I first met Amber via social media and the Kiwi female surf community creep-on-instagram a few years ago (you'll see why when you check out her 'gram feed). Having met in person once over coffee in a humming Grey Lynn cafe, I recently invited Amber to stay at our place in Byron where we shot, filmed & edited Salt Gypsy biz things & crew every day for a week. All this while not really knowing each other from a bar of soap, me being 8 months pregnant and Amber's super-whizz-spec'd up laptop dying in the ass halfway through the week.
But you know you've met a good bitch* and friend for life when there's no awkwardness right from the get go, conversations flow into hours over home brew coffee while you ruminate on the current state of women's surf culture & sustainable living, the difficulties & awesomeness of turning your talents & passion into self-supporting businesses, and then jumping in the ocean making cool shit together with your crew.
Ahead of the launch of our first ever Salt Gypsy video, we wanted to introduce you to the lady behind the lens...
First off, where are you from and what's the female surf community like there?
I'm currently in a tiny coastal town called Tairua situated in the stunning Coromandel Peninsula. The female surf community is one of the strongest I've come across which is so rad to see and ultimately become a part of. There are definitely a few core chargers who like to motivate and push you that little bit further when it's bigger than you'd like and in a place with punchy beachbreak conditions is definitely what I need after growing up in questionable, inconsistent 2ft slop further down the coast.
Can you tell us a little about your journey as a professional photographer/filmmaker/storyteller?
It was a fortunate and tumultuous concoction of breakups, adventures/misadventures, a stint in the advertising commercial world and then the untimely death of my father leading me to question everything. At the time I was working in one of the largest advertising agencies in the Southern Hemisphere and it forced me to ask myself why I was aiding in the obesity problem we have here in NZ, selling fast food to an obese nation. Then the whole consumerism thing really started to bug me because we don't NEED all these things, they are just fluff! Why wouldn't I want to start telling some meaningful stories - shit that matters in the world. People doing good shit. Our oceans are in such a dire place right now and they face a truly miserable future if we don't start telling some meaningful stories and inspiring humans to make changes asap. The ocean is my workplace, my education, my food source, my playground and my muse. Without her I'm nobody. If I can inspire people to make some tiny changes in their lives whether it be fashion related, food products, living ideas - anything made with social and environmental responsibility in mind - then I'm doing my job right.
Underwater photography can be hard work, what have been your challenges thus far? And do you feel that you and fellow photographers are gaining the representation they deserve?
The biggest challenge I've faced is the ocean's tempestuousness. You can be underwater having a really good time with visibility like a swimming pool and zero wind and at the drop of a hat you're being thrown around, with white caps throwing water down your snorkel and trying to stave off seasickness - all while trying to nail your camera settings. Also, I'm still so new to photographing sharks so when they come head on at me with a toothy grin my heart still leaps into my throat but I'm slowly learning and evolving with every trip so that's always a fun challenge!
I'm speaking for myself here but I feel I'm now receiving really good feedback and support from the wider community for the job we (my partner Riley and I) are doing for the ocean and environmental awareness.
You shoot a variety of subjects from marine life, to landscapes and everything in between. Do you have a favourite subject and shoot location?
Anything and everything salt related is my favourite to shoot. People might not know this but I actually shoot a lot of commercial content but I don't post much of it on the gram as I'm always just so frothy on water inspired content. I'm at a really fortunate time in my career where I can be picky with whose story I want to tell and if their company ethos align directly with my own.
Our global women's surf community is dynamic and influenced by our cultural and geographical locations. How do you see women's surf culture developing in NZ?
I absolutely love what we've got here in NZ! The ladies here are tough, electric, genuine and so keen to motivate one-another and it's just so refreshing to be a part of such a positive movement. We are finally steering away from a hyper sexualised industry and shaping one that is inspirational for every female, 9 or 90 years old. We've got an incredible female surf film "Changing Point" featuring in this year's Aotearoa Surf film festival - a huge juxtaposition to last years horrific hyper sexualised feature, the equal pay packet has finally arrived for a couple of comps around the country and NZ's first all-female surf film in production!! Yew!
Visiting and shooting in Byron Bay recently, arguably the epicentre for independent women's surf culture, what were some observations/differences for you between the surf scene here and at home?
To be honest I had no idea what I would be walking into - Was it going to be an Instagram special with everyone sliding around and posing in the latest gears, sipping unicorn/mermaid/whateverthef*ck lattes? Was it going to be a bunch of blow-ins from overseas hustling & calling locals off "their" waves? Or was it going to be my idea of a dream - where beautiful but fierce ladysliders prevail, everyone shares waves, beers, business tips & yarns and and the water is crystal clear with little wind? It was definitely the latter and I'm still frothing on it. What we lack here in NZ is numbers, and that's probably a scale thing (perhaps cold water too?) but I loved how collaborative the whole scene was over there - I witnessed men (young & old) call women onto waves, women head into their independent businesses straight after a morning slide session (which doubled as work for some), and generally a really positive and supportive group of people all surfing for the same reasons.
What’s in store for Amber & Friends this year?
Oouuueeee we've already had a cracker of a year but no rest for the wicked hey! Once our Salt Gypsy film is released we're off to film NZ's first all-female surf film with an Emmy award winning director so I'm barely sleeping trying to write & produce that. In between I have a couple of new prints being released so I guess I'll need to have an exhibition at some point.
Being freelance means I can have nothing booked in a monthly outlook then overnight I'm booked 8 weeks straight. It's a weird concept but I've finally got my head around the fickle nature of contracting!
Favourite surf/dive spots:
Surfing I'd have to say here in Tairua, also Whangamata, (it's only 25 mins over the hill from us and provides the *world's longest left hand bank) and Te Awanga (bit of a myth but it's where I grew up surfing and when it works it's all time!!)
Fav freedive spot in NZ would be the Alderman Islands.. Or perhaps Great Barrier Island.. Or perhaps the Poor Knights.. We are pretty spoiled for choice here! And overseas I could live underwater in Kona, off the Big Island of Hawaii - the water there is INSANE.
Words you live by...
Never chase money & success.. Figure out what you love, become the best at it, and the money and success will follow.
Top 10 surf/dive travel essentials:
- My camera (obvs)
- Laptop (boring, but I'm usually working)
- External Hardrive (to be able to back up the once-in-a-lifetime trips)
- Mask/Snorkel/fins (have to group these so I have more options for the rest!)
- Surf mud - Legit the best zinc on the market
- Kona, my beautiful white wolf
- Humility, always pack your humility.
Sing your praises - where can we support what you do?
Instagram is probably the platform I'm most active @amberandfriends_photography but I also have a website www.amberandfriends.net
*we mean that in the best possible way - all our girlfriends are "good bitches"
Special thanks to
Mingo for the shots of Gretta & Amber.
And a big chuuuur bro to Amber for being such a legend guest in our home: for the unexpected & delicious eggs & avo on toast brekkies, barista-
coffees, good yarns and Nugget's new print. Danny x