Shutterbuggin’ is a regular web feature where we chat with photo contributors, talking about photography, fly fishing and whatever else happens to come up. In our latest installment we caught up with photographer Austin Coit.
The Flyfish Journal: Hi Austin, we love your work! Could you introduce yourself to our readers?
Austin Coit: Hey, dude. Hell yeah, I’m stoked to hear that. Honored to be a part of this. I’m 26; I live in St. Petersburg, which is on the central west coast of Florida. I went to school for English and my background in photography consisted of one documentary production class I took my senior year. In between college, I worked as a mate in the Keys on a sport fish boat. Fairly randomly, I figured I’d buy a cheap(ish) DSLR to shoot photos of the stuff we caught. I got a photo published and thought, “damn, that’s pretty rad.” But, all I’d ever taken photos of (until about a year ago) was offshore fishing, and I felt myself getting burned out on the one area of fishing. Getting into flyfishing was exactly what I needed. The industry is a little artsier and aesthetically inclined, so I was allowed so much freedom with it. And it totally made me re-appreciate the blue water stuff. I’m now close to three years paying my bills with photography, and that’s really rad.
TFFJ: You’ve got some really creative stuff up on your website, I love the slower shutter/movement work. Being seemingly pretty much self-taught, aside from your documentary class, where do you feel your influences come from, or are there any photographers that you really admire?
AC: The best part of photography is its subjective nature. I could have a beautiful speed blur cast shot in mind, and I totally fuck it up, but the result is still cool to me. Most of my influences come from outside the fishing industry. I saw a lot of people shooting high-end editorial assignments and incorporating what would be technically a shitty photo, and just kinda owning it, and I think that’s so cool. Like, you want to tint your whole photo pink? I think you should! Cole Barash, Erik Tanner, and Mark Peckmezian are constantly making incredible stuff that keeps me asking myself, “how can I shoot this a little differently?”
TFFJ: Yeah, for sure, photography can be so many different things to everyone it’s great. As are the happy accidents that grace us every now and again. Cole’s work is amazing; I’ll have to check out the other guys.
From a photographic perspective, do you prefer the big blue water yachts, or a day on a flats skiff, scanning for fish? I’d imagine they each have their pros and cons and picking favorites is tough. I’ve spent some days out in the blue water, and the constant droning of the engines starts to wear on me. Luckily, I only get seasick when I’m incredibly hung over.
AC: Ha! The old “I drank too much last night” trick! I used to work as a mate on a sport fish boat, so I’ve heard it all. So much puke. Back to business: my thing with Cole and his work is, ostensibly, it seems kinda like he doesn’t care about giving people what they want. He just puts it out there. I like that. I feel like I constantly battle between doing that—or trying to—while also shooting the crowd-pleasing stuff. Instagram is interesting because you’ll see someone with like 30k followers but you start flicking through it and it’s all the same shit. Cole, however, seems like he built a mega following because his stuff is all so drastically different. That’s what I like most about shooting flyfishing. There was exponentially more wiggle room for creativity in the flyfishing industry*.
Being bound to the cockpit of a big boat is… tough. Hard to get creative. Not impossible, but certainly difficult. First time I went to the Bahamas, I got out of the skiff and was like, “whoa.” I can hide in the mangroves, get some fucking foreground, not shoot the backs of people’s heads!! Don’t get me wrong, I love shooting that stuff, but being able to shift back and forth from an empty flat with a staked out skiff, to a big blue marlin jumping helps to keep both fresh. So, the summary is that, right now, I’m really digging shooting flyfishing.
Have you ever seen a blue marlin eat a bait (or fly)? It makes the droning of engines a little more tolerable. Though, the lack of vomit on the flat is equally as attractive.
*I’m still getting used to it. I lost it reading the Steve Seinberg feature in 9.2, because like, (pause for brown nosing TFFJ compliments) I discover this magazine that is beautiful, stacked with talented contributors whose features DON’T STRETCH MARGIN TO MARGIN, doesn’t feature all jumping fish all the time and is focused on aesthetics and not advertisements. Anyway so here’s this cool mag and then inside is this incredible spread (14 pages!!) about a guy whose art is so unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It was a cool moment that made me happy to be involved in the flyfish scene.
TFFJ: My blue water experience is quite limited, to the Mako and Blue shark scene near San Diego, CA. A pretty cool fishery in it’s own. But no, I’d imagine seeing a blue marlin slicing back and forth through the prop wash is a pretty amazing thing to witness, not to mention them going aerial once hooked.
I’m sure the contrast between the two styles of fishing adds a good balance, and ultimately helps your photography. I get the back of the head thing too. It’s easy to fall in there, I’m guilty of it myself, riding in the back of rafts/drifboats/skiffs etc. Although I can’t stand to see the staged shots where a fisher is dropping a fly right in front of the camera, mostly because it’s so obvious that it’s set up. Finding those spaces that are new and working them until you think something good is happening is the fun part.
