How photographer, former pro-surfer, and environmental advocate Mikey DeTemple took an authentic approach to capturing our new Robinson Sweater.
Spending more than a dozen years catching waves as a professional longboard surfer has a way of connecting you with the water. But the sea was close to Mikey DeTemple's heart long before competing in international surf contests. Now a noted photographer, he spent his early years in the beach community of Montauk, Long Island, where his father was a commercial clammer. The ocean is also where Mikey’s parents first met while they were surfing.
About eight years ago, Mikey traded longboards for camera lenses and made a move into commercial and fine art filmmaking and photography. Today, the 39-year-old shoots campaigns for well-known brands like Apple, Corkcicle, and Mr. Porter, just to name a few. We recently sat down with the beach-loving artist, who splits his time between Montauk and Manhattan, and he shared what informs his work, why clean water is an important issue for him, and how local friends played a part in the shoot for Fair Harbor's new Robinson Sweater.
(Above) Mikey DeTemple
You're a five-year ASP World Longboard tour vet and four-time East Coast Surfing Champion. How did you make the transition from professional surfer to photographer?
Until 2014 or 2015, I was still putting my head down and trying to be a pro surfer, which I had done for the previous 15 years before that. I just kind of fell into this other world, and momentum rolled quickly. I started shooting photos, and I realized this is what I really love. I love being able to tell these stories through images from scenes to textures, to details to those wide shots.
So much of your work takes place on the ocean. Do you feel more connected to the outdoors, maybe slightly more than your average photographer?
Definitely, it's what feels like home to me. I don't feel at home in a studio if I'm shooting something, but I do in the world, in nature, and around the water. But it doesn't even have to be water. It could be Upstate; it could be anything like outside in these natural environments is where I feel like my best work happens.
In addition to being a respected photographer, you're also an iconic surf filmmaker. So what made you want to explore water quality and coastal conservation in your film "Into the Sea" with the Surfrider Foundation?
That film was amazing to make. I had such an incredible time doing it. It was really one of the most important films that I think I've made because it was so educational. I learned so much along the way. I don't think half the people in Montauk knew that they were putting chemical fertilizers on their lawn, and it was going right into the water.
Many people didn't know the damage it was doing or thought alternatives were available. And also, I don't think a lot of people realized that something as simple as not having natural vegetation at the end of the lawn was a bad thing, because the water runoff needs to filter through something before it ends up in the tributaries that lead to all the bigger waterways.
It's a huge issue, and I think we've actually seen a direct change from that film, which is really cool. That's always the goal when you make something – to have some kind of impact on somebody. And I've had people tell me they learned so much from that film.
Obviously, clean water is a meaningful issue for Fair Harbor, since it's the mission behind the brand. And our co-founders Jake and Caroline are fans of your work. So how did you start collaborating?
I've been following Fair Harbor for a while. I noticed them a couple of years ago, and I've kind of followed the journey. I also know Bryan Derballa, who shoots your campaigns. When I read about the brand's history, I liked the concept of fabric made from recycled water bottles, which is so cool. I also like that it's a New York-based brand, because I'm from Long Island. I appreciated that concern for the environment was the foundation of the business. So I just randomly reached out to your co-founder Jake on Instagram and told him I would love to shoot something for you guys because we have a lot in common. Then we had a great conversation and talked about a bunch of other different kinds of things, and it eventually rolled into what you ended up seeing in the shoot.
What was the shoot experience like?
You know, a lot of the time, you don't get to shoot with brands you completely align with. So that's always really exciting. And then when they give you a bit of creative freedom, that's also really exciting, and you get to talk about your ideas and, you know, casting it and the locations. All of the little details that go into this stuff is really fun to me. Really piecing the entire thing together, from the concept to the final product, is what I really love doing.
The images look really authentic. What can you tell me about the real guys you shot wearing the Robinson Sweater in Montauk?
I like shooting real people doing what they would normally do. A lot of times it ends up resembling the actual customer too. Yeah, that guy probably would buy Fair Harbor. So it's kind of fun to tell that story.
Eli Jules is my photography assistant. He's from St. Lucia. I asked another friend to borrow his vintage Land Rover for the shoot, and he said, " Yeah, come on over." And I took the photos in front of his garage.
I've known Paul Brooke, the long blonde-haired guy, for years just from surfing. It's a pretty small town, and when you've lived out there for a while, you get to know everybody and all these little things that they do. So he actually lives on that boat we shot him on. He's also a photographer, clammer, and lobsterman, and he does a bit of commercial fishing. Paul also practices the Japanese art of Gyotaku, where he applies ink to one side of a freshly caught fish, then covers the fish with paper and rubs it to create an exact image of the fish. So he is a super interesting guy.
Eli in the Blue Sky Stripe Robinson Sweater
What about the sailboat shots?
So that's Chris Blotiau, a really good friend of mine shot on my boat. He's a great surfer, which is how I know him. But he's been sailing his entire life. And when I got really into sailing about seven or eight years ago, he was one of the first people who taught me to sail. But I pitched this idea to him. I was like, "Hey, I've never really shot anyone sailing my boat.."
It's a beautiful old boat, so you really have to know what you're doing because there is no engine, so there's no backup plan. You've gotta sail it off and sail it back on. I have a friend that has a 20-foot little center console, and we all piled onto it. And nobody was that comfortable driving the boat while I was shooting, so I ended up driving and shooting at the same time, which was tricky. I wanted to get really close to my boat and get those really tight shots of Chris. So I was probably only two or three feet away from the boat. And if you make a wrong turn or both make a wrong turn, we're getting tangled up, and that's when things could break. It was very tricky.
Still, it all looked so relaxed and easy. Was there any particular vibe you were going for?
I just wanted to kind of capture some friends in what sort of felt like a natural environment, doing things they would be doing. Sailing is an activity that Chris is passionate about and is good at. And then Paul was probably the most authentic scene because that was all of his stuff. So I just wanted to put these real people in dreamy scenes that you would want to see yourself doing – even if you're not a clammer, sailor, or someone who drives a vintage Land Rover.
My goal is always to create an incredible environment that draws you in. And then, when you look at one of the closer shots of Chris sailing, you see a more complete story. And then you're like, "Oh wait, he's wearing an awesome sweater."