Born and raised in California and now residing in San Diego, Mattson Culbert is a passionate surfer, photographer, and self-described "positive vibe warrior", among other things. Mattson developed a strong love for the ocean as he grew up by the seaside, which plays a large role in his minimalistic photography style and creative goals. He sets out to his favorite spots to capture the essence of his environment and share with us visions of paradise. Using our Simple Use Camera and Underwater Case, he shoots three different films: Color Negative 400, Metropolis, and Purple to see the beauty in all aspects. Read our interview with him below!
Welcome to our Online Magazine, Mattson! Could you tell our readers who you are?
I am known for being a man that wears many hats in life: father, husband, photographer, surfer, ocean enthusiast, and a positive vibe warrior. Also known as @iammattson on Instagram and an honorary surf uncle and friend to many in San Diego, California where I reside now.
What attracted you to the ocean and surf photography?
I’ve been around the ocean my entire life since my dad surfed and both my grandparents lived on the beach in California. I always felt I was predestined to surf and document the beach lifestyle now. I was an artist as a kid and that eventually lead me to pick up a camera at 21.
Why analogue? Does it mean anything to you?
Since I am 44 years old now I grew up with analogue so it’s what I learned and always come back to like an old friend. I’ve shot digital along with video and other mediums over the years but 35mm film seems to always capture those timeless and nostalgic moments best for me. Living in a digital age now where we can take an endless amount of photos on our phones. Only having 36 images on a roll makes you really think about what you want to shoot. Film gives things an emotion to old photos I just rarely get from digital.
Can you tell us about this photo series? Where was this taken and who were you with?
I live in San Diego now and spend most of my time at the beaches in Pacific Beach, La Jolla, Sunset Cliffs in Point Loma, and Encinitas in North County SD. I went home around the 4th of July and shot some photos at Topanga and Leo Carrillo in Malibu County also. My friends Abigail and Felice helped me immensely one morning for half a roll in small waves at a spot called Pipes. I did meet some new people I hadn’t met before shooting in the ocean also and lucked out. My local surf spot is Tourmaline Surf Park in North Pacific Beach and appears quite a bit in my rolls of film you will see featured.
You tested a few of our films underwater -- Color Negative 400, LomoChrome Purple, and LomoChrome Metropolis. Which colors and results do you like best out of these series?
Funny story though when I originally got my underwater case with the disposable, I thought it was loaded with LomoChrome Purple but it had LomoChrome Metropolis in it by accident. I was still stoked on all three results but if I had to pick, the Purple was my favorite because it made some dull overcast conditions seem more lively. This was my second roll of purple I’ve shot and it always has a lot of different results in just a roll of 36. The 400 is always saturated really well and easy to count on for good color. The Metropolis was really great on overcast days also in the ocean and I would like to try it again with some portraits in the future.
How was your experience using our Underwater case? Have you ever used something like it?
I have used waterproof disposables before but the underwater case was very user-friendly and easy to use. The one thing that is great is you can reload the camera which no other film disposable offers. It is a little tricky at first to reload but once I watched a few videos on it I was okay. It was also very easy to stuff in my wetsuit if I didn’t want to wrap the case around my hand at times.
Capturing surfing in action must be a difficult task since you’re also in the water! What’s your method for getting your photos to turn out so beautiful?
Surfing action in the ocean is one of the hardest things to capture and to be very good at, in my humble opinion. Not only do you have to worry about all the elements like rip currents, rocks, other surfers, big waves, but also all the sea creatures around you along with getting a good frame. High action can go out of focus very easily especially in low light and film so my favorite time of day to shoot is about an hour before sunset also known as the golden hour. Anytime between 8-10 am is also really great light and surf conditions too. I spend a lot of time looking at tides, where the sun will be at certain times of day, how big the surf will be, and if we will get good clouds for sunsets in the evening.
Where do you get your inspiration for your shots?
My inspiration for photos comes from a lot of people and things I’ve seen over the years. I used to study surf magazines and National Geographic as a kid and teen for photo ideas. A surf photographer named Jimmy Metyko who shot in Santa Barbara when I was a kid in the early 1980s was one of my earliest inspirations with film photography and Thomas Campbell, another talented film surf photographer/filmmaker/artist. My work features a lot of backlit waves and very few people.
Do you have any upcoming projects planned?
For me I really live for October-January here in Southern California for the beautiful weather and surf we get then. I get the bulk of new images each year then and would really like to put together a book on my film images from the last three years here in San Diego specifically along with a full collection of my work from the last 23 years I’ve shot eventually. I think collaborating with more brands or companies will be more in my near future also whether to help more of my friends or for projects, I’m passionate about. I’m a full-time stay-at-home dad also, so I’m sure my daughter and I will get some good new images together very soon. We have an annual Halloween Surf Day in Pacific Beach I plan to capture along with some more YouTube videos on my film photography process I’d like to share soon.
Lastly, imagine you can take one last photo and never shoot film again. Where are you going and what’s your subject?
One last photo is a very tough question but it would definitely be of my daughter and wife at the beach. It would be at our favorite tide pool spot in La Jolla probably in December on a negative low tide at golden hour so we could get a lot of new shells, sea glass, and rocks.