I think there’s creativity to be found wherever we point the cameras, certain folks just seem to have exponentially more of it than others. And I agree, that those that kinda just do their own thing and don’t shoot what they think others want to see, but what they see/want to shoot are the ones that always seem to be leaps and bounds ahead in the creativity department. I suppose it boils down to intended output and the freedom allowed within. It’s cool to learn about your perspective as somewhat of a newcomer.
As a Floridian, excuse me if I forget where you’re based out of, but what’s the general feel of the fishing and non-fishing community regarding the Lake Okeechobee algae blooms and water discharges? Have you been actively engaged and following that? It seems tragic from our perspective in the Northwest, and as someone who hasn’t spent much time in Florida.
AC: Vacillating between the two totally does help. I sometimes find myself in little ruts where it just gets monotonous, so I’ll try to step away from one or the other, and, when I come back to the one I wanted to get away from, I’m recharged and look at it completely different. I feel so fortunate to be able to do that.
I agree with that wholeheartedly, dude. Whether it’s a Christmas Island GT or a golf course pond carp, the opportunity to make either look cool and unique is the same. Look at the people who’ve made careers out of street photography. They look at the most mundane, everyday stuff, but cock their heads to the side, and it’s totally new. As long as we’re constantly challenging ourselves to do that instead of regurgitating the formulaic stuff that we’ve all seen before.
The awareness has absolutely exploded in the last six months, it seems. I love the flyfishing community’s dedication to conservation. Aside from a few organizations, the offshore world desperately lacks that. The water mismanagement is a total nightmare. I’m actually trying do be more involved with the Captains for Clean Water crew right now, using photography to help further that whole movement they’ve built. Wherever we land on the political spectrum, there ain’t no denying that the industry is trending toward responsibility and conservation as the new status quo, which is pretty bitchin’. It’s a double-edged sword though, because, while this year’s blooms and red tide seem worse than years past, it’s gotten so much more widespread publicity because how severe it is.
TFFJ: Right, there was a recent environmental disaster up here, where thousands of farmed Atlantic salmon escaped from a net pen in the Puget Sound, and by no means was that a good thing, but because of the attention from local and national media outlets, all of a sudden so many more people were aware of the destructive nature of those operations that, in a sense the timing was perfect and it kind of turned out to be a catalyst for the state to put a stop to the permits associated with salmon farming.
It’s sad that these types of incidents are what it takes to get peoples attention. Hopefully that double edge cuts the right things.
Have you been working on any photo projects you’d care to talk about?
AC: Yeah, dude! It’s a bummer that things have to get really bad in order to get people’s attention. But, honestly, I’m pretty hopeful for the future environmentalism in the fishing industry. Feels like more and more people are aware and wanting to help out in whatever way they can.
Photo projects… nothing flyfishing related, haha. But, one I’ve been slowly working on is a series of portraits of people bridge fishing. If I could even possibly attempt to make a positive change with photos, it might be to elevate the “regular guy”. Don’t get me wrong, I still love every second of tarpon fishing out of a fancy skiff, or bonefishing from a high-class lodge, but we aren’t all afforded that luxury. So, shooting a few here and there when I’m in-between trips has been a cool, eye-opener for sure. They’re all doing it for different reasons. Interesting to listen to their “why,” ya know?
TFFJ: The bridge folks project sounds interesting. The regular guys often have the most interesting stories behind them, and agree that the luxuries of lodges and skiffs isn’t all that representative of all involved in fishing. I love hearing about things like this and often feel specific projects like this within the fly fishing community are harder and harder to come by. Looking forward to seeing how it shapes up when you release it. Always tough to finish these sorts of things…
One last question, you’re stuck on an island with one fly rod, one lens and one species of fish swimming the waters, what are they?
And where can folks find and keep up to date with your photo work?
AC: They are, for sure. I’d wager to say nearly nonexistent in the fly community. So, without the average Fisherman Joe, it forces us to think about alternative ways to accomplish that glorification factor that photography is able to do sometimes. It’s already been done, but all the stuff with Bahamian guides is awesome. Yeti’s Cosmo was a super badass way of shedding light on a fishery through that guide Alex. More and more content has gone that way, and I think will continue to do so. Worldliness is a cool thing to have.
Hmm, well, hands down, the fish would be tarpon. The others are more complicated. I guess I’ve had some pretty groovy days using the G. Loomis Crosscurrent Pro 1, so I’d bank on that one. A far-flung island destination and only one lens—a true nightmare! It would probably be the Canon 100mm macro. Think about it: I’m going to have a LOT of spare time on my hands waiting on a rescue plane to find me, and anything can look exciting when you shoot it at 1:1 magnification. Plus, there’s the off chance there’s a resident population of free-jumping GTs just offshore, and I could probably hit them with 100mm without needing to crop too much.