Several weeks ago, we introduced UK photographer Al Mackinnon’s work and style of shunning surf porn to Matador. This week, we follow up with his unique ability to capture people in the moment.

Editor’s note: FROM 11-TIME WORLD CHAMPION Kelly Slater to a moving portrait of hope in the midst of dislocation and despair in the Chagos; from true localism in northern Scotland to the simple joy of creating something beautiful with ones hands in Ecuador, Al Mackinnon’s images evoke the lasting power of a moment.

And while his photos speak for themselves, it’s his captions that remind me once again that although we may travel to places on a map, it’s always the people we meet and the lessons they teach us along the way that linger far longer and stronger in the mind. Enjoy the ride.


Kelly Slater in black and white

I thoroughly enjoy working in black and white. It tends to concentrate the eye on tone, texture, and shape far more than colour does. Having spent a couple of years shooting almost exclusively black and white neg and weeks in the darkroom, I noticed I could pre-visualise in monochrome. I particularly appreciate the use of black and white where contre-jour (backlighting) is concerned -- in this case, silhouetting Kelly's legendary backhand technique and highlighting the textures on a rare afternoon of light winds and tubes in Hossegor, France.



Whilst in Mauritius, I got a chance to meet the displaced people of the Chagos archipeligo. Following a very murky and no doubt totally unethical deal struck between the UK and US governments, all natives of Diego Garcia were deported and a giant air and naval base was built. Many of the ousted Chagosians ended up building a shanty town in Mauritius. Despite their tragic stories, the Chagosians were remarkably welcoming and upbeat. Their case (for illegal relocation) is, as far as I know, still going through the European Court of Human Rights. The Chagos Archipeligo and above all the atoll of Diego Garcia have had a fascinating and very shady past that I would recommend all readers look into.


Chris Noble: Winter's dawn in Scotland

A lone surfer out on a solid day. Originally from the fishing town of Fraserburgh on Scotland's east coast, Chris Noble moved to the far north, summoned by the siren song of the flawless barrels this wave serves up when conditions align. He's been the standout tube maestro here for nearly 15 years, and along with Andy Bain, is an example of what a true local should be: fostering a good vibe in the lineup, making sure people aren't selfish or dangerous, and navigating the barrel as well as any travelling pro.


Steaming and shaping panama hats

Ironically, the Panama hat actually originated in Ecuador, and one of the finest makers is Homero Ortega. The hats are woven by skilled workers around the region and brought to their factory in Cuenca where they are steamed and shaped, dyed if necessary, and prepared for sale. On average, hats take a couple of months to weave and can sell for upwards of $1000, hats with a finer weave generally commanding higher sums. I got a chance to photograph the historic process, learning along the way that the correct term for a Panama is in fact sombrero de paja toquilla, literally "straw hat," and that the reason they are called Panama hats is because the were exported through the Panama Canal.


Nic Von Rupp setting up the tube

Nic's surfing is very well rounded, but I would say his forte is powerful waves. This perfect slab wave is in the far north of Scotland and might seem diminutive by the standards of some of the waves being ridden around the world, but that lip packs a serious punch and the water beneath him is so shallow that a fall guarantees contact with the reef. One of the advantages of surfing cold water is that wetsuits almost eliminate reef cuts; unfortunately, they won't protect you from severe impact as one or two pros have been reminded following hospitalisation with broken bones after wiping out at this spot.


Green turtle, Galapagos

The Galapagos represents the confluence for several nutrient-laden currents, this richness being one of the reasons for an abundance of sealife comparative with that on land. The problem from a photographer's point of view is that such a massive amount of particles in suspension can mean terrible visibility. I was lucky to get two days of relatively good visibility, including this one in a deep bay formed by the remains of a submerged crater. This turtle and I shared a few moments. Any time I attempt to photograph animals, I am reminded of the massive respect I have for wildlife photographers. They work in the most challenging genre of photography.


Empty bomb

A wave I started photographing many years ago, it is such a shallow spot breaking just a few yards from an exposed rock shelf that at first I spent a couple of swells sussing out the least dangerous tide and photographing empty tubes. In 2006, I finally convinced a friend of mine to have a go at getting barrelled out there. It was heart-in-the-mouth stuff, decent size, multiple lips in some of the waves, and no one around for miles, but we got one or two good pictures. This shot is from a more recent mid-winter session -- clear, crystalline light and water and ridiculously powerful waves. Oftentimes I'm happier photographing empty waves -- some just weren't meant to be ridden.


Carlos Burle

Photo: Al Mackinnon

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