There's a certain dedication that comes with mastering the art of photographing right outside your front door. And then, there's another level of dedication in spending your whole life exploring an entire stretch of coastline, seeking and documenting some of the world's heaviest slabs – in one of the most remote locales on the surfing radar.
Andrew Semark is a lensman with a passion for scouring his home in west Oz for unique and remote waves. Setups barely kissed by the surfing industry, barely known the feel of foam through water. He's also not shy about swimming out at The Right, when it's in full frenzy mode.
We decided to check in with Mr Semark to talk shooting in remote locations, the wilds of west Oz and those images that mean the most to him.
Tell us a bit about yourself, where’d you grow up and how did you get into surf photography?
I grew up in a small town near the Margaret River region, in west Oz. It’s a stretch of coastline that’s really raw and still quite untouched. My dad had me on the water when I was young fishing and diving, eventually I got into surfing from a young age and that ended up consuming me.
I was pretty late into the surf photography side of things. I used to love shooting photos on my parent’s film camera setup, Eventually, I invested into a housing and started to shoot a little bit.
It was hard at the start because, if the waves were good, I wanted to surf but as I started to learn more and get a little idea on how to shoot in the water, shooting photos started to take over.
So most of your imagery is based around, well, home – what makes that place so special?
West Oz has so much diversity. You can shoot some really good surf close to my home and then shoot some crazy slabs with a couple hours driving.
It's all pretty raw ocean too, so you can get a little more comfortable shooting bigger waves. You can still escape the crowds and find some solitude, whether it’s in the desert up north or the open south side slabs, the options are near-endless.
Tell us about any trips you’ve been on, anywhere that you think really encapsulates remoteness and pumping setups?
I shoot a lot of empty waves, and some of the best coast is really remote. It's about 12-hours drive from where I live and you're sitting on a ski or floating in the ocean so far away from any population...
You can't compare anywhere to exploring your own backyard, you rack up a lot a hours driving and getting skunked is pretty easy, because forecasting is so hard for remoteness.
How different is it shooting in Oz to, say, Iceland – what tips can you give for shooting such diverse locales?
The biggest difference is definitely dealing with the cold. When I first went to Iceland, I have never experienced anything as brutal as that cold.
It makes it hard to focus because it feels like your body is going into survival mode, then trying to concentrate on shooting photos makes it interesting.
Just trusting your ability and knowing your camera helped me the most. When the conditions rapidly change you know that can adapt with it without getting flustered and blowing shots.
How’s the surf scene in west Oz right now? Has it grown beyond saturation or keeping a steady medium?
west Oz has some amazing creatives and surfers. It’s so remote but it has grown and is getting some coverage which is awesome. It’s hard to put into words the effort a lot of the guys put in for little reward but that’s not why we do it.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Anyone who is doing their thing with a smile on their face and building each other up. That’s what I want to be like.
Tell us about any horror stories...
I had a pretty interesting winter. I wanted to try and accomplish a double angle with surfer Jake Osman at The Right and it didn’t quite go to plan.
I got a couple of smaller ones with no luck and then a bomb rolled in, the boys looked at me and I said, “yeah let’s give it a go”. I came in a bit awkward and fell at the worst spot possible.
I went over with the lip and copped the worst beat down I’ve ever experienced. I was down for about 45 seconds which doesn’t seem like much but feels like a lifetime. I had to pull my vest and try and hang on to my camera.
I popped up and was pretty scattered. My nose was bleeding pretty bad just from the pressure but I got back to the channel, got my bearings and jumped in and shot for the rest of the arvo.
Talk us through your top 4 favourite images...
1) This shot of Taj is one of my favourites. I feel it captures the essence of surfing and Taj is someone I’ve grown up admiring as a local surfer. Getting to hang and shoot with him is always fun. He’s more grom-like than anyone else I’ve met.
2) This image is from my favourite wave to shoot, I remember shooting from water from the sun up until sun down. I was so cooked but it's quite rare to get all day offshores so I lapped it up.
3) This image was from the day I copped the worst beating of my life, I went back into the water to shoot and blew a really good shot of Dan Corbett. I was swimming back to the ski pretty defeated and I swung round and it's like the ocean picked me up and I was able to shoot this wave that turned into pure lip.
4) This last image I was so far away from home. A long way out to sea and hours away from any community. I hadn’t seen another human in days and this wave I was shooting had a crazy storm roll over me with a tiny glimmer of light. I realised then this is what I want to do.