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Above and beyond

Los Angeles-based photographer Gray Malin takes to the sky to turn beaches into works of art

Above and beyond

It was in 2011, when he swung out over Miami’s South Beach in a helicopter, that Gray Malin saw what he calls “the beauty of the beach”. “It had rained and everyone had left the beach, leaving an empty stretch of sand with geometric rows of umbrellas. There was just this beauty to the patterns and
the repetition.”

Malin is only 27, and had already worked in marketing for Paramount Pictures when, in 2010, he turned a Los Angeles flea market stall into Maison Gray – now a successful business selling his art photography around the world. But it wasn’t until April 2011, on a trip to Las Vegas, that he discovered the bird’s-eye style which has become his signature.

“I was on the top floor of The Palazzo hotel in Vegas, looking down on this crazy swimming pool, with all the people and these bright colours down below,” he says. “I went wild taking photos, but it didn’t become much more than a screensaver at first. A few months later, I was staring at it and the idea came to me to find more pools.”

He started researching pools, which led him to the elegantly curved Art Deco pools of Miami. Because the hotels often wouldn’t let him shoot from their roofs, he had to hire a helicopter; his first trip was in December 2011. “It was after we’d shot the pools that we just decided to swing over the beach. Seeing that view, beaches became my new obsession.”

Since then, Malin has taken helicopter rides to photograph beaches across the world – from Hawaii to Dubai and Sydney – normally shooting from around 150m up in the sky with a full-frame 40 megapixel Nikon. He has learned some interesting things about beach culture along the way. “How people behave and present themselves on the beach is different across the world. In Lisbon, where they have this long stretch of beautiful beaches, everyone is perfectly spaced out. It’s strange, but they keep this respectful distance, which is really nice to shoot.”

He was drawn to other locations for “the fantasy” of them – like St Tropez on the French Riviera, or the Hamptons in Long Island, New York. “At St Tropez, the colours of the beach clubs change as you go along – different blues and oranges – and you can feel the exclusivity of it all. The orange umbrellas were at the Hotel Tahiti Beach, and I loved the contrast against the aqua blue of the sea.

“The shot of the surfers came after a day shooting classic Hamptons beaches, with their beach houses surrounded by lush gardens. I came to Montauk, at the east end of Long Island’s South Shore, and just found this perfect pod of surfers. It was a gorgeous day, and it was quite magical.”

In Dubai, because of strict laws, he ended up in a government helicopter with four officials. “A big issue was they didn’t want me shooting into the palaces that line the water. But it didn’t matter – I was surprised at how good Dubai’s beaches are, a fact that often gets lost. Many had these Middle Eastern-style shades and gazebos that give it a very particular feel. It was surreal flying through the city, too, below the level of the tallest buildings – it felt like being in a video game or in the Emerald City in The Wizard Of Oz.”

Sometimes, though, the best shots are closer to home. “I walk and bike along the walkway at Santa Monica beach [in Los Angeles] a lot. It’s really iconic. But it wasn’t until I was above that I realised how beautiful the curve of the walkway is. I was really surprised by that shot.”

To see more and buy Gray Malin’s work, go to maisongray.com. See his Twitter feed @GrayMalin


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