Interview: Capturing the Ever-Shifting Moods of the Ocean at Surface-Level with Che Chorley

Submerging himself in the brine, Che Chorley spends hours bobbing in the water, soaking up the natural atmosphere and waiting for that perfect shot to develop. An award winning photographer, Che is passionate about exploring the shifting moods of the water, as seen through his camera lens. The Australia-based artist captures the ever-changing nature of the immense element, his talented photographs expressing its raw power and beauty.

Having studied at the Centre for Creative Photography in Adelaide, Che currently operates out of a studio in the same city, where he pairs photography with a love of surf and travel. His work has garnered recognition throughout Australia and internationally for its ability to convey the dynamic atmosphere of the ocean. In part, it is Che's style of forced perspective and use of uncommon angles that make his photography visually interesting, however the profound respect for the environment which he is able to communicate within his work is what makes it truly unique.

About to embark on an exciting photographic journey along the Australian coastline this summer, we were able to catch up with Che and gain some insight into his inspiration, drive, and creative process. Scroll down to read that exclusive interview.

What is the inspiration behind your projects?

I draw inspiration from the salty tales of Melville, Cousteau, Winton, or the authors of old, seafarers and mariners of shipwrecks, sea monsters, and sea shanties. The fear of the unknown which even today is real for so many, yet an environment in which I find comfort and solace, wonderment and respect. I use the camera as a conduit to enter environments in which otherwise may be uncomfortable, to take the viewer on a journey of the ocean's moods–at times, aiming to overwhelm; at others, inviting the viewer into a salty, summer embrace.

Was there a specific instance when you felt the urge to become involved in photography, or have you always felt drawn to the art?

Photography has always been an accompaniment to travel and adventure, but I never really took it seriously until the age of 25. I had broken my arm and was out of the water for a prolonged period of time and would still go on surf trips but only to shoot. The rush I would get from a good photograph began to equal the rush of surfing until I would never be without a camera. Gear started piling up and so did the costs of equipment so I decided to bite the bullet, take a hard left in my career and study photography. I have had a fascination with the unknown and the unseen in the ocean since a child and have strived to understand our place in the world through the sea. I initially studied Marine Biology before changing the lens of a microscope for the lens of a camera. I am now a professional photographer with a strong relationship with the ocean, both personally and often for work. It is a place I go for solace and restoration, and most importantly to create.

Has public response changed your approach to photography at all, and also has the success of your work changed any aspect of it for you?

I shoot for myself. I make the work that I want to make and am very appreciative when the response is positive. I feel extremely lucky to be in a position where I can make a living photographing scenes that I am so privileged to immerse myself in, to be reinvigorated by the power and dynamism of the ocean whilst creating works is very special. I want to share my vision with those who understand the feeling, the fear, the beauty and the fun and I aim to confront those who don't with images that probe and question.   

When you enter the water, do you seek to capture a specific emotion each time, or do you tend to just allow the shoot to progress naturally and spontaneously?

I purposefully seek out interesting weather and lighting events to get the mood and drama I desire. I'm swimming with my camera in hand and often spend hours bobbing about waiting for the light and weather to cooperate. This series is the culmination of about 100 different swims, so not every swim results in a spectacular lighting event or weather event. I'll keep an eye on the weather charts and swell forecasts whilst in the studio and if it looks like it's all coming together I'll pack my gear and jump on in. I thoroughly enjoy swimming and shooting when the ocean turns wild. Wild seas and screaming winds make for a fun swim and dramatic imagery. I'll usually prepare my gear, before leaving the studio, lens choice is left until I see the ocean's mood. My light and my preferred conditions are dark, stormy, oily seas with a strong wind. These are the conditions that really make you feel alive and are the most challenging to shoot. The subject is fighting back. 

This summer you will be embarking on a massive trip down the Southern Australian coastline, how are you preparing for this adventure?

LAND SEA YOU ME will bring together my love of adventure, cycling, my passion for the South Australian coast and my profession as a photographer. It's going to be a gruelling and challenging 6 months, both physically and artistically. I'm extremely excited to be embarking on such an ambitious project. 5000kms, by bike and photographing the entire journey. Land Sea You Me will be a unique adventure, camping every night, waiting for light, I will capture the LAND SEA YOU ME. I'm going to document the road, the surf, the people, places, spaces and all that makes the state of South Australia truly unique. The journey will end in a major exhibition and a coffee table book. 

I'm currently in serious pre-production, about to begin training and most importantly I'm trying to gain sponsors to help make the trip possible. Securing a venue for the exhibition, get a designer, printer and publisher on board, nutting out an itinerary, getting the equipment together, finding artists along the route to collaborate, contacting interesting coastal folk to meet and share a yarn around the fire, researching weather, swells, winds and conditions for the trip and contacting tourism operators to see if I can get on board a boat here or there or a plane, helicopter to make sure I get every angle covered. It's ambitious and exciting but an adventure of which I'm extremely proud.

 Will your approach to this photographic endeavour be similar to your other moods of the ocean series?

Layout for the project: 

  • LAND | The journey will take place on land, and Che will be photographing some of SA's most wondrous landscapes, seen by few. It will be a romance of the interaction between adventurer and landscape. It will be a showcase of the raw, unbridled beauty of our country.
  • SEA | Che has a relationship with the ocean strengthened by personal photographic work in the brine. It will be shared by the surfers, and the oceanic charismatic megafauna along the coast. Che will capture it all from land and at sea level. It is the whitecaps, the rolling waves and fog, the calm days, the cliffs of the Nullarbor, the sunsets over the ocean.
  • YOU | This is the people that Che will meet along the journey. This is everyone who follows the journey, reads the book, or buys a print. You is the people who will offer Che a meal or a roof for the night. You is the friendly folk of South Australia's coast.
  • ME | This is the relationship between Che, the bike and the road. This is the gruelling kilometres Che will put in the saddle. This is Che's photography and Che as the adventurer, surfer, environmentalist, storyteller.

Why did you specifically choose the ocean as your focal subject?

This environment is specific to the photographer, yet familiar to everyone. The ocean physically shapes our environment, emotionally shapes our psyChe and defines our borders. The ocean gives life and takes away without discrimination. It is our environment–occasionally terrifying, always mesmerising.

Final thoughts, is there anything that you would like your audience to take away from your work?

It aims to invoke the romance, fear, trepidation, beauty, and power of the sea and it's relationship to the human psyche. The series before you are modern photographs taken with modern equipment, yet are timeless in their subject matter, scenes that have existed for millennia and will continue for millennia more with or without you. The Sea and Me is truly the sea and all of us, past, present, and future.

Che Chorley: Website | Instagram | Facebook

My Modern Met granted permission to use photos by Che Chorley.

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