Images: Mark Leary

Mark Leary has made a name for himself capturing beautiful images centred around the minutiae of life, finding interesting angles in ordinary scenes and bringing the subtle hues and tones of the overlooked to life.  His new book ‘Salt + Wax’ combines his two great passions, surfing and photography in a series of images created over a four year period. Shooting on a traditional plate camera and film Mark set out to capture the everyday, the smallness and the obsessions of surfing in the UK – an island that isn’t renowned for its epic daily conditions.

Demi Taylor caught up with Mark to talk cameras, single fins and an obsession with plug sockets

DT _ What was your introduction to surfing and what has kept you engaged?

ML _ You know, I’m not even sure. I was very young, maybe seven or something like that and it was a family holiday. I think somewhere like the Isle of Wight. Do they even have surf there?  The appeal is just the ocean and the fresh air and the just sitting out back staring at the horizon and then looking back over my shoulder as the sets go crashing through. I surf mainly little stubby keel fins and quads but am always drawn back to beautiful single fin pintails.

_When did you first pick up a camera?

My grandfather always had a camera but I bought my first one when I was sixteen [with paper-round money]. Maths was my thing and then I went to the States for three years on and off working with kids who had cancer. That was pretty amazing but mentally draining so didn’t feel I could give it my all so I followed my friends to London and just decided that I wanted to give photography a real go. I had never taken a shot of surfers or anything to do with surfing but then one day cottoned on to planning personal shoots where there were waves. That way I could surf all day and then shoot some stuff for my agent to keep them happy as well. Unfortunately that took over my thinking and I didn’t shoot anything but surf related images for about four years, hah, hah.

_You have a very distinctive way of looking at the surfing aesthetic, where do you draw your inspiration from?

I have always just shot everyday, almost mundane things that most people don’t take a second glance at. So I wasn’t going to change that for the surfing shots. I just don’t really care for ‘false’ shots of how surfers are perceived and meant to look. In terms of inspiration, I just get on with my stuff but films stay in my brain, Submarine and ‘The Royal Tenenbaums are not only really funny films but beautifully shot. Also skateboards, surfboards, snowboards, bikes, cars, shoes, an old fan I have, just so much stuff that I think looks amazing… My weird OCD thing is plug sockets. I just love the way they look in parts of Europe and Asia. Haha, that sounds so sad.

_How did Salt + Wax come about – what’s your favourite image from the book?

I went to China in 2006 for a week and shot a series of work which Richard Bull [founder of Yacht Associates] saw and asked if we could turn it into a book. I’d been visiting Richard for about eight years previously with new work and I was so stoked when he said this. He’s also a keen surfer so it was just the right thing to do that we went and then did a book on surfing. I couldn’t have got to where we are without him. He has been the driving force and I thank him so much for having the passion in this project. I think my favourite photograph is one of two. Either the bubble wrapped board in the corner of the room, as that was the shot that started off the whole project, or the shot of Neil Erskine sat in the doorway of his van. That was the first time I met Neil and we have been friends ever since I think. He is just so positive to be around and sees the best in everything. He also is a joy to watch in the ocean. He certainly makes the most of a wave.


Salt & Wax is an independent publishing project. For more information about the project or to buy a copy of the book, click HERE.