Mickey Smith On His Latest Film

| posted on September 08, 2010

DARK SIDE OF THE LENS from Astray Films on Vimeo.

Since his mum put a disposable camera in his hands as a child, U.K.  expat surf photographer Mickey Smith has spent his life on the unglamorous side of a slew of lenses. He has a rare talent: He transfers what his uniquely discriminating eyes perceive into images the rest of us can understand and appreciate.

Relentless Energy’s Short Stories competition charged artists with illustrating the company’s slogan, “No Half Measures.” Smith is the epitome of full force. The 30-year-old, who currently resides near Lahinch, Ireland, tackled the formidable task of auto-examination with his film Dark Side of the Lens. Dark Side was originally supposed to represent the voices of surf photographers as a group, he says, but it wound up being more personal than that. “It is really hard to make an honest film that examines yourself and your life without being biased or feeling like an idiot when you watch it or listen back,” Smith says. “It was a challenge, to say the least.”

It may have been a challenge, but Smith is not one to shy away from those. Shooting in the conditions that have made his name in the surf community is a massive feat, and yet he seems to thrive on it. “It’s a real set of skills and a different mentality. Heavy waves are different from other waves in that there is so much water moving and a lot of consequence. It’s a real challenge in itself, making sure you’re in the right spot when the wave of the day comes through. It’s a weird, funny ol’ game, for sure–I love it.”

Smith says that surf photography is interesting, because there is such a wide variety of specialties and niches into which photographers fall. “There’s guys who just shoot in the water, in heavy waves, and that’s what they do,” he says. “And then there’s guys who shoot beautiful lineups and stuff like that, and that’s what they do. And then there’s guys who do it all. It’s just a really specific thing.”

It’s also innately different than most other photography gigs. “Especially for the guys in the water–it takes such a different kind of head.”

A common misconception about surf photography is that it’s about the photographer. “You’ve got to bear in mind that the surfers and the waves are the reasons that we’re out there,” Smith explains. “It’s about making sure that you’re in the right place at the right time, documenting the right waves and the right people surfing–it’s all about the people surfing and the waves themselves, and you’re just kind of involved in that, trying to document that as best you can. It’s more like documentary photography.”

For Dark Side, he summoned his strength and decided to document the documentarian. The result is a very intimate, very handsome surf film, with a non-surfing focal point. “It’s really strange opening up like that,” says Smith, “but I did it for my sister. She was always so proud of me and always wanted to know more about what her brother did, so I tried to show her and also show how much she inspired me.”

Smith also credits his supporters with helping him power through the sometimes daunting 3-month project. “People have been so kind to me and Willy, sending emails and words of encouragement. It really helps [to] keep you pushing forward when things get tough, so I want to say a huge thanks to everyone for their support. There are always improvements to make, of course, but I feel comfortable with it being seen, and that’s all you can do at the end of the day–you’d never release anything otherwise!”

He ultimately feels good about the film, and well he should: He emerges as an inspirational figure who triumphs behind his magnificently well-suited instrument. The camera, as it turns out, really, really likes Mickey Smith.–Casey Butler

  • Seth


    Your short film really inspired me and my crew of friends to continue to innovate and follow our callings and gifts. Thanks for doing what you love. It really shows.


  • Cole

    truly inspiring. amazing piece of work. mickey smith you are my new hero. being an amateur surf photog it’s really amazing to watch this, and it gives me something to look forward to, and to keep pushing for what i love.

    thanks mickey

  • Dorron

    Fantastic, thanks for making the effort, for doing what you love, and for sharing it all.

  • Jeff Divine

    Congratulations to Mickey Smith and Willy for ” Dark Side of the Lens ” . This is the first time in 45 years of doing surf photography I have heard a real summation of what it is really like done in an artful, personal , beautiful way. No one who isn’t involved can really understand it but I think Mickey finally cracked open a great description . Thanks Mickey. I’m now sending the link to alot of my non surfing friends to help them better understand. Our world of what we do is so “niche” it’s amazing. Cigar Smoker and Cat Fancy magazines have a way larger circulation than any of the surf mags . We are in the category of alligator wrestlers and log rollers . Mickey really captured the “Why ” of the whole thing. I could yak on for awhile but just wanted to say thanks for sharing.
    Jeff Divine
    Photo Editor
    The Surfer’s Journal

  • Hokuokalani

    What a great concept of a short story Well planned out on several focal points just the natural nature of the ocean and the beautiful vast areas where this project has taken place Let it be the various free spirit ocean animals and the birds of life I just love the mystic mountains and the deep color tone of the water which it just vibes with those thick perfect waves Great job Keep on thriving it will only get better for you as time goes on Hope to see a full length film in the future
    Aloha Hokuokalani

  • zach

    WOW ! That was inspiring! I’ve always thought that surf photography was a difficult job, but few possess the courage to place themselves in the impact zone. Dramatic results take dramatic efforts. Job well done to all and particularly Mickey Smith for this viewpoint.

  • zach

    Why NOT a whole new genre ?

    Rather than a “surf” photographer , a “Self-imposed, impact implant, imagineer” –

    OR – the most prestigious of all – “LIP on the head, shot taken, suicide completed”

    A fitting epitaph ! Posthumous Trophy could be a pair of LIPS sans lipstick !

  • Chris Bryan

    C.mon Mickey, not one word of recognition to the guy who filmed the whole thing, its just all you, you, and you and this aint right!.

  • Neill McShea

    @ Chris Bryan: you obviously missed the point of the movie Chris…..

    Nice one Mickey, love your work…

  • Ben

    This video is sick. Very moving and full of a sense of place as well as the person. Having lived and surfed in the UK for quite a few winters I’m feeling the the dark waters calling. More please!

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  • Rick Rifici

    Absolutle magic Mickey. Best flick I have seen for years . Congradulations to you and your Production team .
    I got cold watching it !!! and Iam in Bali !!
    All the Best and cant wait to see more from you.

  • Adrienne Lesnick

    I read Surfer magazine as a teenager so many years ago. Now, I just swim in the ocean in Spring Lake and Bay Head, New Jersey and just walk the beaches in Big Sur, California, I have not surfed in about 2 years now, but I LOVED the film. You have so much talent Mikey SMith. May God bless and protect you and all the surfers and surfing photographers in the ocean, on the earth, and under the blue sky. Thank you so much.