Jean Paul Molyneux didn’t have a typical introduction to surf photography. Spending part of his childhood in Tsawwassen, Canada, he grew up constantly surrounded by the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest. Trips to the mountains as well as the coast instilled in Molyneux an appreciation for nature at a young age. Eventually his parents moved the family to Southern California, where Molyneux would spend the latter half of his childhood. When he began delving into surf photography, Molyneux’s inclination for nature’s beauty became an important element in the composition of his photos. Over the years he has developed into a very accomplished photographer with a unique style and an eye for composition that make his images stand out. Here he shares with us a little bit about his childhood and where he finds inspiration.
What was your childhood like?
My childhood was spent playing lots of sports and going on lots of adventures and road trips with my family. In Canada we could be at the beach one day and then up in the mountains the next. There was so much nature to explore and as a kid it couldn’t get any better.
I was also fortunate enough to go on a few trips abroad with my grandparents when I was young. This helped me learn to appreciate traveling to other cultures and as a result I got the travel bug at an early age.
What got you into photography?
I always loved telling stories and photography just became a medium in which I could do so. I am not sure if there was an exact moment, but when I was eight years old I made a deal with my parents to go off sugar for a year just so I could get a camera. That camera only got used a few times before I got sidetracked by more typical childhood activities, but that love for photography reignited while I was attending college. I was on the Central Coast in California where the waves, culture, and landscapes around me were too amazing not to begin documenting and telling stories through those photos. Photography is such a unique way to tell a story and it really inspires people to go places and do things themselves. I am amidst these moments in nature where God is revealing such beauty and sometimes it is impossible not to want to capture it and share it with everyone I know.
“I like to teeter on the edge of portraying the truth, but hiding certain details and leaving indicators of time, place, and sometimes context for the viewer to interpret.”
How exactly did you get into surf photography?
Growing up I always told my mum that I was going to live in a van and be a surf photographer despite the fact that I had never surfed, or even owned a camera at that point. I grew up mesmerised by the images I’d see in National Geographic and Surfer Magazine, and I dreamed of being able to go on trips to capture moments like the ones these publications encompassed. Once I got into high school I started bodysurfing and eventually surfing. Then I left Southern California to attend college at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, a university in Central California.
The Central Coast is full of so many surf spots and is a complete contrast to the urban/suburban jungle of Southern California. My inspiration was on overload and I began using photography as a way to channel my constant excitement and draw to the natural world around me. I would wake up early before class and just go explore the coastline that was so completely new to me. I would spend weekends camping near the coast, naming spots that I found (only years later to learn their real names and realise that I was not the first to find them). Surf photography began to be my way of telling the stories of my exploration and a way to capture the overwhelming beauty around me.
What do you try to portray through your photos?
When shooting photos I often try to capture a moment that is not dated by time. A scene that could be enjoyed and understood no matter if it was seen today or in 20 years. Photographs can tell the total truth or often tell a lie. I like to teeter on the edge of portraying the truth, but hiding certain details and leaving indicators of time, place, and sometimes context for the viewer to interpret. Most of my photographs are taken in the context of nature and I love to document the human interaction in nature. Whether it is surfing or another activity within nature those moments of nature coming into context with man and the spirit that surrounds that interaction is what I try to capture.
Where do you find inspiration?
I am often inspired by music and simply being out in nature inspires me. Interactions with new people and cultures also get my creative juices going and anytime I am experiencing a new place, I am constantly being fed inspiration.
What’s the best advice you have been given concerning photography?
The best advice I have been given was to create a distinct style that makes your work unique. Ideally you want people to be able to tell it’s your style of image before they even check a photo credit.
What has it been like working with Chris Burkard?
I looked up to Chris and his work years before I ever had the chance to meet him. Becoming his photo assistant was a dream and I knew I was blessed to be in a place in my life that I could commit to assisting him and he was in a place of needing an assistant. He has taught me so much about the photo business and what goes into capturing a truly great image. He is a photographer that I really think is on the forefront of surf photography and with each step he takes in capturing images, I am right behind just doing my best to take it all in and learn everything I can.
How did that relationship develop?
Chris has always been really good about giving advice and reaching out to younger photographers that are seeking advice. While in college, I found out that he lived in Pismo Beach, which was only about 10 minutes away from where I lived. So I reached out to see if he would be willing to meet up and review my portfolio. To my surprise he not only responded, but he was willing to meet me at a coffee shop to take a look at my stuff. He was very encouraging and gave great critique of my photos. It really gave me the motivation to try to invest more time into photography. I spent the next two years finishing school but I kept that meeting in the back of my mind as I used my free time to work on surf photography. We ended up connecting again soon after I graduated and it was at that time he needed an assistant and I just happened to be looking for work as well. But that first meeting is really what gave me the motivation to continue to pursue photography as a career.
Has working with Chris influenced your own style of photography at all?
Working for Chris has definitely impacted the way I approach my photography. Working for someone I believe your own photography style will inevitably be influenced, but I have always thought my own images had a very similar feel to Chris’s. It has definitely made me try to focus on what makes my own photography unique and continue to work on creating that style of image. Viewing and editing his photos for the past two years has also made my image standard much higher. When shooting my own photos I know what is going to be an image worthy of editorial and what is not.
So what’s in store for JPM in the future?
That seems to be the very question I keep asking myself these days. Right now I love learning about the photography world and will likely continue looking into opportunities in this field. I have always had a passion for issues faced in developing countries and other social issues throughout the world. Hopefully in the future I will be able to take on work that allows me to tell the stories that might otherwise be passed over and give a voice to the voiceless.
Anything in particular you want to share?
I want to thank my parents and family who have always been there to love and support me.