I was so excited to have recently received a beautiful piece of art from my friend Gray Malin.
It was not just any piece of art, but one of Gray’s much coveted photographic prints. Even more special, it was a print of one of his most recent projects at Bora Bora, a collaboration with Le Meridien hotel. I was so honoured to be one of the first to see the reveal in London.
You can spot my beautifully framed print on my living room shelf. I styled the shelf with pops of blue, to complement the blue of Bora Bora’s ocean.
I first met Gray in Barcelona, when I was invited to hear about his ‘Follow me‘ work commissioned by Le Meridien. ‘Follow me’ showcased the hotel group’s various destinations with stunning, creative photography and videos.
Gray’s work is super colourful. Being a lover of colour myself, I knew we would get on well.
For this post, I thought it would be fun to interview Gray and delve into his creative process. You will also get to see some of his other photography at different locations.
This is a photo of Gray that I shot in Barcelona last Summer. Let the interview begin:
1. How did the partnership with Le Méridien start?
A testament to today’s digitally-connected world, our partnership was sparked because of social media!
Their team had seen the work I was doing on Instagram – photography that brings to life different locales through an unexpected lens, combining whimsy and wanderlust.
Since Le Méridien is a brand all about unlocking destinations for creative and curious-minded travelers, a conversation began from there about what our brands could do together.
At the start I was given this beautiful brand book that allowed me to understand the history; how Le Méridien was born from Air France in the 1970s; how they grew and how their passions were around culture, food, and art; and how they were really looking for a partner who could help encapsulate and unlock this.
From there, we developed this series called “Follow Me” as part of their Video Art Programme, which brought my work into all of their signature Le Méridien Hubs around the world and brought my photography to their artfully-designed hotel keycards, and brought us to Barcelona, Bhutan and Bora Bora for some fantastic projects.
2. Please describe your latest art series?
Bora Bora, our latest series – named THE ART OF LIVING – is inspired from a deep passion for interior design. I wanted to create a world for curious-minded travelers and design enthusiasts. I wanted to immerse them in a moment that captured the art of living and showcased the beauty of Bora Bora in one shot.
“Bora Bora is one of the most iconic and aspirational beach destinations in the world – I loved its symmetry and its beautiful landscape.”
“The series is highly conceptual and focuses on the 12-15 design forward vignettes featuring an archetypal selection of mid-century modern furniture set atop the tranquil, turquoise water of the French Polynesia.”
“This juxtaposition perfectly plays to, and was inspired by, Le Méridien’s mid-century modern approach to design – which is echoed in the Le Méridien Suite at Starlab, Starwood’s Brand Innovation Studio.”
3. Which is your favouite Le Méridien and why?
My favourite Le Méridien hotel is the The Parker, Palm Spring. It’s the closest to my home in Los Angeles.
4. The photo shoot at the Parker Palm Springs looks amazing. Was it difficult to photograph animal?
Working with animals is difficult. For one they don’t speak English, so you can’t really tell them exactly what to do. I find them to be sensitive beings who have trainers and assistants. Basically they’re like Beyoncé! They have their own entourage which you have to manage before you can work with the talent.
All joking aside, it’s magical to work so closely with animals – especially in this series at The Parker Palm Springs.
In projects where I have worked with animals, safety is priority, we block off the grounds where the animals are being photographed. We always use rescue animals or third generation rescue animals which wouldn’t survive in the wild – mainly as, and in my experience, they’re calmer.
It’s a great experience, but at the end of the day, standing three feet away from a 400-pound lion is extremely scary – I could feel it’s breath – sometimes I feel my camera, like when I’m hanging out a helicopter, acts like a shield.
5. What inspired you to pick animals for that shoot?
Sometimes it’s their availability, mostly I have these visions. For this series, I envisaged an Ostridge playing tennis, but these never quite made it to light.
I’ve shot two installations using animals at The Parker, Palm Springs. For the first, we wanted to include a giraffe, a monkey, a penguin, some flamingoes and a zebra. For the second, and this was a bit trickier, I wanted to shoot a lion, a tiger, a couple of raccoons and a camel!
6. Do you have any funny stories that you could share when you photographed the animals?
Of course. When we were preparing to photograph Zack the zebra, we intended to photograph him on a grassy croquet lawn, but he would not stop eating the grass. He wouldn’t lift his head for the camera no matter what we did.
We finally had to move him to the Pétanque field, which was sandy so it worked out well. It was funny as we all had to patiently wait for Zack to raise his head and smile.
