The Escape Artist

By Rebecca Aaron

Arial photo of the Mediterranean coast with scattered blue umbrellas

La Fontelina from Above, Capri from the new book, Gray Malin: The Essential Collection.

Arial photo of people swimming around a reef in Bora Bora

The Reef, Bora Bora.

Gray Malin’s photography is beyond distinctive. His fearless, deliciously colorful images span natural wonders and iconic landscapes across seven continents. His new book, Gray Malin: The Essential Collection, captures the entirety of his 10-year career—from the fantastical pool floats spotted in the arctic to the candid aerial shots of tanning beachgoers.

We caught up with Malin to get a peek behind the lens where traveler and artist converge to create a lasting impression that is unmistakably his own.

Congratulations on the gorgeous book, I’ve been a fan for a while! Why this book now? Was it planned pre-Covid, or was the lockdown an opportunity to archive and organize this title?
This book celebrates a decade of my work, from the humble beginnings of selling at a Los Angeles flea market to traveling the globe to capture some of the world’s most incredible destinations. Creating a retrospective like this has been a long-term dream of mine that I began working on pre- pandemic, but I was able to really focus on finishing it during 2020.

You photograph water in its various forms. Is there a quality of water you are trying to capture and where did this fascination with water come from?
The fascination is more so with colors and patterns, and how the water color, the movement of the waves and the shoreline interact with each other and the elements around them. Whether that be colorful umbrellas and beachgoers or a lush jungle on the other side of the sand, I’m fascinated by how water, especially from an aerial perspective, looks absolutely spectacular.

Your aerial shots are some of my favorites. The people are never the main focus of the aerial beach shots, but do you ever talk to them before or after shooting? Do they know you’re up there photographing them?
I try to make my aerial photographs as candid as possible. I do not set up any of the shots or ask any of the people to position themselves, and that is the beauty of it.

Group of women in striped bikinis jumping into a swimming pool with matching beach balls above their heads

Beach Ball Splash

There are so many moving parts in your photos from the number of subjects to the number of pool floats. How do you make sure that all of these moving parts are in the right place or how long do you wait for the right moment?
This question will be best answered in two parts. None of my aerial shots are preplanned in terms of organizing what is going on down below that I am going to capture. However, there is a whole other body of my work that is conceptualized and takes a lot of production and planning, such as the projects Gray Malin at the Coral Casino, Poolside Mediterranean and Far Far Away. For these series, I have an entirely different process that ranges from hiring models, gathering props and wardrobe, creating mood boards and crafting each detail of the images.

The colors in your photos are so delicious. Do you have a color palette in mind when you edit /color correct, if at all?
I really try to let the natural colors of the destination, scenery or objects I photograph shine with my images. The point, especially with my aerial images, is to highlight the exceptional beauty of the location. On the other hand, with projects that are more produced and conceptualized ahead of time, choosing color palettes after location scouting and concept boarding is a must in order to have a cohesive collection.

A fun color related anecdote from one of the series featured in my book, Far Far Away, is that this set of images was photographed in the Bolivian salt flat Salar de Uyuni. The color temperature reaches 10,000 kelvins in this location, making objects appear brighter than normal—just like how photographers use a flash when shooting fashion to make everything smoother. The color palette for this series became all the more fun given that objects would come out brighter and more colorful in the images because of these conditions. That is a perfect example of how the concept of the series or the conditions of the setting can really dictate the colors I am choosing.

With contemporary photography trends constantly changing, how do you manage to keep your images and themes so timeless?
My philosophy is to keep making work that I would want to purchase and that I know my audience will enjoy. I always want my photographs to feel like a getaway, something that people want to put up on their walls to look at every day and to inspire them to take that trip or get on that boat or go along with that adventure. It is important to me to create images that will never go out of style. Sometimes this also means looking to the past and creating something that is reminiscent of the golden era or the luxurious yesteryear. Nostalgia is a huge theme for me and reimagining the past as even greater than it was is a powerful exercise.

What do you want to photograph next that you haven’t before?
My next series is titled Dogs of New York City and it features various dog breeds in some of the most iconic destinations in NYC, including Rockefeller Center, The Plaza Hotel, Central Park, and Bergdorf Goodman. With New York City as my muse, I created a fantasy world of fashionable dogs exploring these destinations. This series allows us to celebrate the joy of a picnic in the park, a luxurious hotel stay, and a lavish shopping spree with a pack of adorable furry tourists outfitted in retro accessories.

Photo of the Monterosso coast lined with mutli-colored umbrellas

Monterosso Beach, Cinque Terre ll.

Photo of Positano Beach Vista lined with multi-colored umbrellas and people wading in the water

Positano Beach Umbrellas Vista.


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