Whenever the name “Quinn Matthews” comes up, someone has something positive to say.
It’s happened five or six times while I’ve been in earshot, and that’s got to count for something. From the outside looking in; the young surf photog from Laguna seems like a pretty familiar tale. However, if you look a little closer at Quinn’s work, even his photos of men in rubber suits slipping across oily seas, there’s a candid quality to it. It makes you feel something, different, even if it’s a scene you’ve seen 100 times before (I just caught myself staring at one of his photos of Kolohe Andino at Trestles!). It’s a gift that’s hard to attain in photography, even harder to explain, but if someone has it then it’s worth celebrating. As such, I decided to find out more about the young Californian, apart from that his name draws compliments from the most unlikely of sources.
It turns out that Quinn isn’t a thoroughbred Californian at all, having spent his formative years in Idaho. “I spent most of my time running around the mountains all year chasing animals and documenting everything,” Quinn tells me. “Later I moved to California, which was an immediate culture shock. But luckily I landed in Laguna Beach, a town really invested in their artistic community.” As is often the case, Quinn’s photographic introduction came courtesy of family gear that was lying around the house. The only difference is that Quinn’s came earlier than most.
“I first picked up a camera when I was 10, which sounds crazy and I’m sure I couldn’t have been any good,” he says. “I spent most of my time photographing nature and skiing. A few years later I picked up my dad’s old Pentax film camera and started playing around with 35mm film. My dad had studied photography and was able to help steer me in learning the technical side. But he left a lot of it up to me to develop my own vision and learn from my own experiences and mistakes.” Like many photographers, it was the romanticism of film that really captured Quinn’s imagination, and it’s something that remains a constant, costly endeavour. “Shooting film really forces development and experimentation,” he says. “I’ve worked really hard to get some of my dream cameras, a Leica M6 and a Hasselblad. They both are almost impossible to put down.”
Quinn’s break into the world of professional photography came thanks to the industry on his new Laguna doorstep: surfing. However, the reason that his surf shots gained traction is that they focus on fleeting moments, rather than the obvious. It’d be corny to quote Miles Davis on the merits of the notes you don’t play making music something special, but the principle certainly applies to Quinn’s photography. Besides, most surfers can’t resonate with someone doing a backflip.”Coming from Idaho I was a bit confused with what direction my photography would take being surrounded by buildings in Southern California,” Quinn explains. “Eventually, I learned how magnetic the ocean is and how many different appearances it has. Then when I started learning more about surfing, travelling and the characters involved in surf culture, I focused all my attention on it.”
Often when young photographers get a start in the surf industry they worry about being typecast. It’s a fortunate problem to have, but having seen some of the passion projects that Quinn’s worked on outside of the surfing realm, I ask him whether it’s a concern that crosses his mind. “I don’t want my work to be limited to surf photography,” he says. “It is something I will carry with me and hold proud, but I think it is important not to confine myself as a surf photographer. The industry, people, and lifestyle involved are incredible but there are too many other aspects and forms of art I want to influence that I can’t lock myself into just one genre.”
Like all freelance creatives, however, Quinn knows that there’s a fine line between the hyperbole of “following your dreams”, and paying the rent, and that’s why he tries to take the passion that he has for travel and street photography and put it into his work whenever he picks up a camera. “I used to be more stressed about it, but if I could give advice I would say not to worry about differentiating between the two,” he says. “Passion projects drive the creative vision and define the personal expression. Attempting to translate or alter a creative process for a more toned down or diluted vision does no favours. Approach commissioned work with the same passion and ambition as personal projects.”
Ultimately, talented young photographers who’ve already got a name for being pleasures to work with can take whichever career avenue they see fit. Quinn’s on the cusp of moving operations to Sydney, taking the chance to explore a side of the country that he’s yet to visit. Searching for an epitaph for what’s been a most enjoyable and enlightening encounter, two things that Quinn mentions stick in my mind. “I want to push myself,” and, “document everything.” Principles for a photographer to live by, if ever there was.
If you like nice websites filled with beautiful imagery, then I highly recommend familiarising yourself with Quinn’s here.