We also have video footage of a giraffe walking over and giving me a kiss when I was standing on a ladder and a tiger popping giant helium balloons – which he seemed to enjoy thoroughly.
7. Your aerial view beach photographs always look so colourful. Do you add props for those shoots or are they just the way they are?
Everything you see, bar the new Bora Bora – THE ART OF LIVING series, is as I found it. I hunt the best landscapes to try and show the beauty of destinations around the world.
I have an extensive collection of images, so what you see is probably one percent of what I have. I obviously only choose ones that are strongest visually, of course.
I did capture one beach which wasn’t as nature intended. I happened to be flying over a beach in Barcelona – it was incredibly colorful. It stood out from the landscape. I started shooting it only to realise it was movie set. It’s the only staged beach to feature in my book, Beaches by Gray Malin. It’s called Neon Beach Umbrella Barcelona.
8. How do your aerial bird’s eye picture work?
I take the aerial photographs from door-less helicopters. There’s no magic – there’s just me and a pilot. I lean from the side and give the pilot the angles I want, while I manually adjust the focus, the lighting and camera. I compositionally see the photograph and frame it with the camera.
It’s very much like hunting – we search for the scene, not necessarily the people or props, but more the landscape and its position – looking for interesting lines or shapes.
It’s a very fluid process that can be driven by things I can’t control – the weather for example.
It’s not so planned; it’s passion, danger and adventure – it’s far more than the end product people hang in their homes.
I really see the world from above as blank canvas and I’m using objects and people in photography to create a piece of art. Hyde Park is a great example. From above, all the pathways are amazing.
9. How long does it take to complete an art series?
The helicopter work, which can be seen in the aerial photographs I produce, don’t actually take too long to shoot. Series like these are all about timing, lining up dates and the weather. Other projects can take up to take five years – depending on their complexity.
10. How many people are on the shoots with you?
I have around 12 staff who work at my LA office. Usually I only take two or three people with me on a shoot. If it’s local, I’ll have a bigger team.
If we decide to go further afield I have to ask for assistance from people at the location, but for the most part, we never have a big team – just a couple. It’s a lot of planning and having a big team complicates this.
I enjoy working with people on the ground and with locals. They can bring a different flavor to your work – a new prospective – a layer of culture.
11. You’ve travelled to some amazing places. Can you name your favourite place and why?
Cape Town in South Africa is my favourite place. I’ve been three times in the past three years. I’m very drawn to the outside landscape versus its city, which is busy and very urban. It has an eclectic culture and atmosphere. It has an exquisite culinary scene and host some of the most amazing upcoming fashion and fine art talent.
That concludes my interview with Gray Malin. It’s so wonderful to get behind a person’s creative process isn’t it?
In fact, whilst joining him for a breakfast meeting recently, I got to find out a few extra facts about his Bora Bora photos.
He told us that a lot of his work was based on geometry and symmetry. He was very drawn to the symmetry of the mountain and it became the muse for his series. From there, he had the idea of building a mirrored dock that would reflect the sky. He then wanted to put something on the dock.
The mid century furniture seen on the mirrored dock had been inspired by the furniture he saw during his visit to Le Meridien’s office in mid town Manhattan called the Star Lab. He felt the furniture reflected the future of the brand. However, he also went on to say that the furniture reminded him of his great grandparents’ vacation home and so had a significance from his own personal history too.
I myself am in awe of how these photographic images were created. The mirrored platform was specially manufactured by engineers and shipped all the way to Bora Bora in one piece. I’m also in awe at how they managed to transfer all that furniture onto the floating mirror. Definitely not an easy project and so a huge congratulations to Gray and Le Meridien for pulling off this collaboration so well.
The images from the Bora Bora shoot will be previewed centerstage in Le Méridien hotels globally this Summer, engaging guests with a compelling 24/7 video art installation and behind-the-scenes video footage from the shoot.
A dedicated exhibition featuring a retrospective look at the partnership will take place in Le Meridien Piccadilly, London. The exhibition will launch on 5th October to coincide with Frieze London Art Fair.
I’m so pleased that Gray’s photographic print is now in my living room. I’m seriously contemplating on visiting Bora Bora soon. Gray has certainly unlocked this destination for me.
Hope you’ve enjoyed this post. Wishing you a wonderful week ahead.
( Photos of Gray’s print in my living room are by me, other photos are courtesy of Gray Malin.)