Malibu's homegrown Austin Daniels: The Photographer
I sat down with Austin Daniels on a hot and breezy morning in Malibu. He shared his professional photography career with me as we sat in a tiled courtyard on the edge of a parking lot in the ever-expanding ‘Country Mart’…a lot gleaming with Bentley's and Beamer's surrounded by upscale clothing stores and corporate chains. The Santa Monica Mountains a swathe of arid brown behind us. Austin tells me this is ‘new Malibu'…but just beyond the concrete, ‘old Malibu’ still exists… salt rimmed with splintered wood.
There is an instant response when I ask about the ‘old Malibu'…he isn’t thrilled with the changes that have occurred, his childhood seems lost in the burnt down pizza joint (Points Pizza) and in the cracked concrete that once saw skate wheels and bike tires on the daily. "It is simply expanding," he says. Becoming a hot spot for shoppers and tourists, so much so that he doesn’t find himself socializing here, he goes to the city for events and gatherings. Malibu does offer him the solace and calm that he thrives in when it comes to work. It also gives him the setting for many of his shoots…with the brilliance of the Pacific ocean and the mountain-scape providing epic backdrops there is always something to shoot here and the beauty of this coastal community keeps Daniels in awe.
I, being a California transplant have not seen too much of 'old' Malibu, my eyes and ears have been strained with focus at the CountryMart, where I work. This commercially developed downtown area is comprised of wealthy tourists, retired surfers, producers, actors and the young retail crewmembers who run the whole damn show. The kids who grew up in Malibu are now working in the effervescent cloud of matcha powder that is ‘Sun Life Organics’ and catering to prestigious shoppers at 'Zadig and Voltair.' Daniels was one of the corporate crewmembers who has since departed from retail and is currently an independent photographer who runs his business out of his pad on Point Dume.
Daniels has a solid grip on fashion photography, landscape, nature, portraitures and glamour shots. He is at the ripe age of 22 and already has a comprehensive understanding of art and business. He is the real deal Malibu local with his grandparents first landing their bare feet here in the 1950’s, branding him the quintessential SoCal boy, surrounded by wildlife and free spirits.
In his humble beginnings Daniels hijacked his sister’s camera and went from being the longhaired model to the man behind the lens. His passion for photography evolved from there. Daniels spent late nights on Little Dume, experimenting with long exposure shots with friends, capturing light and movement. To this day he still thrives on the energy that ignites in him while shooting. He began using his high school’s dark room religiously and his friends knew where they could find him on balmy afternoons: hidden in the dark, exploring light from the inside. He also began his collection of cameras which is now an impressive 15-20 vintage devices, Linhoff's from the 1930’s and pinhole cameras. He marvels at the progression of them and their fascinating mechanical guts which at the end of the day, all do the same thing.
Although photography commands his creative focus now, drumming was his first boyhood love. “My great grandfather was one of the original percussionists for Walt Disney and I actually play on one of his cymbals from the 30s.” Daniels was in a band called Zuma, and they were fairly well-known in the Malibu area, they jammed at the old Malibu Inn, ‘won some battle of the bands,’ he jovially admits but ‘flip-flopped’ to photography which felt like a natural transition. He knew he wanted to pursue something that he was equally if not more passionate about, he wanted to arouse that surfer 'stoke' and spread inspiration throughout the community.
“Your only here for a little bit of time, do what you love and fuck everything else.”
Daniels has only been a full time photographer since January and has already built an impressive following in the Malibu community, on social media platforms and into the expansive industry in the heart of Los Angeles. He has worked with musicians, models, athletes and captured some impressive scenic shots of the brilliant coast of the Bu.
He enjoys wedding photography because of its intimacy in capturing close-ups and family portraits, “the whole day revolves around the bride, the groom…and the photographer.” He is open to shooting anyone and anything, he understands the importance of keeping a malleable mind and that you must experiment in order to learn what gets you going. Photography shoots take a certain amount of planning to organize and envision the image but Daniels says it comes down to ‘taking your twist on the image,' and, 'you have to be in the moment to get the great shots.'
I catch his sneaking grin when he talks about shooting the great outdoors, I can tell that is what moves him from a working man to a motivated artist. He admits he could photograph landscape and Mother Nature until the end of time. "You can travel the world and always have a subject matter."
