With foreword by Kelly Slater!
The Australian photographer Raymon “Ray” Collins has just jammed his coal miner’s redundancy package into what do you want to call it, a coffee table book?
Or is it better than something to decorate a piece of unessential furniture?
The book is Found at Sea, designed/edited by White Horses creator Graeme Murdoch, and it’s more than just a bathtub of pretty, but somewhat oblique, pictures to soak your eyes in. Water photography is a game that ain’t for the faint-hearted and Raymon, a half-Russian and bodyboarder-surfer with a handful of North Shore seasons under his 34-inch belt (all muscle!), has married the bravado of shooting from the drink with an artist’s eye. What’s not to love!
BeachGrit recorded an interview with 32-year-old, six-feet tall, 94 kilo Raymon (big!) a week into summer (not Raymon’s favourite season) and in between swells (not Raymon’s favourite oceanic conditions). His story is as compelling as the book.
First, he’s radically colour blind. He gets by on the road ’cause he knows the traffic light at the bottom means go (and is brighter) and the top one (which is dark to his eyes) means jam on the skids. If he puts a red tee into the grass during golf he can’t see it. He has no comprehension of red. How can he know if he’s never seen it?
“It’s weird editing photos in Photoshop. I play around until it looks… rich.”
The little Raymon went to 14 different primary schools before the family settled into living at Sandon Point, a quality right-hander an hour-and-a-bit south of Sydney.
In his final year of high school, Raymon surfed during 1999’s famous floods, in the murkiest, dirtiest water, and developed meningitis, an inflammation of the protective membranes around the spine and brain. Spinal taps and invasive treatment followed. For two weeks he was knocking on heaven’s door but his faint tap was not enough for God to welcome Raymon into his loving arms. Actually, he was close to dying for a little less than that.
“I milked it a bit. Who was going to argue!” he says now.
These street smarts got him out of his final year exams and, soon, he was working as a labourer at the area’s coal mines. Fourteen hundred dollars in his account every week. Good money, you’d think, but “It’s like working in an office where the roof is going to fall in and the walls are going to explode,” he says.
Raymon has seen hands get crushed, legs broken. “But it’s not like the old days where heaps of the older guys had seen their mates die.”
Raymon came into photography when he snapped his knee underground. Bored, he bought a cheap camera, read the manual, and just… started shooting. He became good, fast. And with advice from veterans like Daniel Russo, Nate Smith and Bill Morris, he was soon in the biz.
And then Surfing magazine’s photo editor Peter Taras helped shape him into what he is today, one of the game’s most interesting shooters. Raymon would send jpegs and Pete would say, hey, maybe do this, do that, how about you try this?
“He is a massive part of what I do now. He encouraged me to keep chasing my style. He wrote to me the other day and said that he didn’t think that in 2014 someone could stand out with a unique angle and that I’d done it.”
What else intrigues? Let’s ask.
BeachGrit: What do you think about yourself?
I’m average ocean-going Australian with a penchant for coffee. I’ll drink instant, percolated, fucking whatever, and I take between two and five a day. Triple shots. I stopped drinking two years ago because I found it was taking away some of those arvos and some of those mornings… fuck… everything has taken off since then. I’m going to continue with a clean mind… clear head…
What’s your favourite season?
Winter. I love those really moody dark and cold day and wild windy oceans. My whole family is from Russia. My mum was born a couple of days after they landed from Russia on the boat otherwise she’d be a Russian citizen and I’d be the first Australian in the family.
Tell me about you father…
He took his life when I was six years old. It was a strange feeling as a kid. What do you do? You’re just learning your fundamentals and one of your main ones is pulled from you. But I’ve always had positive male role models.
Do you think your mother made a conscious effort to make that happen?
Yeah, I do. I don’t think it was a coincidence…
What’s your favourite time of day?
Ten minutes before sunrise. That light. Light is more important to me than good waves. You can make good photos without good waves and that glow before the sun comes up is the best part. I would say afternoon, but we get cut short here with a mountain range behind us and that sucks… My wife’s from California. I love the light over there.
What are your bad qualities?
I can be selfish. You have to be selfish if you want to dedicate so much time to something. We’ve put off having kids due to selfishness, to the desire to see the world more. I can be lazy too. I get comfortable and stay in the familiarity of things. But these are general human traits. And it never lasts for long. I always snap out of it or someone helps snap me out of it.
What’s the nicest thing someone has said about your photos?
Someone told me they cried from looking at my photos.
How many text messages and emails did it take for Kelly to light up and write your foreword?
I emailed him and asked if he would write the intro and I woke up the next morning and the whole thing was written out. It woke me up at three in the morning. I couldn’t believe what Kelly Slater was saying about me. I woke my wife up and read it to her.
You and Kelly shoot together. Are you ever starstruck?
When I see his number on my phone I have to breathe in and breathe out and clear my throat. I get so scared but I try to act super normal.
Why do you think Kelly likes you?
I don’t know if he likes me. We both like good uncrowded waves. Maybe I’m just a decent non-threatening human being and I treat him the same way.
Have you tried Purps? It’s incredible. It gives you such pizzazz! Maybe he’ll send you some!
I’ve eaten the occasisonal chia pod but I haven’t had Purps.
You must! BeachGrit is having it chemically analysed because it must contain something absolutely magical!
Oh yeah! That’s fucking gold.
How do you identify yourself to non-surfers?
I’m at a crossroads. I shoot photos of the ocean whether people are there or not… what does that make me? Am I a surfing photographer?
Found at Sea
is 184 pages and costs $69. Click here to buy it.
It’s a real limited run too. A quarter have gone already.