Kia ora and welcome back!
I'm really excited about this weeks blog because I got to have a chat with 'international award winning photographer' Craig Levers, a.k.a PhotoCPL. I can't tell you how long I've been following Craig on social media, but, his photos have been inspiring me for over 20 years. Being a senior photographer (and Editor'n'Chief) at one of the only magazines I used to buy as a teenager - New Zealand Surfing Magazine - I have to say it was really humbling and inspiring to speak to someone I've looked up to for decades. Anyway, this isn't about me and I'd prefer to get right into the interview so grab a cuppa and have a break!!!
What is your photography backstory?
I started taking photo’s when I was in the sixth form (that’s 16 for those who don’t know what sixth form is) and from that age I always had cameras. Moving into my late teens (as I started travelling more) I realised I wanted to document those travels so started taking a lot more photos. From there I progressed to an SLR camera (with multiple lenses) and that's when photography became a complete obsession. So much so that it rivalled the feeling of surfing and skateboarding which prior to photography were my main passions.
Fast forward 5 years and I must have been doing something ok because I ended up with a job at New Zealand Surfing Magazine as one of the staff photographers. Very quickly I became the senior photographer of the magazine (which isn’t as fancy as it sounds) - I basically looked after the camera gear and managed the film stocks and other bits and pieces. For the last 8 years of my time at the magazine I also took over being the editorial director and editor so I oversaw the running of that title in the publishing house.
Very quickly through that job I started getting into water photography, because at that time there was a hole in the market. That’s going back to 1993, no-one else was shooting surfing water photo’s in New Zealand and so there was a niche that I identified and decided I really wanted to do that. And so for a brief time there I was absolutely NZ’s best water photographer; and its worst.
Do you want to touch on those earlier days a bit more regarding the water photography...
Back in the day there was no internet so it was extremely hard to access water housings. Furthermore, there were only a few guys in the Southern hemisphere making surf specific housings anyway, guy’s like Dave Kelly from Wollongong and a couple others. So, the whole thing of taking water photo’s was somewhat of an alchemy. There certainly wasn’t the communication avenues available to us in those days and surf photography back then was a really closed world. Photographers kinda held onto their secrets as they identified that as being market edge, trying to find out stuff was really difficult for sure. So with that comes a lot of trial and error because we were also shooting with 36 shots on a roll of film. So you’d swim out with only 36 frames and you’d come back from your trip and get those rolls developed and then you’d learn oh thats what I must have done wrong on that shot - so the whole process of learning was a lot slower. You certainly weren’t swimming out and checking your shots between sets, it’s a different world for sure.
I know you've released a few books, can you tell me about those...
A big thing when I left the magazine is I really didn't know what I was gonna do, but, I did know I wanted to put out a book (PHOTOCPL) which was a retrospective. I kinda figured I'd been making magazines for 15 years so I should know how to make a book, but, I quickly learned that making books and making magazines could not be more different. Books are kinda gnarlier because you're very well aware that it's going to be around for a long time, so any mistakes in that book are also going to be around for a long time.
What’s your favourite thing about ocean photography?
It’s definitely the minimalist-ness and physicality aspects of it that I enjoy. Swimming out with a camera in a water housing with flippers on you’ve actually got to do the work to get out there, and stay out there. So, I definitely enjoy that side of it, its a really physical way of taking photos. Being the next best thing to surfing, I love being immersed in the subject matter, as apposed to using a telephoto lens which distances you from what you’re shooting. When I’m shooting surfers from the water you’re hooting each other after a wave and there’s chats going on so shooting from the water is definitely one of my favourite things about ocean photography.
What or who inspires you?
One thing I love about social media is the fact you can be in contact with (or follow) anyone you want to be in contact with and I find that tremendously inspiring. Even today I still follow guy’s like Glen E Friedman (skate & band photographer) and Grant Brittain (another skate photographer) who are still posting today. I find it really inspirational that they’re still shooting, or still sharing stories, and definitely draw inspiration from those guys. Then there’s contemporaries like Jereme Aubertin, Rambo (Estrada) and Rach Stewart who are doing amazing work which makes you (as an older photographer) want to step up your game.
Any other passions in life?
Surfing - I still surf as much as I can, which was a huge reason I decided to move to Piha over 25 years ago. And something else I’ve really got into over the last couple of years is my camper van. Me and my partner Ange just love going away and as it is, we’ve now upgraded twice and are looking at a third upgrade at the moment. For a photographer and surfer, a camper van is awesome as it means you can be on location so much more and that’s primarily why I bought it.
Any advice for people wanting to pursue a career in photography?
One thing I would say to younger photographers is to value your work. Don’t give away shit because that’s a slippery slide - if you don’t put a value on your work other people certainly won’t.
THIS OR THAT...
Film or digital?
Film for landscapes and general shooting, and definitely digital for surf.
Water or land?
Water. Every time. Every time. Water trumps land every time.
Sunrise or sunset?
Sleep-ins are good, but, what I’m finding as I grow older is it’s worth the effort to get up - so sunrise. But, any golden hour is good.
Well that's it for this week! It was an absolute pleasure being able to speak to Craig being that he's responsible for the dozens of photo's I used to froth over as a teenager. Touching on that, it's really crazy to think how I was mesmerised by those magazines and in particular why I was drawn to them in the first place. Back then I didn't surf a hell of a lot (if at all) but, the images really resonated with me so it's crazy to reflect on that and look at where I've ended up - life is a trip!
Anyways, I hope you drew inspiration from Craigs story (I certainly did) and it was a pleasure to read. I definitely want to do more interviews with photographers I look up to so keep an eye out for those. In saying that, if you haven't subscribed to my newsletter you can do that below. As well as interviews and educational posts, I also like to give back by way of print giveaways too, so sign up so you're always aware of those.
Ma te wa ✌️
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