He also loves shooting food because he can vibe off the chefs energy who has so carefully crafted the edibles and he finds it fascinating to shoot the source of our energy and sustainability with such artistry. “What we consume transforms into art."
Daniels has put himself on the front lines, networking while simultaneously scanning his environment for potential shots; crafting an introduction to his work and giving it a chance to be seen. "I wanna be better than the last guy," he says with quiet urgency as his foot taps the tile and eyes flutter wide. His mission with photography is to go….beyond.
Hungry for knowledge and wisdom, Daniels seeks advice from the greats. There are many artists and photographers from Malibu such as Travis Collings, a surfer and ‘good ol Malibu guy’ living in Point Dume as a graphic designer; Keegan Gibbs, an avid surfer, photographer and co-founder of the distinguished 'House Beer;' John Hildebrand, the creator, founder, and owner of SICKY™ eyewear as well as a successful published photographer..and then theres Steven Lippman, who Daniels describes as, "a local badass photographer, he is an older guy but really awesome." Lippmann is a former competitive surfer and skateboarder turned commercial photographer, you may have seen his work (Paul Mitchel, Vanity Fair, True Blood, Ray Donovan) just to conservatively name a few. All of these artistic and successful men provide Daniels with a unique perspective, he has witnessed them in the comfort of their wetsuits and in the lucrative palms of success. He has the acute ability to tap in to these successful photographers, giving him a broad and genuine understanding of what this career embodies.
He finds that people are willing to share their experiences and knowledge if you nit pick them, although it may not be what you want to hear. Daniels is a refreshing guy to speak with, he seems to navigate his egoic self with experience and wisdom, knowing when to revel in confidence as well as choosing his moments to simply listen.
His appreciation for affluent talents is apparent in his collaborative projects as well. He is currently working on a series with his good friend Hayden Burge who is a gifted artist. They will combine Daniels photography with Burges' line drawings and present their work in a gallery. “With two minds working on the same thing there is only potential for more."
A significant part of Daniels’ photography career stems from his work with his cousin, the photographer, Tynan Daniels. They work incredibly well together and have plans to travel from the west coast all the way up to Vancouver in 2016: A documentary style road trip focused around living purely in the moment and capturing the culture of life on the open road.
Daniels is a down to earth and expressively positive person but he is adamant about the importance of specific tools one need's to carry as an independent artist. You have to get out there and talk to people, make the connections and insert your voice into the scene, "or else." he threatens, "you will fail." Austin reaches out to the Malibu community for work and they have met him with support and opportunity, he recently shot Lyon Herron for the 'Local Malibu' newspaper. He stays busy everyday with the intent to feel accomplished by sunset. This includes shooting, sending emails, networking, meetings with agencies and editing photos. He does what he loves so there is a natural balance within his self-made business.
The opportunities he has embraced are building him into a successful creator and when he has established a strong foundation he plans to travel the world and explore what beauty and culture lies beyond the Malibu bluffs.
Daniels recent ‘large scale’ project is a studio he is creating with Tynan. They are reconstructing part of Tynan’s house to be a studio. “BeauJames,” which is both of their middle names comprised to mean 'Beautiful James,' will have backdrops, green screens and a small gallery space where their visions can come to vibrant fruition. It is a modern space with elements of the 1960’s era house peaking through; new hard wood floors, elevated ceilings and the original barn doors opening up to the inside. (Stay tuned for the grand opening date of 'BeauJames').
Malibu's homegrown photographer has barely just begun his career and yet I see him creating with intelligence and honesty.
His advice for aspiring artists is to the point, 'keep doing it and go in search of experience, or else you won't learn. You gotta have experiences in order to grow and to gain knowledge. Keep doing it, keep shooting, panting, whatever it is." Daniels proves that focus and passion can inspire a career of truth and creation.
He sees a world that must be captured, moments in time that are simply beautiful and he has the innate ability in his soul and with his eyes to capture that moment. He wants his audience to feel inspired in any way they can, to want to create, to find their passion through his lens. His positivity and honesty to his craft is clear, those bright cerulean eyes tell a story and his photographs capture a narrative which undoubtedly deserves an audience. ▣
To see Austin Daniels' portfolio and recent projects you can visit his website: