I only scrape a living, at least it’s a living worth scraping. If there’s no future in it, this is a present worth remembering.” Why do you think that so many people just ‘scrape’ by doing things they hate doing every day? It was Picasso who said, “”Never permit a dichotomy to rule your life, a dichotomy in which you hate what you do so you can have pleasure in your spare time. Look for a situation in which your work will give you as much happiness as your spare time.” How did you get involved in photography, specifically surf photography as a career?
I never tried to forge a career for myself in anything, things just evolved naturally somehow. I was always documenting surfs and journeys with my friends; I just got more and more into trying to improve my technique, for myself more than anything. Then when I started randomly earning money from what I was doing, so I decided to follow the signs and I took the chances I was given whole heartedly. Doesn’t mean I didn’t work ridiculously hard to make the most of them, but I definitely enjoyed the ride at the same time. I’ve always kept that ‘job’ motivation in check though, if I was doing it for money not love, or getting caught up in all the weird vibes ‘work’ can bring to something you love, I’d be risking the pure joy of getting to do what I do, and that’s not worth any amount of money.
Mickey, you document your life and the life of others through photographs … Do you also keep journals and if so how important are words for you; not only for remembrance but for therapy as well? And do you have any short stories or poems you would like to share with us?
I keep lots of little scrap books that I write lines, songs, thoughts, and ideas in alot. Its all very random, usually when the idea fairy comes to visit I don’t like to offend her by not writing something down she’s offered up for free.
Mickey I am not sure what kind of music you like but I know you live in Ireland, and one of my favorite bands is the Pogues … What do you think of Shane MacGowans storytelling and songwriting and who are some of your favorite musicians and songwriters?
Shane MacGowan is a classic storyteller, sounds like that guy has lived some life. Personally I listen to a huge variety of music. I love wordplay in music, I also love darkness and light in melody, man I listen to all sorts, from Bob Dylan to PJ Harvey, Ben Howard to Slayer.
How do you embrace the pain and fear of the sea & life not only physically but psychologically? Kind of like what you eluded to in a video interview you did where you spoke on the positives of not always being in control?
We live a very removed, sheltered existence in our culture. We are so unbelievably lucky in a lot of respects, and tend to take everything for granted when in reality it all hangs by a thread. Nature is the rawest form of energy on the planet, and it will humble you and teach you something incredible every day if you get amongst it. I think life is there to be fully experienced, joy, pain, sadness, fear, happiness, craziness, solitude, peace, whatever. The challenges we face aren’t problems but are teachers if we’re willing to learn from them. It’s up to no one but us to find out the individual secrets of our personal mountains to climb and then move beyond them. It’s all down to perception, and I’m not claiming to be any kind of expert in the slightest, not in any way. I’m not even scratching the surface of facing my fears, but I’m opening myself up to things, and that’s a start at least.