In The Know With Nolan Hall
[Nathan Fletcher, Julian Schnabel painted cork board, Off The Wall, Oahu 2013]
Nolan Hall’s photos are in a perpetual state of in-between. As the Vans Surf Team Manager, he bounces around the four oceans with budding talent and surf legends in tow, witnessing and documenting the down time — the meals on the go, the airports, the hotel rooms. There is plenty of opportunity to get the shot of the rolling barrel or air 360, but Hall prefers the more intimate scenes, revealing what may feel mundane (Al Knost standing next to a rental car or Dane Reynolds in conversation with Nathan Fletcher on an airplane), but it’s the who, what, and where that elevates the moment to something more captivating.
Though he’s young, Hall has practice capturing these scenes. By age 14 he was surfing and snapping photos of his friends baking in the sun at the local breaks near Capistrano. He’s refined his style over the years and his photos now grace magazines like Surfer and Nalu, and cover campaigns for the likes of Vans, Captain Fin, and Gato Heroi.
This interview was conducted over the phone in February.
[Alex Knost in front of our rental car in Morocco, 2012]
Chelsea Burcz: Tell me about your upbringing.
Nolan Hall: I grew up in Capistrano Beach which is in between San Clemente and Dana Point. It’s a small neighborhood but it’s pretty legendary as far as who lived there and their relation to surf culture, people like Hobie Alter, so it has some history to it. When I was little my dad would take me down to Doheny and Sano and taught me how to surf. When I got old enough to ride my bike down there, I met some kids the same age as me and we’d sit on the jetty together all day and bake in the sun.
I met Al [Knost] when we were 12 years old at the club contests. Tyler Warren, Robbie Kegel, JJ Wessels, that whole little zone of people, those were the people I was surfing with every day. We were all into the same stuff — but then we all went off into our different roads, whether it was art, or a pro surfing career. For me, I wasn’t the best surfer, and my mom’s an artist but as far as painting goes, it’s not really my thing. But I always loved taking photos while going on surf trips or down at the beach. Or if someone was making art I was always stoked to document it in that way.
CB: Do you remember when you first started taking photographs?
NH: I think what got me really motivated on what you could do with a camera was getting turned on to Thomas Campbell’s whole thing. When the Seedling came out it was huge for all of us, we were all young so it was pretty impressionable on us. He was an editor at skate mags and he was providing portraits and images for magazine ads. From there I was turned on to Andy Davis, Joel, and that creative circle of artists. But I think I was 14 when I actually starting making good images, instead of just taking photos. Even then I had no idea how the camera worked really. My dad gave me his old Nikon and said just make sure the meter is in the middle and you’ll have a good exposure.
[Dane Reynolds in conversation with Nathan Fletcher, Mainland Mexico 2014]
[Ellis Ericson & Ryan Burch pre-surf, Rocky Point, Oahu 2013]
[Alex Kopps polaroiding in Santa Barbara, CA & Stefan Simikich face down in Baja California, 2007ish]
CB: Do you shoot mostly film or do you also shoot digital?
NH: I mainly shoot film. I’ve done some projects with digital cameras but I just enjoy how film looks. My everyday out and about set up is Leica M6 with a 50mm and 35mm and then I have just a point and shoot. So I’ll put black and white in the Leica and then I have color in the point and shoot. That’s the easy kit.
CB: You’re the Vans Surf Team manager, how does that play into your photography?
NH: With my day job, I get to travel around with talented surfers and unique people and we get to go to cool places, so it really helps feed the content.
[Joel Tudor, Banzai Wu Tang, Pipeline 2013]
CB: Your photos seem more candid, you show the off the cuff moments. Why those moments?
NH: I was never really interested in the action side of it, even though I dabbled in shooting Sano logging or whatever, but I never really had a drive to shoot action stuff. I felt like there’s just tons of it out there and for some people that’s their whole career. I was more interested in the stuff that you didn’t get to see, and I shoot that because that’s what I’m interested in seeing. Maybe someone is making a surf movie and you see a bunch of photos from that trip that weren’t in the movie; it’s just those moments that not everyone is a part of. You look at old photos of the Rolling Stones when they’re jamming backstage and it feels like you were let in on something that you weren’t supposed to see. Not everyone is in a position to see that stuff, I’ve recognized that I’m in a privileged position where I have access to that side of it.
[Nathan with his son, Lazer Zappa Fletcher, just after his 1st birthday. Log Cabins, Oahu 2014]
[Nathan Florence in my backyard in Costa Mesa, CA 2011]
[Trace Marshall tanker surfing in Port Aransas, Texas 2014]
CB: Can you tell me about the recent works you published?
NH: I had two things published with the Deadbeat Club publisher. The first one was called ‘Six Weeks of Aloha’ and it was basically my 2013 year during Triple Crown. While I was there for work and taking care of all the team dudes I was snapping pictures, it was the whole trip. Going into that year I had a plan that I was going to document this entire trip and turn it into one zine or a book. I think that one sold out. And then I put one out in 2014 called ‘Spotlight on Your Shadow’ — it’s all street photos which isn’t really my jam. You were saying before how my subjects are usually my friends where I’m usually in a comfortable zone, this zine is pure street photography where it’s people I didn’t know. It was weird for me but I also think it’s cool to have something different out there.
CB: Where have you been lately?
NH: We were doing the Get-N Classic tour, so we got to go to some pretty rad places, like Morocco, and we’ve been to France a few times. I guess since we are always on the coast, I’m always excited to go to places that maybe aren’t on the water or cold places.
CB: You must be constantly traveling now — do you like being on the road?
NH: I’m pretty much stoked to be out anywhere, I don’t really have any obligations at home. I don’t have a dog or a girlfriend or anything, where it could be rough to manage time. So right now I love being out and just on travel mode.
— Words by Chelsea Burcz, photos courtesy of Nolan Hall
[Yakutat, Alaska fishing bridge 2014]
[Josh Mulcoy post surf Yakutat, Alaska 2014]
[Yakutat, Alaska 2014]
[The photographer in front of the lens…]